Montverde is aptly named. As we climbed higher into the mountains, we were afforded sweeping views of the greenest mountains and valleys… The paved road turned to dirt, and we passed farmers on horseback, herding cattle and men with machetes and knee-high rainboots.
Joshua and I are mountain people, and so the thinner air and the steep inclines put us at ease in a way that we haven’t been since we arrived.
We rolled into town mid-morning and went in search of a meal. We found Orchid Cafe in our guide book, and it did not disappoint. We’ve found that three entrees is about right for the two adults and the two older girls, and so we ordered Belgian waffles, pancakes, and a savory stuffed crepe. Oh my. Between chantilly cream and hollandaise, we were in heaven. And the coffee was great, por supuesto.
After we filled our bellies, we found the Orchid Garden. Entry was a bit pricey, but the garden was gorgeous, and I geeked out on the tour which was led by an extremely knowledgeable teenager (actually I have no idea how old he was, but he looked like a baby). At one point, he told us that he had been trying to identify an orchid growing in their garden for three or four days, looking up rare and new species when he finally realized that it was a spider orchid that an insect had modified by eating the outer sepals. An older couple from Australia were also on the tour, and let’s just say my basic knowledge of houseplants and my collection of 20 or so was embarrassingly amateur. The couple had an orchid collection of “50 or more” and a staghorn they lovingly referred to as Bodhi that had grown from the size of a golf ball 25 years ago to the size of a car wheel. They tossed about the latin genus and species for each plant we encountered, and though I was completely outclassed, I loved it. How fun to learn about epiphytes and all these plants I’ve been so admiring since our arrival! Two years ago, I’m not sure I knew what an “air plant” was, and then they started getting trendy and now I have three. Haha! Within a week of being in Costa Rica, I was disabused of their novelty. Nearly every tree here has at least three epiphytes growing on them… When we were in the cloud forest, one plaque informed us that one particularly tall tree had over 1,000 other plants growing on it, including 43 different species of orchid!
After the garden, we headed for our hostel. On the way, we bumped into a French couple we had seen on our journey to Santa Teresa. Loche, Ludo, and their three year old boy, Tituan, were traveling for a month as well, and it was fun to chat with them and compare notes.
We eventually made it to the hostel where the girls took a nap and Joshua went for a run. I had a little freak out moment when all of them woke up and I was in a tiny room with paper thin walls and a bunch of 20 something travelers bunked nearby… Let’s just say I was issuing some serious threats and bribes in a whisper voice, trying to get my cranky post-nap children to be quiet. Naturally, this was a completely ineffective method of parenting, and by the time Joshua got back, I was ready to bite his head off.
Thankfully, Joshua was able to talk me down, and we walked up to a cute little panaderia for an afternoon pick me up of coffee and empanadas. While AirBnB options have given us the privacy and comfort that has made all the difference in traveling with kids, the couple of three day stints that we’ve done in more cramped accommodations have been ok. No one asked us to leave, there were minimal dirty looks, and if anything, people were very complimentary about the girls and their behavior. It was a bit stressful though, so by the end of our time in San Jose and then in Montverde, I was quite relieved to go to a place where the girls can feel their big emotions and I can try to ride those waves without fighting them.
We walked around Montverde that evening, enjoying the cool air and the clouds drifting through. We stopped at the super for a simple veggie pasta dinner, and then we went back to the communal kitchen to cook and eat. It all went down without a hitch. If anything, I was able to step outside this mentality of constantly being judged by other mothers and try to imagine what this strange family of five must look like to a group of people who are all just praying their birth control is really effective ;)- At worst, I imagine that horrible New Yorker story I once read about how children should be banned from airlines because they’re so annoying or some movie I watched where a couple are eating at a restaurant and agree that children should never be brought out to eat before they can drive themselves (ha! but maybe they have a point?). At best, I imagine the rare families Joshua and I saw traveling abroad and how I hoped we’d be the same kind of parents and now, I guess, we are.
The next morning, we ate the provided breakfast in the restaurant adjacent to the hostel. Banana bread, pancakes, and fruit powered us through our hike in Montverde Parque Nacional (haha! Just kidding! Have you met my children, aka the Bottomless Pits of Hunger?). Well, that and a box of the healthiest cereal bars we could find which had approximately 50 g of sugar in each bar and five apples… And a bag of chocolates for bribing ;);)
The hike was incredible. We walked 4.5 miles through the cloud forest, admiring all the green, the wet, and the lovely sounds of frogs and birds. We kept our eyes open for a quetzal (the serpent bird with a long tail that undulates as it flies). Other people we passed were lucky, but perhaps they avoided our pack of squealing children? Lily and Lu hiked and hiked and hiked. (The chocolate bribes were VERY effective.) Honestly, can I just take a moment to brag a bit? The children did not complain once. They hiked for nearly four hours (yup! About a mile an hour, so how about a pat on the back for me too?! Soooo slow…), and they were little magic forest fairies the whole time. Trip highlight. They held hands, they laughed, they told little stories, they were sweet and curious and sometimes I think I’ll go crazy from the whining and bickering, but sometimes they’re are the glorious children of my dreams, and this hike was one of those times.
When we finished, we stopped at the Montverde creamery. In the 1950s, a group of 12 Quaker families from Alabama moved to Montverde. As pacifists, they had been imprisoned for refusing the draft in WWII, so after the war was over, they moved to Costa Rica. Why? Because around the same time, Costa Rica dissolved its army and directed all of the funds towards public education. Because this place is paradise like that.
Anyway, the Quakers bought land high up in the cloud forest and began raising dairy cattle for their creamery. Et voila! We ate ice cream after our hike. For Joshua and I, coffee (always), and for the girls, neopolitan and lime. I also had a coffee, because we were in coffee land and the hostel coffee had been disappointing to say the least. My latte here was definitely redeeming 🙂
After a much needed nap, we sojourned to the Serpentarium, where we scoped out Costa Rica’s many endemic species of snake. At one point I leaned over to Joshua and said, “I don’t know if this will give me nightmares, but I can tell you that it will give me waking terrors.” And it did. I’ve only just now a week later stopped expecting the crazily venomous Fer de Lance to lunge out from the ditches and sink its jaws into the tender ankles of myself, my sweet children, or my husband who insists on running in the jungle, rather than the beach (post partum paranoia or legit fear? Not sure…).
Lily, on the other hand, LOVED her visit. Between her flashlight and trying to find each master of camoflauge in their lush terrariums, she had a blast. So much so that after we had dinner at Taco Taco (we had Tacos), we went back to see them a little bit more awake later in the evening.
The next morning began in much the same way. We ate breakfast at the hostel and young German tourists gave us weird looks. But I felt fairly cosmopolitan and worldly because my children were dictating postcards and drinking cafe con leche (heavy on the leche). Around 930, we mosied over to El Trapiche, a sugar and coffee finca on the outskirts of town.
Though the tour was (surprise!) quite touristy, it was also really, really great. And honestly, tours like El Trapiche are great because they generate extra revenue for family run fincas, and they help preserve a traditional way of farming sugar cane and coffee beans (as well as basic processing) that’s nearly zero waste and quite sustainable. Our guide was super great too; for fun, he’s done barrista competitions, so he was super knowledgeable about coffee from bean to cup. We asked a bazillion questions about the plant, the picking, the drying, the sorting, and the roasting, and he had answers to every single one of them. Watching the sugar being milled in the Trapiche was fun too: they showed us the old way with oxen and then they showed us with hydropower. The left over fibers from the cane were then used to fuel the fire that reduced the cane juice into sugar. So clever!
Another highlight was the quick cocoa addition. The farm doesn’t grow much cocoa at the moment, so they’re still in the trial phase, but they walked us through cocoa production from fruit to fermentation to roasting and then adding things like chili, milk, or sugar. We got to taste test everything (coffee, sugar, and cocoa) and I absolutely fell in love with the roasted cocoa nibs (eyes roll towards heaven.so.good). We have this great picture of Lily grinning from ear to ear with chocolate smeared across her face 🙂
At the end of the tour, our guide made us each espresso drinks to order, and that was amaaaazing. Cuz now I know what peabody and all that stuff means, so I’m a real snob (oh and did I mention Joshua bought me a Chemex for my bday??).
On the way home, we stopped at Sabor Tico, a fairly traditional soda (cafe), for lunch. It was crazy delicious with arroz con carnitas, fried plantain, yuca, and chicharrones, but the girls were on meltdown after a morning spent largely geeking out and only minimally taste testing.
So we headed back for naps. And then.
Jungle Night Tour!!!
Oh guys. Does this sound like a good idea to you? Because if I had really stopped to think about it, really paused to think, hm. What will it be like to walk through the jungle in the dark in chacos while it’s raining iguanas and scorpions with three children ages five and under? I think I might not have dropped the 75ish bucks we dropped to have what was primarily a hellish experience.
But! Hindsight is 20/20 yall. Live n learn. You know? At around 6 pm (that’s when it gets dark here), we started down the trail of a private preserve. Our guide, Miguel, appeared to be a very young and very brave insect, reptile, and all things that are creepy, crawly enthusiast. It rained a lot. Luna caterwauled for approximately half of the tour, frightening away any mammals that almost certainly would have scared the shit out of me and my jumpy, freaked out older two children.
As it was, only the smaller animals remained. But have no fear! They are venomous and can kill just as easily! At one point, Miguel asked us to turn off our flashlights and stand verrrrry still. Then he explained that the tarantula he was about to draw out from its lair sensed vibrations and stayed underground. Then he stuck a twig in a hole and a hairy tarantula the size of Luna popped out. And then he said in a slightly panicked voice, “ok! We walk now! Fast, fast!”
At another point, he told us to turn off our flashlights (a directive I was beginning to dread) and stand quietly on the trail. As I imagined neon green pitvipers chomping on my exposed achilles, he marched off into the jungle, turned on a blacklight, and then came back with a scorpion, it’s stinger pinched between his forefinger and thumb. It wriggled and writhed and he asked anyone if they wanted to hold it. There were no takers.
There were a couple of wolf spiders (deadly), a couple of katydids (disguised like enormous green leaves), a possum, and lots of toads, and then, blessedly, the tour came to an end. We were drenched and I, for one, was thankful we had not spotted any snakes or jaguars. Lu had spent the majority of the tour in the Tula on Joshua’s back, speaking in a voice that resonated acutely in her nasal passages. I was half stressed about trying to get her to be quiet so that the other people on the tour wouldn’t be pissed and half understanding that this was just waaaay too much to ask of an almost three year old. I mean. Raining. Dark jungle. Lots of talk about animals that can kill you. Oh god. Best parents ever. Lily was okayish but also very concerned about all the morbid talk that was happening. LOTS of questions about what would happen if you were bitten or stung and hospitals, etc.
Anyway, we survived and then slept our last night in the hostel. We ate breakfast again the next day and the guy that ran the hostel told Joshua how impressed he was by our girls. “They’re so tough!” he said. I assumed he had missed the approximately 40 band aids that had been dispensed for mostly fictional injuries in the past three days.
For our last morning in Montverde, we drove up into the hills to the Santa Elena Preserve. We hiked for nearly 3 miles, and we didn’t see another soul. It was lovely and green and the girls did wonderfully again, although at the end they did begin to whine that their legs were tired. Joshua and I agreed that Montverde had been a great place to explore, but that three nights at the hostel and fourish days was plenty. We needed a little RnR after all of our running around and the girls being unable to really play by themselves for any period of time.
On the way out of town, we stopped back at Orchid Cafe for lunch. Between a savory mushroom crepe, a pesto, mozzarella, and tomato panini, and something else Joshua ordered that I can’t remember now, we ate very well. I also had a latte in farewell. Yum!
Ok! Ciao for now! Must nurse before baby completely wakes up! Next up: Samara!