Arriving into Santa Elena town, in Monteverde, was a relief, and not just because we’d been travelling all day. It was a relief because it could be called rather chilly! We had been sitting on one bus or boat or another for about ten hours, and several times I had woken up from an uncomfortable light doze to find myself covered with a film of sweat. Delightful. But we arrived in Santa Elena just after sunset, and oh, the coolness of the breeze as we trooped off with our backpacks once more.
We had arrived to a full-scale festival with a huge parade, and the place was completely decked out in Christmas decorations, with Santa hats, glowing reindeer and other crass but festive tributes of this kind. I can honestly say that this was the first place where the Christmas decorations didn’t seem utterly out of place, and that was purely because it was cold. I know not everywhere can be cold at Christmas, and I’ve even envied Australians their whole Christmas-barbie-on-the-beach thing, but I never realised how much I considered miserable weather and darkness an essential part of it. Well, it seems I do, and I felt Christmassy for the first time this year, with an added twinge of nostalgia for home.
Anyway, Monteverde is a high, mountainous area covered with cloud forest and a few National Reserves, and this is what we and every other traveller had come to see. There’s all sorts of wildlife living in these forests, from rare and colourful birds to big cats to exceptionally creepy insects, and that’s not mentioning the plants. They have dozens of species of orchids alone, and our guide, Adrian, showed us so many things that we would definitely have missed by ourselves.
On this occasion, I would say a guide was absolutely necessary. It’s becoming a bit of a thing, trying to guess whether or not one is necessary, and whether to take the risk without. But when we went into the Cloud Forest it was tipping it down with rain – even the canopy overhead couldn’t stop us getting soaked – and we realised how miserable we would have been without someone to point out what we would never have seen alone.
With Adrian, we saw an Emerald Toucanette, a rare green hummingbird that I can’t remember the name of, a sleeping speckle-breasted owl and a Quetzal, which is supposed to be very hard to get a look at. Certainly the other groups around whose guides weren’t so quick as ours shot us some very jealous looks. But for me, the most incredible thing about our trip had to be the Hummingbird Gallery.
The Hummingbird Gallery is actually just before the Reserve, and I don’t think you have to pay for it. It is a series of bird-feeders filled with sugared water, around which fly dozens and dozens of hummingbirds, darting from one feeder to another, never staying still for more than half a second and zooming past your head. They aren’t shy, these birds. Ever had a hummingbird zoom past your head? It’s a lot like a miniature helicopter hovering by your ear, and the breeze from their frantically beating wings actually moves your hair. But apart from having them so close, they are just incredibly beautiful and elegant birds of very vibrant and shiny colours, and I watched them for a good hour before it was time to go. I’ve decided that when I grow up, and I’m very, very rich, I’m going to have a hummingbird gallery.