As many of our blog and facebook followers know, we have decided to return to the States for the summer to work and visit family and friends in order to extend our travel time in South America and experience Patagonia during the summer months (November through February). But before we left Costa Rica we had one more major goal to accomplish, spot the extremely elusive resplendent quetzal. We had been diligently scanning dense cloud forest foliage since Mexico without a single sighting. Saying goodbye to the beach knowing we were headed back to a grey Montana spring was difficult, but we were eager to escape the unrelenting heat and humidity. We also wanted to check out a purported free campsite on Lake Arenal with great views of the volcano.
The free campsite was incredible, but unfortunately the wind was whipping and putting the top up was not an option. As we bumped along the dirt road around the lake we spotted what looked like a shortcut through the mountains to Santa Elana on the GPS. Eventually we found inching down a narrow rutted two-tracked ‘road’ that disappeared into a river. Clearly, Garmin had misled us and we resigned ourselves to a further two hours of driving time around the lake. Rolling lush hills dotted with dairy cows coupled with the two Swiss chalet restaurants along the highway made us feel as if we really were in little Switzerland, as Costa Rica is sometimes called. It had been a long day of travel and we were overjoyed when we saw a sign for the Volcano Brewing Company and stopped for a few of their delicious brews.
We were exhausted and it was dark and the Brewery graciously allowed us to camp in the parking lot for free, even offering up the use of their incredible pool and hot tub. The next few days were spent enjoying the misty beauty of the cloud forests of Monteverde. Tromping through Curi-Cancha Reserve we were confident. Every single person we had talked to had seen a quetzal. Our quetzal spotting skills are deficient because after two hours we had not seen even a single tail feather.
As we were exiting, Fabio the park caretaker, was aghast that we had not seen the famous birds. Armed with his detailed instructions to the precise location we marched back into the park. After 20 minutes of unsuccessful tree scanning we were about to leave when Fabio ran up the trail, pulled us behind a roped off area onto a faint trail and within 30 seconds pointed up into the tree. Finally we saw the bright green and red feathers of the quetzal and not only were we lucky enough to see two females but also the even more brightly colored male.
High adrenaline we traipsed back down the trail unaware of the huge black and red coral snake sunning itself ahead of us. Again my piercing scream alerted the rest of the tourists in the reserve that a deadly predator was on the move, and I’m sure I saved at least a few lives.
Leaving Santa Elana we went against the flow of Semana Santa traffic and holed up in San Jose for a few days to prepare Suzie for five months of parking. We successfully parked her bid her a tearful goodbye and tried to mentally prepare ourselves for the culture shock we knew was awaiting us.