Friday, January 15, 2010

Costa Rica Part II: Chirripó

From Tortuguero we retraced our steps back to San Jose, then headed south, up and over the mountains, to the town of San Isidro, a nice mid-sized market town in an agricultural valley. Then it was back up into the mountains on an old school bus to a tiny town called San Gerardo de Rivas (pop. 800 or so).

San Gerardo's claim to fame is that it is near the trailhead for Cerro Chirripó, the highest peak in Costa Rica (12,228 ft) and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The hike to the summit involves 7,000 ft elevation gain over 12 miles (one-way). We were not that ambitious, but we did spend a few days hiking around in the general vicinity. In addition to a bit of Chirripó National Park, we explored a non-profit reforestation project called Cloudbridge. We were rewarded with beautiful views of the mountains, huge waterfalls, lots more birds, and the opportunity to watch a troupe of 8 white-faced monkeys for over an hour. We also got to experience the concept of "cloud forest" first hand, as the clouds rolled in each day and got stuck in the mountains right around our elevation.

Our hotel in San Gerardo was El Uran. A good bed, with a view of the mountains out our window, a truly hot shower, and a good restaurant. We thought it was quiet, too, until we realized we just hadn't had neighbors for our first two nights -- on our third night, we were awoken at 3:00 AM when a herd of elephants next door headed out to climb Chirripó.

Before heading out of San Gerardo, we took a hike over to the local hot springs, where Matt started a new fad among the local kids by showing them how to squirt water out of their clasped hands. Along the road to the springs were more fantastic birds and waterfalls. It's really a lovely area.