An overland drive to Monteverde lay ahead of us today but first, a stop at Lake Arenal for a morning kayak around the lakeshore before continuing on to Monteverde and the Cloud Forest. We did not actually see Arenal – the volcano – it was shrouded in clouds, as is often the case. When we arrived at the site where we were to kayak George and I happened to be sitting in the back of the bus. Our driver, Julio, turned off the highway and began to back down a steep driveway consisting of a narrow concrete pad barely as wide as the wheelbase and descending a 30-35 degree slope, getting steeper as we neared the lake. At the bottom he had to execute a sharp turn to a parking pad or plummet down the remainder of the slope into the river. Julio is an amazing driver and negotiated this terror of a driveway with relative ease; I just hoped that the brakes would hold! They did.
By the time we were ready to kayak it was pouring down rain, again, but it was warm rain and what the heck we would probably have gotten wet anyway on these sit-on-top kayaks. Despite the rain it felt good to be on the water unfortunately we did not see much in the way of wildlife or birds, just a lovely paddle and we were soaked by the time we returned. Quick changes into dry clothes and we were off again to a wonderful little establishment for lunch, El Establo Restaurant near the town of Nuevo Arenal. http://www.thestablearenal.com/
It was open-air dining in a family run restaurant with rental cabins up on the hill, behind the restaurant. The walls of the restaurant were adorned with photographs of beautiful horses, newspaper articles and family photos. Lunch was delish and the lady of the house had a beautiful garden and greenhouse next to the dining area. Some of the plants looked a bit like man-eaters but were quite beautiful.
Andres had promised us a surprise discovery today and he really delivered. The owner of the restaurant trains dancing horses for competition, thus the photographs on the walls, and he put on a demonstration with one of his champions. We have never seen anything quite like this dancing horse, and were truly amazed. I did shoot a very short video, hope you enjoy. Competitions are held throughout Costa Rica for these horses and the owner of this establishment had reason to be proud with more than one winner in his stables. He has great affection for this particular horse and while he does breed and train them for sale he admitted he could not sell this particular horse. What a surprise and treat indeed, we really enjoyed this unexpected discovery.
Our hotel was in a crowded little town, Santa Elena, gateway to Monteverde, but we drove through town passing by our hotel to first visit with Mary Campbell, daughter of one of the original Quaker families to settle here in the 1950’s. She invited us into her home where she had arranged seating for all of us and proceeded to give us a history of her family, and their journey to Costa Rica. This was enriched by a slide show of her father’s pictures of the settlement and growth of the family and the community.
During the Korean War, a group of 40 Quakers decide to leave their native USA, running away from the punishment they had to endure by not sending their sons to war. They looked for new opportunities in life, in a country that offered the tranquility they were looking for. They decided to come to Costa Rica (who had abolished their army in 1948). Looking around for an area to settle, they came past the Aranjuéz River where they were offered land up on the hills. There were many struggles and inconveniences, no running water and no electricity; just nature and an 8-hour horseback and oxcart ride up from the Pan-American Highway. But the 12 Quaker families began to build a community their new home… Monteverde. The community is thriving and now runs a school and over the years has developed a very successful cheese making business, exporting all over Central America.
Mary still lives very simply in the home she and her husband built and where they raised their children. Her home is adorned with lovely woodcarvings done by her husband and flowers, beautiful tropical flowers she gathers right out her door. She is alone, her husband passed away a few years ago and her children are grown and living elsewhere but she is quite content. From her windows you look out over the beautiful slopes of the rainforest to the Gulf of Nicoya and seated in her main room all you see are treetops. It is simple but exquisitely beautiful.
We thanked her for sharing her story and welcoming us into her home just as the sun was setting over the gulf so we lingered to admire the sunset before driving back to our new hotel for the night.