06/28/2012 08:12 am ET Updated Aug 28, 2012

Costa Rica Chronicles: Buenas From Monteverde


April 29. I've arrived to my first destination, Monteverde, the cloud forest. For two weeks I will be traveling by myself, until my boyfriend Alex comes to meet me for the last two weeks. I will meet people from all over the world, get myself into what I consider to be near death experiences and live the pura vida way of life.

May 1. There's a dish here literally called "Typical Food", casado, a spread of black beans, rice, with meat or a vegetable mix made with chickory. This morning I had a "Typical Carlita" adventure, shall we say. For about ten to twenty minutes I was FREAKED THE F@%# OUT. Excuse the profanity, but there's no other way to put it.

In the middle of the cloud forest, I had a flashback of the movie 127 Days. I am NOT in a movie, and I sure as hell am not James Franco. I'm going to die, right here, by perhaps a jaguar, or more realistically I will get so lost, so deep into the forest, that there will be no way for me to get back out, and I'm going to probably last one hour, not 127. My palms turned sweaty, my heart was beating so fast I thought that alone would attract an amused animal, and I started to get dizzy. Another flashback of a recently watched Survivorman episode in the rainforest, which reinforced the fact that on a scale of survival skills, I'm a zero. So here it goes...

This town is so small, especially the downtown, which is maybe six blocks or so. The vibe is easy-going, and it's very safe here. I walk to the corner where the public bus, a school bus, is waiting. A nice ride through town gives me a general overview, and I will venture into the art stores in the next couple of days.

I arrive at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve at 6:45 a.m. and at 7:30 gulp down my first cup of Costa Rican coffee, which tastes exactly like Starbucks, a bit bitter and strong. I pay the $17 admission fee, where the man pulls out a simple map, and circles a few landmarks, "Go here, here and then here. How much time do you have?" Hours, I say. "Okay, well loop around here, there's a path, it's very easy." Gracias. I ask the man at the admission, and with his highlighter he agrees, and says, yes, very easy, here and then there. Gracias.

I opt to not pay for the guided tour because well for one, I don't want to pay, but really because I want to wait until Alex comes to see all of those little things, and plus it's easy to get around, I will trek along, and it will be fun.

I overhear a guide point to the Tarzan ropes, which are really roots growing from the top of the tree down. All is well, and I continue onward. Now, the map it turns out is scaled very large, so the landmarks are actually much closer than it appears. Next thing you know, I'm away from the guides, and am continuing to walk. It's very lush, but doesn't quite feel like a rainforest you'd see in Jurassic Park. There are lots of vines, and flora, a pesky fly or some creature buzzing by me the whole time, occasionally sticking to my tights and, I think, biting my leg. I want to murder that fly, or whatever it was. From the POV, you are seeing things from the top-up, and because we are only allowed access to 3% of the entire reserve, you don't really see that much, of course if you had a guide you could see bugs and such, but nothing more that makes you feel that you are in a rainforest.

I hear an animal move in the trees, which I think is a lion, but now looking back I realize it was probably a monkey, mono. I'm a bit scared and looking around, realize that this could get ugly. Low and behold, out of nowhere I see two Costa Rican men, dressed in appropriate gear, unlike my skin-bearing mock Vans where I have doused my feet with bug spray, with two horses that have packs of supplies on them.

I stop the one man, Perdon? I point to the map and ask him to point where we are, and he shows me, and then I explain using my hands and very poor Spanish that I want to go to the hanging bridge. Si, si. Follow me, he says. Now I know you are thinking, Carlita! What did we say about following strangers! Through my meager translation I learn they work with the students at the Biologica Reserva in the cloud forest, and that they are going very lejos, far away, tres horas.

I continuously ask where we are, and he says they are passing the bridge, so I'm going the right direction with them. The other man has no time to wait for me, and him and his horse are very far ahead. Every five minutes, I ask the biologist, Perdon! He stops. I make him show me on the map where we are. I later learn that if you ask a Costa Rican if you are going the right way, they will say yes, no matter what.

After a while, I think, well I'm screwed, hell with it, I'm going three hours with them, and when I get to the school, I will cry and ask them to take me back. Well, he proceeds to catch up with his friend, and they are going faster, so I'm sort of running to keep up. We start to go through softer mud, more flora, and I'm scared because I don't know where we're really going.

We then get to a sign that reads in English, No Trespassing/For Biologica Reserva Only. Perdon! I said to the man, and I point to the sign, then to the map, and then say I'm turning around, and he finally nods saying I'm a half hour away.

WHY THE HELL DIDN'T HE TELL ME TO TURN AROUND SOONER? And that's when I thought I was done for. The men proceed out of eyesight, and I hurry through the muddy floor. There's an amazing view of the clouds above the forest, with the winds blowing the clouds above and beyond. I tell myself, this is IT, I'm outta here when I get back. It's about 9 a.m. Needless to say, I find my way back, but for those 10 minutes I thought I was done for.

I find a bench, recuperate, and a lovely couple passes by, who tell me The Ventana viewpoint is just up the pathway. I venture up there, and on a clear day you can see the Caribbean side.
When I get back down, I'm still a little shaky, so I rest for a moment. From another trail down, I see a girl, my age, by herself and say, Do you speak English? She smiles and says yes, and then we proceed to talk. She's traveling by herself, her husband is in grad school at UCSD, and she just wanted to do it. She tells me about the orchid farm she's volunteering at, which doesn't sound good at all, plus she paid $800 to stay with a family there for two weeks.

We manage to find the hanging suspended bridge. A guide with a group says, Hey girls, come check out this bird! We walk towards the end of the bridge, and there it was! In person! A quetzel! This brings good luck, so lets just say I have luck on my side from now on. There's no way we would've seen it without him pointing it out, and the guide lets me borrow his binoculars to see the shimmery green and blue feathers that surround the red body.

We hike back down to the entrance, look at some hummingbirds, and I tell her I will walk the hour back with her and have lunch. We go into the gift shop and when the man asks about our hike, I tell him my story and he looks at me with wide eyes: You went THERE! Those men, they have food and supplies, right? Yes, I say. He then proceeds, "They also have machetes and there are tons of dangerous snakes, and I can't believe you were there! It's very far!" Yes, I tell him, I realize that. And then we both laugh.

Outside, the bus is waiting, and my feet kill, so I decide to part ways with the girl. I come back to my small, but clean, $20 private room, exhausted and so dirty and itchy that the hot shower is simply amazing. I pick up some fruit and vegetables from the market as I'm severely deprived of nutrients, and plan on eating and then walking the 10 minutes to the eco-festival to hear some music and see what's going on there. Tomorrow I will be staying with the Fair Trade co-op for a couple of days.

Traveling solo is strange. I'm having more conversations in my head than a schizophrenic, and have a sense of anxiety by not having a structured schedule or being caught up in everything I have to do at home.

The girl didn't have a guide, and was solo, yet I get lost and she helps me find the bridge. Point of the story is that it's not what I did, it's that I, Carlita with no sense of direction, did it. Ciao.

Carly Cylinder
is the owner of Flour LA and is an avid adventurer of life.

Costa Rica Chronicles: Buenas from Monteverde