Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Costa Rica 2009: Ascent to the Cloudforest

After spending six days in the humid Pacific lowlands, we packed up the Suzuki Jimneyand, with much regret, said adiós to our new friends at Hacienda Baru. Leaving Baru, we drove south towards Dominical and veered east onto the Interamerican Hwy. Surprisingly, the road up the mountains and towards San Isidro was a refreshing departure from the potholes and oncoming truck traffic we endured during the first leg of our journey. 

The drive to Los Quetzales National Park and the Savegre Mountain Hotel was a dramatic ascent that took us through sleepy little villages and indigenous territories. With the exception of the occasional farm, the landscape was rugged and wild. The drive meandered through thick unspoiled forests that teamed with wildlife. The stretch of highway we drove is called Cerro de la Muerte or “Mountain of Death.” The unprotected shoulders that dip hundreds of feet into rainforest valleys and narrow bridges might lead you to believe that the road was named for the car accidents that frequently occur, however, Cerro de la Muerte describes the challenges indigenous peoples and early settlers faced as they attempted to traverse these mountains between the central valley and Pacific coast.

The forests along the Interamerican Hwy. undergo dramatic changes as the peak of the mountains approach. With increasing elevation the vegetation decreases in its girth and height. The peak is home to a stunted cloudforest with ancient trees that reach the diminutive height of two meters. High elevation and strong winds influence the growth of these ancients, the result is a surreal bonsai forest.

The rain pounded our vehicle as we began our descent into the valley. I had to make an abrupt left across the highway onto a single lane road that curved into the fog. The road to the Savegre River was the steepest I have ever experienced. Uphill traffic has the right of way, but I have no idea where I might have pulled over... mountain to the right and air to the left. Fortunately we didn’t encounter another vehicle during our 40 minute drop into the valley floor.

The Savegre Mountain Hotel and surrounding Quetzal National Park lies within this mountain range that creates a unique microclimate known as a cloudforest... more on that soon...

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