Have you ever heard that the forest comes alive at night? Well, it does.
On our third visit to Costa Rica, we decided to try something different. In addition to our time at the RIU Palace resort, we arranged for a driver to take us to the Monteverde region, where we stayed at the peaceful Cabinas Capulin & Farm. Our beautiful room overlooked the vast forest, often blurred by the rolling clouds.
After a long drive, we checked in, unpacked and waited for sunset. As the sun went down, we were picked up by a small, rickety van that carried two other people. Quickly we were whisked off to a part of the Monteverde Cloud Forest, where we met up with four others. We waited together in a small room, sitting on worn out chairs, watching a safety video on an old television set. The video warned to stay together as a group, explore, but don't wander off, and most importantly, always keep your flashlight on. It was old and in poor English, something out of a bad cult film.
Shortly after, our guide, a short bald man with wearing a yellow rain coat and whistle around his neck, introduced himself in English (with a thick Spanish accent) and handed each of us a flashlight. We followed him along the paved path towards the trees. Very quickly, the path became a rocky dirt road. First the trees enveloped us, then the darkness. Even with nine flashlights, visibility was minimal.
At first, our arms intertwined, my only fear was falling onto the rocky ground and losing my flashlight. Our guide barely took a breath, talking in an almost continuous run-on sentence, spouting many warnings about what not to do. The most important was to never turn off your flashlight, second only to never reach out and touch the branches. The branches could be snakes in disguise. He shared a story of a guest on one tour who wanted to get closer to an insect and grabbed hold of a nearby branch for leverage, but it was not a branch, it was a snake. Luckily for all involved, the snake simply slithered away back into the darkness.
The guide used his flashlight to scan the trees for wildlife. We came upon a sleeping bird, it's head completely covered by it's wings, it's feathers pushed out into a ball. Had he not pointed it out, we would have never guessed what it was.
Soon all the guests felt comfortable enough to use the flashlights to scan the ground or the leaves for insects. We found many a spider, caterpillar, roaches, beetles, worms, frogs, and bugs we had never seen before. Perhaps in the light of day they would not have been as creepy, but by the dim light of a flashlight, surrounded by darkness and noise, they were frightening.
Halfway through the two-hour walk our guide asked us to stop walking and turn off our flashlights. Wait, wasn't that the number one thing he told us not to do? Yes, turn off your flashlights, he said, and listen to the sounds of the forest. We stood there in complete and utter darkness, listening to the creeks and beeps coming from all around us, when a loud crackling noise burst through. It was a walkie-talkie. Someone was trying to contact the guide about a snake sighting somewhere close by. Still standing with our flashlights off, our guide walked away.
We waited a few moments as a group, but when he did not return, we flipped out lights back on and returned to exploring our surroundings. He did come back to rejoin the group, and we continued walking through the rainforest. We did not, unfortunately, get the opportunity to see the snake, but we did spot a large tarantula.
Night walks (or any night experiences) are not for the faint of heart. Regardless of what wildlife or creepy-crawlies you happen upon, your imagination (and the memory of every horror movie you've ever watched) will be the worst enemy you encounter.