Notes from the Cloud Forest

Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica – June 10th, 2008

When I was a child, I saw a cartoon set in the cloudforest of South America, and I had wanted to go there ever since. I was reasonable about it – I knew one couldn’t truly expect to find ancient ruins, hidden caves behind waterfalls, or the secret sanctuary of the endangered quetzal birds. Still, the name promised enough with its very essence – imagine, a forest set so high in the mountains that it rises into the clouds and is filled with mists… It’s like something out of a story book.

And it really is. Something out of a fairy tale and a sci-fi horror all together. Some of the plants growing in there were like nothing I’d ever seen, like the shoots of wet green, covered in dark spots as though, reaching a certain age, it would rise from the earth as a sentient being… plants whose roots pulled nutrients out of the wet, rich air itself, the monkey tree, which ends in spiralling branches so like the tails of monkeys…  and monkeys themselves, spider monkeys and howler monkeys, crashing through the leaves overhead, making the forest alive. And the mists swallowed everything, enshrouding the forest in mystery and leaving beads of moisture on everything that passed through it.

Lianas like those of a thousand jungle movies hung from the branches above, and disappeared below into the mists as we crossed swinging bridges hung over valleys. It was something from a dream, from another planet, from a fairy tale, from an earlier age in the long lifespan of the world… beautiful.

Perhaps I had learned something from O’Toole’s photography lecture at the volcano. Some things… you just remember. I didn’t take as many photos as usual there in the forest. Of the few I took, most failed utterly to capture the experience. The water everywhere, the wet echoes of footprints and screeching wildlife, the grey mists and sudden, jolting, flash of colourful wings, the heaviness of the air, when I almost expected to see my reflection, hovering in the mists ahead.

And the sloth. I have no picture of him, but that does nothing to diminish the memory. It looked at me, see. It was high up in the trees, covered in shaggy fur, tinged slight green by the fungus that grew there, and it looked down at me from there, the absolute picture of mischievous smugness. Not in a dog, not in a dolphin, not in a monkey, have I ever seen an animal mirror a human emotion so clearly. His little humanoid face peeked out at us through thick green fur with a knowing, mocking gaze – as if he knew he was special, knew we were staring at him in awe, and was laughing at us.

/A Walk in the Clouds

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El Mercado de Heredia

Heredia, Costa Rica – June 6th, 2008

Heredia was much like San Jose. Exteriors were dirty concrete and rusted metal, with the junctures between the two often neglected. To say there was no insulation would be an understatement – a Missouri rainstorm would whip in through every crack.

We were assigned a scavenger hunt in the Mercado. They divided us into groups to look for items from a list, which we were forbidden to show anyone – we were meant to ask people where we could buy things and how they were used. All of our things (with one exception) turned out to be herbs and spices, so we found ourselves bothering the same people again and again.

A group of exhausted high schoolers need some sort of authority figure to maintain organization, so when it came time to eat lunch, in particular, there were arguments. For about half an hour we bickered over where to eat, as half the group wanted cheap, authentic food – the kind most prevalent in the Mercado itself, while the other half couldn’t be persuaded to go anywhere near the street vendors.

The group finally split and I stayed with the Mercado group. The little bar we ate at probably left us more exposed to thieves and pickpockets than any other place we went on our trip, but I wasn’t at all worried about the food. They prepared it right in front of us, and meat and cheese and cilantro smells wafted over the dirty glass that separated the kitchen from the counter. My first full and real Costa Rican meal – Pollo con Gallo Pinto – was delicious. I even ordered a cheese tortilla to finish it off.

Photo: Toxic Environment Cow (Costa Rica)

Where: Costa Rica

When: June 2008

Camera: Canon Powershot A550

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When I visited San Jose, the city was holding a CowParade public art exhibit. Dozens of artists had decorated cows, placed throughout the city, in ways that were sometimes beautiful, sometimes hilarious, and sometimes expressed a poignant social or political message. I made it my mission to look for these cows wherever we went. This cow, with it’s gas mask, green hooves, and carbon emissions statistics printed in green, warned passers-by about pollution and the toxic environment humans are creating for themselves.

Cereal with Milk and Iced Tea

Two for one!

Iced tea with lemon... always delicious over your honey oats! ^^

The first time I saw cereal prepackaged with milk in Costa Rica, I thought I was going a bit crazy.

But, once I remembered that most of the milk sold in Latin America is super-pasteurized and doesn’t need refrigeration until it’s opened, I got used to it fairly quickly. And then I saw cereal packaged with tea…

The Jungle Fights Back

Where: Costa Rica

When: June 2008

Camera: Canon Powershot A550

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I took this picture from the bus as we were driving in western Costa Rica. I loved how the lush, tangled green of the forest suddenly parted to reveal the brightly coloured touristy towels hanging by the shop. I guess the photo could be a statement that the jungle is taking back the land, covering the buildings, or that tourism is encroaching on Costa Rica’s natural beauty – but for my part, I thought they co-existed rather well.

/Pura Vida in Costa Rica

 

Mexican Walmart

Unrefrigerated Milk

I love visiting grocery stores in other countries. So much is the same, that it makes what’s different really stand out. Some things that surprised me as a visitor from the U.S. were unrefrigerated milk in big cartons and new flavors of microwave popcorn (caramel, jalapeño, chile with lemon!) and ramen (seafood, cheese, and more chile with lemon).

Pan Bimbo! - Bimbo Bread!

There was also some sort of meat roasting on a spit in the back, the toasted rice drink Horchata, (which my Spanish teacher hated!) and my personal favourite, Bimbo brand bread, now pre-toasted for your convenience!

/Cancun, December 2007