Thursday morning was an exciting one. Today, we took a bus to Monte Verde, the location I looked forward to the most of all the Costa Rican destinations. It was a long, windy, bumpy ride that allowed us to see both awe-inspiring landscapes and small towns. The differences I saw along the ride were quite astounding. Coming out of Heredia, the surrounding area was relatively densely populated, and the streets were lined with houses and sodas- small, family owned markets or restaurants. As we ventured further from Heredia, the sodas became more and more spread out as there was clearly a less dense population. Something interesting I noticed was that the owners of these sodas would sit outside and talk to others as they walked by in an attempt to increase traffic, something I did not notice in Heredia. Also, almost every soda I saw outside of Heredia was run by a parent with the help of a younger child.
When I woke up from a quick nap, the scenery had become very familiar to that of Jumanji which was playing on the bus television. Green as far as the eyes could see. When I had learned about ecotourism, this is what I pictured in my head. In the distance I could see the clouds swirling around the mountaintops where we would be in a few hours. At this point in the drive, we were approaching a heavy tourist area, so instead of sodas, there were much bigger convenience stores that hung signs with both English and Spanish words.
After today’s drive, my view on Costa Rica slightly changed to what I thought it would be coming into the trip. I had read many times that tourism had overtaken all agriculture as the most profitable industry in Costa Rica, but I had not seen this since I am living with a Costa Rican family. The many coffee tours led me to believe that coffee was still a large part of the economy. While it definitely still plays a role, coffee cannot compete with tourism. Around every bend was another sign for ziplining, riding ATV’s, or hiking in the cloud forests. Once we reached Monte Verde, it was clear that these activities are extremely popular. After not seeing any cars in the rural areas of Costa Rica, the seemingly remote mountains were flooded with cars headed towards the famous cloud forests.
Once we reached Monte Verde I was also exposed to the rich biodiversity of Costa Rica for the first time. In addition to the new types of trees and colorful flowers, we also saw a Coati – a relative of the raccoon- and an armadillo within the first ten minutes of walking around. Also, we ran into several wild dogs who wasted no time asking us for our ice cream and following us a mile back to our hotel. I look forward to seeing all the wildlife that Monte Verde has to offer, and I’m praying that I will be able to see a sloth before I leave. After a few hours I can already say that Monte Verde does not disappoint.