The Monteverde cloud forest is one of Costa Rica's most popular tourist destinations, and our digs were distinctly off the beaten path. The University of Georgia has a campus-turned-ecolodge outside the village of nearby San Luis. Populated with mostly study abroad students and professors teaching special summer sessions, visitors can also pay to stay, space permitting. Our visit began with a brief orientation with one of the resident naturalists asking about our interests and outlining a personalized schedule for us. We started off on one of the night hikes in the area, where our guide catered to my interest in creepy crawlies and shined her flashlight into the den of a particularly burly tarantula. Lest we missed out on any specimens, they also were kind enough to arrange a viewing of their insect collections back in the lab. Our natural history day hike in the transitional forest was also very informative, and we lost track of time discussing biodiversity, conservation, and agriculture with our guide. The campus also maintains an on-site farm focused on sustainability and providing a substantial proportion of the food for the 3 square meals included daily in the lodge stay. We tried our hands at milking the campus cows, a first for Rich, despite growing up on dairy farms. It's a lot harder than it looks... especially aiming into the bucket.
Off campus, we did make it into the official Monteverde Reserve, but after our one-on-one time with UGA guides, the tour was a bit of a letdown. Most visitors are rabid to spot the iconic quetzal bird ("Beautiful plummage!"). After a couple of 15 minute stops spent peering forlornly into the misty canopies, our reserve guide clearly felt the whole trip was a wash and high-tailed us back in the dismal rain to the entrance.
A far superior experience was ziplining. Costa Rica was one of the places that popularized it, and even if it is a tourist trap, we do have a weakness for adrenaline sports. There were 15 proper cables: fast enough to need to brake hard at the end, without much of a delay between rides, and the longest was a whopping 1 kilometer ride! The best part was the giddy drop-off (maybe 50 feet?) as a human pendulum in the Tarzan Swing. Stopping was a bit tricky as two of the guides had to either grab for your feet (I nearly lost a shoe) or quickly loop a giant rubber band around your midsection to catch you like some Wile E. Coyote move.
The last Monteverde mention must be a shout out to the cheese factory. We didn't end up taking the tour, but we finally understood the fuss about the best milkshakes ever. They make the ice cream on-site with local flavors like cas (a type of guava), soursop, and some fantastic combination involving sweetened condensed milk and fig... AND they use whole cow's milk (i.e. with floating cream) for these concoctions. Mmm, mmm, good!