Volcanoes, cloud forest, jungle rivers and great coffee
One of the challenges faced by thrift-conscious travellers is finding creative ways to fill those inevitable blocks of time between the arrival of one red-eye special and the departure of the next.
After an all night flight to San Jose, and faced with an unscheduled three day lay-over, we checked into the Cacts Hotel, selected a local tour at random from brochures in the lobby, and crashed for the night. Our room, facing an interior courtyard, was cool and quiet and by the time our minivan arrived at 6 o'clock the next morning the previous days jet-lag was just a bad memory.
Ad hoc tours are always a gamble but later, standing on a tiny platform 80 feet above the ground and preparing to launch myself along a cable descending into the forest canopy, I had pause to wonder just how big a gamble this was.
We headed off to breakfast at a coffee plantation on the flanks of Poas Volcano, where neat rows of coffee plants thrive in the rich volcanic soil of the Meseta Central. The coffee "cherries" are beginning to ripen and the rolling terraced fields are dotted with pickers of all ages. It is hot, monotonous piece-work, paid by the basket, and only the first of many tedious steps between the pickers basketful of red cherries and my cup of morning brew.
After breakfast we continued up to the crater of Poas Volcano which, after 60 years of dormancy, came to life with a roar in the 1950s and has been sputtering ever since. During our visit the barren, brightly coloured crater was occupied by a steaming lake where jets from active fumaroles filled the air with pungent sulfurous gas.
Leaving Poas we drove north, across the continental divide, to a coffee break at a Hummingbird Gallery near San Fernando waterfall. After admiring the iridescent green birds, and luring huge heat-seeking tarantulas onto our bare arms, we continued down into the rainforest of the Caribbean lowlands and boarded a small motorboat for a two hour trip down the Rio Sarapique. The deep, slow moving river is flanked by dense jungle and overhung by a shimmering green canopy of leaves and vines that filter and soften the harsh tropical sun.
A couple six-foot American crocodiles lie as motionless as logs on the bank of a muddy backwater. Their smaller cousins, the caiman, are more numerous but all we see are their eyes and nostrils protruding above the dark water. A group of white-nosed coatis, long tails pointed skyward, drop onto the sandbar beside us. A startled green lizard races toward the waters edge and keeps right on running to the other side. Known locally as "Jesus Christ lizards" these two-foot-long, mini©dinosaurs can run fast enough on the webbed feet of their long hind legs to pull off the biblical trick whenever they feel threatened.