After an early breakfast, we packed up the bus and headed southeast, along the Pan American Highway, towards the first place we would visit: Savegre Valley near Cerro de la Muerte, one of Costa Rica’s highest peaks. As we drove the 2-hour drive, we got our first glimpses of Costa Rica in the daylight. Distant mountains hugged the route, peek-a-booing views of the country and valley and giving us brief photographic moments…
A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
Over the next few weeks, we would learn a bit about the history of Costa Rica…
- Though “discovered” (I use the word loosely) by Columbus in 1502, Costa Rica remained largely ignored by Spanish conquerors because of its lack of gold and silver, extreme heat, and dense jungle.
- Colonists successfully settled in the central highlands of Cartago in 1563.
- Costa Rica became a fully independent country in 1838.
- In 1949, Costa Rica ended a 44-day Civil War, adopted a new Constitution, and abolished its military.
“But Melissa,” you’re asking, “what do you mean they abolished their military?!”
I mean it as simply as I can put it: There is no army. In 1949, President Jose Figueres took the keys of a San Jose military fort and handed them to the Minister of Education, setting off a series of events that would ultimately redirect the military’s budget toward healthcare, education, and environmental protection.
We learn there are local police but no national defense force and, over the next 2 weeks, we see that the military budget has been well spent: well-directed investments in land preservation and ecological sustainability where nature thrives, a country-wide emphasis and appreciation for free, quality education, and a high literacy rate of 96%.
ARRIVAL AT TROGON LODGE
The road into the valley was bumpy, narrow, and winding but afforded us magnificent views of colorful homes, bright gardens, grazing horses, and children playing.
Our guide stopped the bus and encouraged us to walk the final mile into the valley so we could experience more of our surroundings.
When we arrived at the Trogon Lodge, we were greeted by colorful flowers, tall oaks, and cerro-de-la-muerte lording over the valley. A small river wound its way amongst the rocks in the valley and fresh trout (caught fresh every afternoon for dinner) swam in the fish pond.
After settling in to our cabins, our professors and guide led us on our first hike: Cataratas Hike. The river roared next to us as we made our way along the well-made (though not well-marked) trails. While I felt comfortable walking quickly, I was intensely aware of this one-chance opportunity to truly BE in this place at this time so I slowed my steps to look, listen, take pictures, and truly enjoy the experience of hiking in the rain forest. An additional benefit to walking in the back was walking with Prof D, whose extensive knowledge of botany and Costa Rica always provided an interesting learning experience.
How quickly the weather changed in the Valley. I must have taken off my long-sleeve shirt 15 times.
On the way back to the bus, I stopped to take a picture and, when I looked back up, I realized I was alone. Not truly: I knew there was a pack of hikers in front of me and a pack of hikers behind me but I was thankful for this brief, private moment in this beautiful part of Costa Rica.
NOTABLE ANIMALS AND PLANTS I SAW TODAY:
Black Vulture: Spotted 2 Black Vultures in the air…circling and soaring…very impressive wingspans.
Bromeliads: 3,170 species…The flowering plant can take on different shapes/colors.
Tree Ferns: To see ferns as trees fascinated me on this day and every time I saw them throughout the entire trip.
Angel’s Trumpet or “Reina de la Noche”: Intensely fragrant…Grown as a yard ornament…Highly poisonous and hallucinogenic…Known to induce a period of intense violence and temporary insanity (though I have no experience to back up this claim). Indigenous people used the plant medicinally as well as for divination with ancestors.
WHERE WE STAYED: Trogon Lodge
My San Jose roommate and I were paired together once again in a small wooden cabin with 2 comfortable beds, a private bathroom, and an outside porch with rockers and chairs. As long as the wind wasn’t throwing the hot water switch out, there was plenty of hot water in the bathrooms (this would be the last HOT shower I would take for many days as we were headed to a place where I could never quite figure out which showers offered the hot water). A small heating unit in each bedroom was lit by the staff every evening and provided cozy warmth throughout the entire night. The view out our window was of another cabin up on the hill and colorful flowers lining a pathway.
Other facilities on the grounds included a conference room, gift shop (where I shopped for my island middle school girls), and a bar and game room.
WHERE WE ATE: Trogon Lodge Dining Room “El Quetzal”
The food served at the Trogon Lodge Restaurant was most certainly some of the most yummy food we would have during our 2-week stay in Costa Rica. The food was fresh, homemade, and absolutely delicious. Hanging outside the dining room were hummingbird feeders and after our first lunch we spent a while watching them flit in and out and enjoying a bit of lunch with us.
I found out the Trogon Lodge can accommodate special menus for any dietary restriction you may have, as long as they are informed in advance of your needs. Each of our meals was served buffet style.
Next post: We go on an early morning search for the Resplendent Quetzal.