Day 4 - Santa Elena

We awoke to a breakfast spread of a dozen different fresh fruits, granola and coffee. Again, we sat with Carl and Hellena. Carl expressed some pretty intense reservations about riding a horse all day with Rafa - it was his first time. I assured him that I, too, was apprehensive, having not ridden since the corrals of my friend's farm years ago.

Rafa and horses

When Rafa arrived with the horses, Leslie was shocked at their condition. The bones of their hips and ribs were clearly defined through their skin, and they were covered with ticks. We mounted up and rode off for the cloud forest. I was at ease in minutes - it felt just like how you hold your weight on a mountain bike.

Riding to the forest

After nearly two hours of riding, we stopped at Rafa's farm, tied the horses, and plunged again into the jungle.

I was immediately impressed with how thick it was, especially considering we had no trail this time. Each step was a struggle - clinging to vines and we slid through the mud and undergrowth. We couldn't see more than a few feet around us. Rafa explained how certain plants had medicinal value - this leaf was stuffed in the ears, that one ground up cured cataracts.

As we moved on, we could hear a hoot-hoot-hoot low and guttural in the distance. The sound got louder as we crossed a stream and began climbing. Eventually, as we reached the top of the hill, the sound was gone. Rafa stopped and waited for us to catch our breath, then cupped his hands and made the noise. Directly above us, the trees erupted with the screams of a dozen monkeys shouting back at us. They jumped from tree to tree, calling back every time one of us made the noise.

Climbing to the waterfall

We returned to the horses and rode to another part of the farm, where Rafa led us down what seemed like a cliff. About half way down, we left the cliff and climbed right into the trees, following our guide from branch to branch. At the bottom, the waterfall was beautiful with two streams cascading to one pool. I changed and climbed under the pounding water. It was icy cold and stung my skin, but it was exhilarating. I made my way into the pool and let the intense water push me around helplessly. Rafa laughed and laughed and said I was loco. Leslie just rolled her eyes, and Carl video tapped everything.

Swiming waterfall

We returned to the horses and began riding through wide open fields. The rain began again, and we galloped through the storm, yelling under the thunder and feeling completely alive.

Later, Leslie and I drove to the Monte Verde Butterfly Farm. We listened to a lecture from Brian, a UC Santa Cruz grad student who took the job to learn more Spanish and put his biology major to work. I don't think he was getting paid, because he said his savings was gone and would be heading home soon.

Les and the Butterfly

The Farm raises many different species of butterflies by hand, and then recreates their natural environment in a controlled setting to study them. I hadn't realized that biologists really have no clue how a caterpillars transform into butterflies. Brian said they basically just break down into a mass of cells, which then rearrange into something else. He also told us that the butterflies breath through pores all over their bodies, and since they don't have the filters our lungs have, most can't survive near our polluted cities. I wondered how they could survive with all the tour busses and trucks we've seen spewing out thick black smoke in Costa Rica.

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