Chasing Cool: San Gerardo de Dota
Cool mountain air. Cool camping. The coolest bird.
The air doesn't feel like air anymore. It feels like a hot, damp, wool sweater we put on every time we do more than sit still. We are so done with the heat and humidity. It makes us lethargic and cranky. Locals we talked to also complain that this is an unusually oppressive October. Awesome. So we opened the map to look for higher ground and cooler temps. Only a couple hours north from here are the mist-covered peaks of the Talamanca Mountains, and the Los Quetzales National Park. Altitude, cloud forest, a river...we said goodbye to Oona & her friends, and high tailed it into the mountains to find some cool air.
We drove up over 11,000 feet and into the Quetzal National Park. We camped at the Mirador Queztal, also known as Finca Eddi Serrano. This small family run lodge sits high on a ridge top with cabins overlooking the mountains, and we camped on a grassy lot on the property. Here in the cloud forest, the trade off to the hot air is rain. It rains hard every single afternoon beginning around 12 or 1 pm. We set up camp and fell asleep to the pounding rain just above our heads.
In our quest to find cooler temperatures we discovered we might also have a chance to see the coolest bird in Central America. The Resplendent Quetzal. This bird was the most sacred symbol of the Aztecs and Mayans. We had seen the bird carved in stone in almost all the Mayan ruins we visited. Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent, is seen wearing the long tail plumes of the male Quetzal, which only the royalty of these societies were allowed to wear. The name quetzal is an ancient Indian term for tail feather, and the bird itself represents liberty. They are very rare in Guatemala where the bird is its national symbol and its currency. Their colors are an exotic crimson, turquoise, and an iridescent green color.
At the crack of dawn we got up and set out into the forest with our guide (the owner's grandson) in search of the elusive Quetzal bird. After about half an hour, with the sun rising through ancient moss-covered trees we spotted our first one in flight. We aren't necessarily big bird watchers, but seeing the Quetzal in flight was pretty spectacular. With our guide whistling the bird's call every couple of minutes and positioning us under the avocado trees they forage on, we were able to spot 6 birds that morning, both males and females. We had no idea we would get see these rare birds when we decided to come up here; it was an unexpected treat. We were out for about 3 hours, and after our hike we had breakfast in the lodge and then spent the afternoon hanging out by the fire. In our fleece - a welcome change.
Looking for the Resplendent Quetzal in the cloud forest
We watched for them under a varietal of advocado tree in the forest. These small fruits are what they forage on.
The Quetzals nest in these hollowed out trees.
First sighting. Quetzal in flight
There are so many species of hummingbirds in Costa Rica, too. We saw tons up here in the mountains.
From there we followed the Savegre River deep into the bottom of a canyon and to the mountain valley community of San Gerardo de Dota. This area looks more like the Alps than Costa Rica. A bucolic mountain town surrounded by forested hills sits by a clear, rushing river loaded with trout. There are few tourists other than some die hard bird watchers. We found a beautiful camp spot right on the river called Sueños del Bosque (Forest Dreams).
We hung out there for 4 days. Mornings were clear and cool but just like clockwork, every afternoon brought pouring rain that drove us back into the camper. We didn't mind, though. We needed fleece and a blanket and that made everything all right. John fished in the river each day and we also did a beautiful hike on a rough trail along the river to a gushing waterfall.
With lots of rain or humidity we get lots of moisture in the camper. Every day we have to air out the mattress by propping it up and wipe down the walls.
This river is full of trout and John was determined to get us dinner. The first fish he caught on our first day was the biggest. He released it back in it the river, and has been on a mission to get one just slightly bigger ever since. His hope was to get one big enough to feed us both. To his disappointment every fish since the first one was a single serving fish, not a full meal fish. He tried for a couple of days to get his "lunker" but the big fish got away. In the meantime we dined (in the only two restaurants down here) on amazingly fresh, beautifully prepared trout...with no blood or fish guts to deal with. So I was certainly not complaining about the little guys he had to throw back.
Fresh river trout and organic vegetables right on the river. A surprisingly delicious, stylish restaurant in the botton of a canyon.
We didn't want to leave but the wild Osa Peninsula was calling. The drive was too far to make it in one day so we overnighted on another river between the mountains and beaches near Ojochal. We stayed at a beautiful river tent lodge called the Rio Tico Safari Lodge, owned by a lovely Dutch family. We swam in the cool river pools until dark and fell asleep to the pouring rain again.
After a little more than a week, we were finally ready to leave the cloud forest and head back to the rain forest. The Osa Penisula is our last stop in Costa Rica before we move on to Panama.
As J2theDD used to say... cool, cool.