Sunday, January 1, 2012

Santa Elena Cloud Forest

Our first afternoon in Monteverde (12-29-11) took us to the cloud forest--a high altitude version of a rain forest.  Steamy, but by the end of the 2 hour walk, the dusk clouds rolled in and it was chilly. It ranges from 10-20 degrees C (50-70 F).

Erick told us that this reserve has actually been owned by one of the two local high schools, and since 1992 has been part of the last three year specialization students do.  One of their options, in these more modern times, is less agriculture, and more studying ecotourism.  The reserve provides hands-on training.

Perspectives:  when the reserve first opened, they had about 100 visitors a month; now, over 30,000 a year.  The ecotourism career compares well with local farming.  Farm families often have to get by on $500 a month.  So, this program matters.  And they only hire local people.

Erick went over basics of this kind of forest, explaining epiphytes, talking about the many, many species of orchid, showing us bromeliads, a philadendrum sending its roots to the ground, and so on.

Of course, every surface here is covered with life, a riotous tangle.  It's hard to look at a rain/cloud forest--there's no clear pattern, few of the same plant clumped together, and 1000s of species that randomly grow wherever they can.

Let's see, other fun facts--giant ferns still grow here, their height as an adaptation away from smaller leaf-eating dinosaurs (that's been a while, Jurassic Park fantasies aside).  Coffee is not native to Costa Rica, though there is a distant relative, which would not serve my caffeine needs.  Costa Rica actually got African coffee seeds via England in the 1750s, and turned it into their cash crop in the 1820s, after independence.  And, Erick continued, there really isn't much food for us in this forest--though we could look for small orange coconuts, which, he says, are tasty when boiled and eaten with coffee and mayonaise.  Hmm...haven't seen this on the street yet.

And, finally, this cloud forest is on the continental divide, though we didn't have a 2-ocean vista from here.

another long, good day
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