I stayed in a musicians house in San Jose the night before heading out to Monteverde which was kinda cool. Well, it was great to hear them all playing their guitars and pianos in the lounge for the first few hours but not when they were jamming right up until the wee hours! My bus was leaving San Jose at 6:30am the next morning so I knew I wouldn’t get much sleep…perhaps I could kip on my 5hr long bus trip?
Urgh, 5:30am and my alarm was already doing its usual unwelcomed flash dance on the dresser next to my bed. I chucked on some clothes and headed for the nearest (and safest) place to grab a cab. Armed with my spanish dictionary, I managed to summon a taxi and ask the driver to take me to the 7/10 bus terminal.
I was greeted at the entrance of the bus station by a few of the local Costa Ricans. It was clear they were just trying to be helpful and assist fellow backpackers as to which ticket counters they needed. Baffled by the Spanish lingo being fired into my untuned ears, I thought I’d cleverly sussed where they were telling me to go but I hadn’t! The bus station was laid out like a ‘mall’ complex and spread over 3 floors. After a few attempts of going from the top floor, to the middle and back down again, (not fun whilst hobbling along with mr invisible!) I’d finally navigated my way and located the right bus terminal, bought my ticket and made my way outside to the waiting area.
It was a 5 hr trip to Monteverde. Stupidly, I didn’t buy any breakfast on the way over and all my faffing trying to find the right terminal left me with no time to buy anything so I was pretty hungry for half the journey. Luckily we stopped for refreshments and snacks so I took the opportunity to load up.
During our ‘pit stop’ a pale looking, blonde girl got off. We gave each other the ‘you’re a backpacker’ look and chatted in the snack cue. Esher (which sounded like Easter but without the ‘a’) was also headed for Monteverde. It was nice to have some company on the way and also know another backpacker was staying in town that night.
The scenery again was just incredible! My eyes were witnessing endless scenes like something straight out of the Jurassic Park movies! Humming the theme tune in my head, I marvelled at the huge expanse of Tropical jungle which thrived in every bit of space it could cram into. I pondered things like ‘How many sloths could be hanging around in the mass of trees there right this second?’ or ‘How many species of tarantula are wondering the forest floors down there’ hah.
Woah, I could tell we were headed into the highlands of Costa Rica now…we were travelling up and up and up, so far up my ears starting popping! Eek…the road was becoming more rocky and snake like too as it looped around the incline of the mountains. I tensed up in my window seat as the bus got closer to the edge giving me glimpses of the sheer ‘death’ drop below! ‘Blimey! What if some of the rocks roll away from under the tyres causing the bus to wobble and fall down the mountain?’ or ‘What if the bus driver has a sudden heart attack and drives us all straight over the edge?’ Oh jesus Helen, STOP with the imaginations haha! No one else seem bothered by the ‘view’ at this point so I slipped my ear phones on and played some Coldplay to see me through.
When we reached the end of the line, Esher and I managed to figure out where our hostels were and walked together. Omg, Monteverde is so hilly and the weight of our heavy backpacks were killing us slowly! Finally reaching our hostels (which thankfully were close by) we departed and went our seperate ways. I knew I’d probably see Esher around as Monteverde seemed a really small place…the town almost seemed a ‘triangular’ shape and easy to navigate. Actually, the first thing Esher and I noticed were the amount of hostels there were; ‘Monteverde Backpackers’, ‘Sloth backpackers’, ‘Nina’s place’…It seems a very ‘touristic’ area. I could hear American and Canadian accents in passing and saw the odd local Costa Rican darting into smaller side streets of fruit markets and cafe’s.
I spent the night in a mixed dorm at Monteverde backpackers and luckily they were all girlies aged 19-20. Saturday morning and afternoon was spent skyping and blogging. And I did see Esher again! I grabbed myself some lunch in town and saw her in passing. She pointed out a great place to get a cheap taco and again, we parted ways.
“What are you going to do here in Monteverde?” The hostel owner made small talk in the reception as I checked out. “Oh, I’m doing an internship with the butterfly gardens in Cerro Plano. I’ll be learning all about the bugs and butterflies and helping to give english tours round the gardens and nature centre”. I enthusiastically responded. “Oh fantastic. Well welcome to Monteverde Helen. Come back here again anytime.” And with that, I ordered my cab to whisk me off to get started with my next venture.
Back to nature
“Hola. I’m Helen, here to volunteer” I greeted a Costa Rican looking guy on the reception with a big smile hoping he’d already be expecting me. “Ahh Helen, yes, our new volunteer. I’m Roberto, nice to meet you.” Roberto spoke with an American accent yet I later found out, he was a Costa Rican national (just brought up in America). After Roberto introduced himself, he turned to beckon a colleague. “Um, Sam, do you know where Helen is staying? Is she in the Cassita with you?” Looking towards a seated area was a slim, pretty girl with long, light brown wavy hair. She actually reminded me of Taylor Swift haha. “Oh yes! Hey Helen, I’m Sam. Nice to meet you. You’re staying in the Cassita with me. Here, let’s take your things over there now so you can start unpacking.” Sam must be around 19-20yr but we instantly clicked. I think I will call her Swifty from now on hehe.
Swifty showed me to the Cassita – a shack deep in the bushes tucked neatly away from the bugs and butterfly centre. ‘So we’re living in the woods’ I thought to myself! “We are very eco-friendly here. Everything is run by solar panel too so we must be very energy conscious.” The ‘steps’ down into our Cassita are actually made out of old car tyres so I was already getting an idea as to how nothing is wasted – pretty ingenious hey!
It was rather pokey inside the Cassita but there was just enough space. I could see a cosy set up of 2 rooms both with a bunk bed inside. I was pleasantly surprised as to how light and airy the Cassita is. It seems to have everything you could need – a stove, a sink, plates, pots and pans…Oh but…’where’s the toilet’ I thought? Swifty then gave me a mini tour and showed me where the shower is (just to the side of the Cassita), and then of course, the toilets which is a short walk further into the woods. So I guess you could say…yes, I do s**t in the woods haha.
The toilets are very basic but they have been created specifically to work as composters. There is a small ‘out-house’ with 2 raised wooden seats (or ‘holes’ both complete with lids) – one for pees and well, the other for your number 2’s haha. The first thing that sprung to mind was how much it reminded me of the ‘dark ages’ except these were a more modern version I guess haha. The ‘waste’ from the buckets sat under the holes is eventually moved to one big bucket to finally become an all purpose fertilizer – again, all very well thought out and
They are so self sufficiant here. Swifty even showed me their chicken coup and the pig pen! The chickens are purely used for their eggs but the pigs are bred for their meat. Swifty told me they did have 2 pigs named Prince William and Harry but Harry was recently killed and eatern one afternoon which actually, I’m really glad I wasn’t here to see. So they now have 2 adult males, 1 large female and a load of piglets.
“Oh and here is our herb garden. Anything you see in this patch is ours to use in the Cassita”. Sam showed me round a small rectangular patch near the shower which had various kinds of green growing. I am utterly rubbish with plants and can’t tell you the difference between a weed and a flower but she pointed out we have mint, fennel and sage amoung a few others.
So back in the Cassita, I gradually unpacked all of my clothes and toiletries and began setting up the mozzie ‘tent’ on my bed. “Oh that looks great!” Sam stood and watched for a few minutes as I did another blue peter job of looping and hooking the thing up and around the available bed posts. “You’re gonna need that because spiders crawl over me during the night…oh and it’s common to find scorpians in our rooms here too!”. “OMG! I’m so glad I have this then. It has a bottom on it too so nothing’s getting in with me haha!” I was super happy I had invested in this piece of kit and knew sleeping here wasn’t going to be a problem
Once I’d gotten everything organised in my room, I took a walk back over to the centre where I met both Bryna and David, the bosses. A welcoming Canadian couple who gave me an introduction on all I needed to know and what I was required to start on first of all. “So, we have a nature centre full of bugs which you will come to learn about later on but the best thing for now, is to learn the names of all the butterflies we have here.” Bryna passed me a selection of colourful flash cards with photographs of the butterflies and their common names. “We have 4 gardens here that are each split into different eco-systems. The best way to learn the names, is to spend time in the gardens on your own taking these cards with you.”
So I knew my first task for the next few days would be to study, read and re-read the flash cards. ‘Strewth’ I thought to myself, ‘how am I going to remember all of these names?!’ There were 22 butterflies I needed to be able to recognise, each with its own interesting little fact (there were a few more than 22 to memorize as they’d been busy introducing a few more species to the gardens).
Garden 1 – Beach/Lowlands: The Owl butterly, Common Blue Morpho, Red Cracker, Blue Frosted Banner & Giant Swallowtail
Garden 2 – Neo Tropics: The common postman, Cydno longwing, Julia longwing, Zebra longwing, Sara Longwing
Garden 3 – Forest understory: The glass wing and the Orange stained glass wing
Garden 4 – Butterflies native to Monteverde: Common Blue Morpho, Prepona, Monarch, False Mountain postman, Hewittson, Tigerwing, 5 spotted longwing, Terricina longwing and the Sulphers.
So, later that evening after the bosses had left for the day, Swifty and I headed back to the Reception area where Adrian was sitting – another volunteer of the gardens. “Hey Helen! Nice to meet you. Would you like some rum with us?” Adrian, a french guy in his late 20s greeted me with a friendly handshake which was quickly exchanged for a blue mug filled with about a quarter of rum – I watched it swish up the sides as he passed it over to me. “Oh lovely, um thank you.” I wasn’t a huge fan of rum but I wanted to ‘join’ in and become part of the gang!
We all ended up chatting until the sun went down. It was great getting to know them both. And Adrian knew so much about bugs! A very interesting character who was sadly coming to the end of his internship so I’d only know him for a few days.
Over the next few days, I’d spent a fair amount of time in each garden and also ended up practising with Swifty and other members of staff and was quite surprised as to how quickly I’d picked up all the names of the butterflies so was super happy. I even followed permanent staff round on their tours so I could learn the lingo and the ‘script’ of what you were to talk about when taking people round. It was all quite daunting actually. ‘How am I going to do this? I’m no Biologist’ I’d say to myself. My confidence was the only threat to my new knowledge but I was getting it and I had to remember to stop being so harsh on myself.
Roberto, David and Bryna are the guru’s here! All come from Biology and/or Entamology backgrounds so they know pretty much everything there is to know about these bugs and butterflies! I could listen to them talk about bugs all day long and in fact, I pretty much did whenever they had large tour groups to lead.
“We’ll be giving you suggested readings to aid your learning here”. David actually reminds of Emmett Brown from Back to the Future haha. He’s a bit of an eccentric inventor! And if you’re following him around the grounds, he’s actually quite hard to keep up with…he’s always darting about and mumbling something or other under his breath and if I can’t hear him, I’d like to pretend he’s saying…’Great Scott’ haha! So anyways…there is a rather large cabinet FULL to the brim with books covering topics such as; Natural history and diversity of insects, butterfly anatomy, Entomology and evolution of bugs, Snakes of costa rica etc etc..anything a naturalist could ever want and need to know, I love it!
So finally, after days of cramming, David took me on a ‘dummy’ tour to test my knowledge. I was sooo nervous! ‘You can do this Hels. You HAVE to do this!’ I kept repeating positive affirmations in my head over and over to see if this would help but my nerves kept prodding me like some kind of annoying child. “Ok. You ready?” David looked over the tip of his glasses waiting for me to ‘start’. “Yep, let’s do this”. I then took him straight over to garden 1 to begin my first test run tour…
Ugh, it was so patchy and I felt so flushed by the time we’d got back to the Reception are. I’d stumbled and stuttered and totally over used the word ‘um’…a LOT hah! “Hey, you did good. You have the knowledge there Helen, you just need to relax a bit more but that will come with practise”. David was very kind about it and I felt he understood that I was naturally going to be nervous…I mean, he was one of the guru’s right! “Next up is the nature centre. We’d like to get you tour ready by the end of the week”. WHAT! Omg, they don’t hang about here. “Ok, sure!” I replied confidently as though ready for my next challenge – Hell, I’d even convinced myself of it (almost!).
The nature centre is actually my favourite part of this centre. They have scorpions, tarantulas, Stick insects, bugs that mimic leaves, cockroaches and a variety of beetles and I had to learn about the lot. Roberto took me around and taught me all he could – well, all that I could take in. The days felt long and tiring and I almost felt as though I was trying to become a mini David Attenborough (my hero!) in the space of a week.
After many ‘lessons’, reading and writing and following real tours of the nature centre, I was ready to practise mine. I walked around with Roberto which for some strange reason was more nerve-racking than walking around with Emmett Brown! Again, I stuttered and left patches of information out but information that I knew! I was so annoyed with myself. David later called me over for a ‘quiet’ word as it was clear my nerves were holding me back. “Just pretend you’re walking round with your college buddies. Just tell them what you know about the bugs”. And that was it…that worked a treat. I was so happy that David was really understanding about it. Then came my first full and very real tour…!
“Hi there! I’m Helen, welcome to the gardens here in Monteverde.” I welcomed my first family and immediately took them over to the nature centre. They were a lovely french family who were actually coming to the end of their holiday here in Costa Rica. I LOVED telling them all about our Scorpians and how they are carnivorous and all about our tarantulas who are actually some of the cleanest housekeepers…oh and educated them that the Tarantula Hawk Wasp is one nasty arse predator that paralizes and lays eggs INSIDE the tarantula whilst keeping it alive right until the very end. And the best part was handling Timmy our resident Giant Peppered Cockroach. “Ewwww! He’s gross, don’t put that thing near me!” They’d all chant. “But without Timmy, we’d be living in piles of crap you know. They eat 40% of the worlds detritus…AND they can live without their heads for almost 3 weeks!” hahaha…I was finding my groove and I was loving it.
Tours would come and go and I was starting to settle into it more each time. You’d sometimes have a ‘bad’ tour…well, bad’s not the right word – It really depends on the people. Some people aren’t always into the bugs and some are. In reality, people come here to see Butterflies but our mission is to show them the bugs too and hopefully change peoples perceptions of insects and have them leaving feeling a little less scared of them too 😉
Oh hey and I have already earned myself a 12 dollar tip too which is FAB. Tips aren’t expected here but it’s certainly bonus ‘beer’ money when you do get one 😉
AND….I’ve now had my first Trip Advisor review….only a 5 STAR ONE!! I am SO chuffed with this. Emmett was thrilled and even bought us all beers to celebrate one night so I guess I can’t be as bad as I think hehe!
We’ve since had 2 newbies join the team too so it’s really fab having more volunteers to learn from and hang around with. Anna, an 18 yr old Russian native who lives in Canada and Devin, a 24 yr old American dude who is super into birds (and I do mean the kind with feathers btw haha!). Both again, are studying some kind of wildlife/biology course. Their enthusiasm is really inspirational and it’s amazing to be around similar people who also gasp “WOWWW” at the crazy bug we’ve just found crawling up the wall in our room haha
Anyone smell gas?
Ok, so even though a huge part of our diet consists of black beans here, there was one terrifying morning that had our Cassita filled with a different tye of gas hahah!
Most mornings, we’re cooking on our stove either making banana pancakes or frying eggs that we’ve collected from our coup. One morning, Swifty turned on the hob to boil the kettle for tea. It was just a regular morning and nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
“Can anyone smell gas?” Anna had just taken a shower and stepped back in with her nose held up and cautiously sniffing. “Um, no. Hang on, let me walk out and then back in again.” I walked out the Cassita and straight back in and yes, she was right, there was a smell of gas in the air. Swifty did the same – she walked out and in and agreed there was clearly a gas leak going on.
Swifty got to work and fiddled with the pipe at the back of the stove and then…’WHOOOOSH’. It sounded as thought someone had just sparked a giant lighter – the rush of the gas was ignited in an instant…you could almost hear the BOOM as it burst into flames.
Fire seemed to project and spit itself out from behind the stove immediately intent on destroying the wooden table it was resting upon. ‘OMG! We’ve gotta put this out IMMEDIATELY’ I thought but panic took over and we all froze for a few moments shocked and almost in denial at what we were seeing.
Anna found a small fire extinguiser on the kitchen shelf, perfect! “Oh brill, use it Anna, use it” I shouted in Anna’s direction instructing her to point and spray. But ashamedly none of us knew how to use the dam thing and the instructions were all in Spanish! SHIT…the edge of the table was now on fire and the fear of ‘The gas could explode any second’ was becoming a very real reality in my mind.
“TURN OFF THE GAS HELEN, TURN OFF THE GAS” Swifty yelled. “Good idea.” I ran out the Cassita realising ‘where the hell is the canister and how the f**k do I turn it off anyways when I find it?!’ I had to run back in and admit that I had no idea where the thing was kept. Swifty (who was usually the level-headed one) was now way beyond calm and yelled at everyone to get out the Cassita. “Yeh we can’t mess about…EVERYONE OUT!” I shouted back.
Swifty, Anna and I headed to the parking lot but Swifty ran back to turn the canister off. Phew! As soon as the gas was disconnected, the fire in the corner of the Cassita seemed to almost put itself out. We immediately filled every bucket, pot and pan we could with water and lobbed it over the stove and into the corner of the kitchen area.
Oh my god! What the hell just happened! What a dramatic morning. Devin then walked in “Hey, what’s up guys?” We were almost dumb struck for a few moments but welcomed his presence. ‘Help has arrived’ I thought (although too late now!) We all heard Emmett Brown arriving for work and Swifty ran over to tell him what had just happened. Emmett, the crazy inventor then came over and fixed it for us.
But oh boy! We all HATE using the stove now. Main thing is, no one was hurt and we’ve made sure we all know how to work the dam fire extinguisher too hah!
8 wks to go!
So far, all us volunteers are getting along great! We’re spending a lot of time hanging out together after work, either going out for dinner or going for a few drinks here and there. I love the fact that everyone is always up for going out and exploring and wanting to spend time getting to know each other….I mean, we’re working together after all.
There is quite a bit to do around here from hiking to zip-lining, to going to see other nature spots like the Bat Jungle or the snakes and frogs exhibits. Oh and did I mention karaoke bar down town haha…well, we’re yet to visit but this has gotta be ticked off soon haha.
I took myself off for a hike on one of my days off. It was fab to pull on my hiking boots and get lost in the jungle for a bit.
During a hike around the Childrens Eternal Rain Forest nearby, I heard a rustling up above me in the trees so I stopped and looked up…I spotted a family of Coati! They are the cutest lil things! At first, I thought I saw some kind of baby bear staring down at me from the trees above haha but of course it wasn’t. They have long noses (almost ant eater like) and long tails. I stood still for a while and one actually came down the tree and let me photograph it, wow!
This place is just full of nature and I LOVE it. Oh did I mention, we spotted rows and rows of army ants coming through town the other night too! Those things are scary as! If you see them, don’t stand still through one of their marches. They look as though they are hunting for flesh. I read that the smaller ones will basically pin down whatever’s in its path e.g. a cockroach or tarantula while the bigger ones come along and pull the thing apart nom nom! They will bite humans too so it’s best not to mess hah!
So my first 2wks have flown so we’ll se how the other 8wks pan out. Hopefully I’ll know a whole ton more than I do now and although it’s only been 2wks, I do feel as though I’ve crammed a lot in the short space of time that I’ve been here now.
Again, feeling truly blessed and grateful for all these wonderful experiences and I am loving being able to share my experiences with you too! 😉