Thursday, September 22, 2011

Liberia and Santa Elena, Costa Rica 15-20 Sept 2011

Liberia 15-16 Sept 2011

Crossing the Nicaragua border to Costa Rica border was not as tough as I would expect. At the Nicaragua border I was once again on my own, the Argentineans left with a bus at the Nicaragua border, I walked across the 500m road in between border. Arriving at the Costa Rica side, I was able to get my stamp easily. Then I waited for 30 mins for the bus to Liberia. The custom officer waves his hand on me to tell me to go without checking my bag. :-) My original plan was to get to Santa Elena on the same day but I could not catch the connecting bus there so I have to stay one night somewhere. I chose Liberia as it is 2 hours from the border and seems to be a decent town to stay a night.
On the way to Liberia, I noticed the change of landscape in Costa Rica. It is greener, more farming and bigger houses here. More people speak English. In the supermarket, there are more variety of fruits and vegetables. Feel like it is more develop and people are wealthier.
The currency is called Colones. The exchange is US$1 to C500. Suddenly the money is in thousands. My brain need to reset and use a new calculation. 1 bottle of 2L water cost C950. It suddenly sounds a lot but actually it’s only less then US$2. :-)

At Liberia, I went to a Hostel that was recommended by a local but it was close. Low season I guess they cut cost to run it. Then I found the 2nd option, I was the only backpackers in the Hotel. Liberia has nothing much to offer, normally this is a town for travellers to transit. I went around the town for a while, it is the Independence Day of Costa Rica, in fact all Central America country. Many people gathered at the central park, a fight started and police chased after the youngsters. It was a bit chaotic. As usual I found a supermarket to buy some drinks and fruits. Then I took my lunch/dinner at the nearby local restaurant and back to the hotel to rest.

The next day is another travelling day to get to Santa Elena, it involves changing 3 buses. I have to catch a bus to Canas, about 1 hour away from Liberia. Another bus from Canas to Tiralan about 45 minutes journey. At Tiralan the only bus of the day to Santa Elena is leaving at 12:30 noon, I had 2 and a half hour to kill at Tilaran. It is a small town up in the mountain, weather was cool. There was a modern church in front of the central park. I found a place to sit down and read my book till time to leave. From Tilaran to Santa Elena was another 3 hours journey on a bumpy road up and down the mountain. It was raining the whole time, the view was fantastic, we past a lot of farm house and horse ranch. I finally arrived at Santa Elena around 4pm. I felt like I am in Cameron Highland. A place in Malaysia with the temperature of 20 degree Celsius. :-)

Santa Elena 16-20 Sept 2011
Santa Elena is the small town located at 1400m altitude, the nearest access to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. When I arrived at the town, I have shortlisted 2 hostels, Pension Santa Elena and Sleepers. The owner of Sleepers was waiting at the bus station, he approach me to ask me where I am staying. He is offering US$7 per night with breakfast. I told him I will check out Pension Santa Elena first. After viewing the rooms and checking out the price US$6 without breakfast, I decided to go to Sleepers. It turns out to be a good choice. Sleepers hostel is run by Ronny and his wife. They have 3 beautiful kids. The breakfast is good and they clean the room and make the bed every day. Ronny is very helpful with the tour information we needed. He recommended me to go Santa Elena Cloud Forest and the frog pond.

I went to Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve the next day. The trail was clear and at every junction there was proper marking. I trek for 4 hours around the 12km trails. It was awesome. I was surrounded by birds and followed by hummingbirds. The forest was foggy and big trees cover the canopy. Along the entire trail, I only bump into 1 couple. It was tranquil with only sound of insects and birds. I really enjoy myself in this reserve.

The next day during breakfast, I met Richard from Austria. Both of us decided to go to the Giant Fig tree. It was much bigger than I imagined it. When I saw this giant Strangler Fig Tree, I immediately imagine myself climbing up this giant tree like Jack and the Beanstalk. :-)

The Strangler Fig Parasite comes when an infected bird poops on top of a tree. The parasite then forms vines that grow down the tree to reach the ground. Once at the tree’s roots, the parasite takes over the tree’s root system and slowly kills the tree. To make a long story short, the parasite eventually kills the tree, but the vines are left in it’s place. This leaves us with this, Lord of the Rings looking, hollowed out tree. The vines of the parasite become very large and very strong, almost tree like. They are so strong in fact, that one can actually climb inside of the tree and use the vines as a “ladder” all the way to the top of the tree.

We took some photos but we didn’t know we could climb to the top. 3 local ladies who were there showed us the way. After about 30m of climbing inside the hollowed out tree, we came to a small opening where we can exit and sit right at the middle section of the tree and view the forests canopy line. That was fun! I felt like a kid again. :-)

I also visited the Frog Pond twice, each ticket allow 2 entries so we could see the frog during their nocturnal period and during day time. I absolutely love them! They were so cute, colorful and some are poisonous. Thank goodness they are all kept in a huge aquarium.

Since I like the forest here so much, I decided to visit the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. This time I paid for a guide tour hoping I could see more animals in the reserve. It was expensive I must said. I met Menaka who was also going to the same reserve and doing the guided tour, we shared the cost for the transport there. Elbert our guide managed to show me the most beautiful bird in Costa Rica-The quetzal  but it was just a glimpse of the blue feathers before it flew off. :-(

He also showed us the hummingbird nest he found by the waterfall. It was so tinny, the size of my fist. We didn’t see any other animals. At Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, there is a hummingbird garden where they hung up sugar water for the hummingbirds. We see tons of them in close 1 foot distance. :-) After the guided tour end, Menaka and I went trekking to one of the view point and the 300m hanging bridge. The trails here are wider and the forest is less dense and less foggy. I preferred Santa Elena Cloud Forest.

After 4 nights here I really have to move on, my original plan was to take the 8 hour bus to La Fortuna US$8, the other options is the Jeep – boat – Jeep trip which cost US$20 but it is half the time faster. I spoke to Ronny and he was so kind to offer me the same price with one night of hostel stay in Hostel Sleepers La Fortuna (run by his brother) Well of course I took the offer. :-)
Liberia– Hotel Liberia – US$10 for a single room with fan and WIFI available
Santa Elena – Hostel Sleepers ( )– US$7 for a dorm bed with breakfast and WIFI available

Bus from Penas Blanca to Liberia – C1500
Bus from Liberia to Canas – C1300
Bus from Canas to Tilaran – C400
Bus from Tiralan to Santa Elena – C1400
Taxi to Monteverde – US$3.5pp share car with another traveler
Bus from Monteverde to Santa Elena – C600
Jeep-boat-Jeep from Santa Elena to La Fortuna – US$20 (incl 1 night in Hostel Sleepers in La Fortuna)

Santa Elena Reserve – US$7(student price) + US$4 (return transfer to hostel)
Frog Pond – US$9 (student price - 2 entries)
Climb Strangler Fig Tree - Free
Monteverde Reserve – US$9 (student price)
Monteverde Guided Tour – US$17
Horseback Riding to La Fortuna Waterfall – US$40 (approximately 3 hours)

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