This morning we woke up to the sound of Pacho’s thunderous wakeup call at around 5:30 a.m. since we needed to be on the road by 7:15 a.m. The previous day, the view from our room was covered by a thick, foggy cloud so it was hard to see the view. This morning, the visibility was completely clear. From our vantage point, you could see 40 miles to the west the Golfo de Nicoya and the Nicoya Peninsula.
After breakfast, we took the bus to the Santa Elena Reserve where we were ready to begin our hours of vigorous service on the trails. The reserve is privately owned and sits adjacent to the world famous Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve, the Children’s Eternal Rain Forest, a conglomerate of preserves that encompasses 26,000 acres. We sat through a short presentation about the reserve where we learned about the different species of animals in the forest, which are spotted thanks to motion detection video cameras. Personally, I was very excited to see that the cameras set in the forest had spotted ocelots. Donations and some governmental funding run the reserve. Walter, the educational specialist and the coordinator of our service, taught us that all of the cameras they had at the reserve had been donated by schools or organizations. Someone from the Rocky Mountains donated the first camera a couple of years ago. They saw the same bird in Colorado as they saw in Costa Rica on vacation and they thought it was cool to see the migration to a vastly different area. I also thought this was cool because it truly showed how much closer two separate communities are despite the distance between. The bird represented the crossover between the cultures.
After the presentation, we threw on some boots and began our work. The reserve has only two workers maintaining 12 kilometers of trails and they need volunteers, like us, to help. We carried bags of gravel to an evacuation trail that was being completed. The gravel allows water to drain and keeps out the mud. It was a physically challenging job due to the steep terrain. We had a system where half of the people would carry bags halfway to the destination, then drop the bags for the other half of the people to carry to the end. It reminded me of a fire line where firemen pass a bucket of water to put out the fire. This work was very labor intensive. Not only were we carrying 20-30 pound bags filled with stones, but we also had to trek through thick mud to reach the end. Spencer told stories to Andreas and me about his backpacking trip in Canada which helped to pass the time. Although the work was difficult, the reserve has very few people that maintain the trails despite the fact they have kilometers of trails to cover. I could not even imagine attempting this task alone. For a good comparison, that would be like cutting an acre of grass with scissors. By the end of the morning, all of us were covered in mud and sweat from the task.
Walter then led us through a trail to the nature walk area where we immediately spotted a sloth high up in a tree. On this nature walk we learned about the biodiversity in the cloud forests and that Santa Elena reserve forest has been named one of the 25 most beautiful forests in the world. The clouds are constantly traveling through this area, therefore plants on trees and on the ground have a constant supply of water. Eric told us this was the reasoning behind the high density of plants. Walter then pointed out that there are over 400 different species of birds in the reserve alone. The reserve is the size of New York City approximately. The United States has about 800 or so different species of birds throughout the entire country. Meanwhile, I listened to all of the different birdcalls. We continued down the trail until we reached the visitors center again. We took off our muddy boots and sat down for another delicious casado for lunch. We then drove back to the lodge, showered, then some of us prepared to visit the town nearby. We got ice cream then returned to the lodge just in time to take off for the friends school visit.
When we arrived at the Monteverde Friends School, we went to the back of the school where the playground and soccer field was. It is Sunday so there were no classes going on, but a few families were there to enjoy the day. After playing Frisbee for a bit, a kid showed up with a soccer ball. At first I was shy to talk to him so I did not say anything to him, only motioned for him to pass me the ball. We then played for another 30 minutes or so until we had to leave for our next destination, the Bat Jungle. Anna, the tour guide at the bat jungle, informed us all about bats and all of the different species. It turns out that bats are very social animals. They love to spend time together and be in close proximity to one another. Typically, I think many people see bats as a symbol of scariness like Halloween, but after learning that they like to socialize and share food with different species, my opinion changed. It was fascinating to see 60+ bats up close, most of them clumped together, hanging from the ceiling, others flying through to get a drink. They belonged to five different species feeding from nectar and fruit. The experience was like nothing before, and Anna’s infatuation with the bats was very endearing. After watching the bats for a few minutes we left the bat jungle and headed back to the lodge, only to meet up with Loren Thomas, the co-head of the Monteverde Friends School. We all sat at a table together and he informed us of all of the differences between American schools and Costa Rican schools. He told the story of how a group of Alabama Quakers settled in Monteverde and founded the school to teach their children 65 years ago. The school has now 120 students from K to12 and 75 percent of the students are Ticos. He answered all of the questions the students had until it was time for dinner. Another productive day of service and fun in Costa Rica. Feliz dia del padre!