City of Bridges

That’s what they call our previous home city of Pittsburgh. More bridges than any other city in the world. So, natch, that’s what we sought out here.

And we finally did it. We did a touristy thing in Costa Rica.

As I mentioned before, we were in no hurry to be tourists. We aren’t going anywhere. We wanted to be intentional about establishing daily routines and meeting the people of this town. But when friends and family eventually come to visit, as we hope they do, we also want to be somewhat knowledgeable about what they should do with their limited time here.

Google “Monteverde images” and you will be bombarded by hanging bridges. Go into any gift shop here and you will be hard pressed to find something without the image of a sloth on it. So, that’s where we began. Hanging bridges and sloths—the chocolate and vanilla of this ice cream shop in the clouds.

There are a handful of outfits that offer hanging bridges and ziplines through the rainforest canopy. I picked Selvatura Park because of a review I read in a 2020 Costa Rica guidebook, and because they are the only ones that have both bridges and a sloth reserve. After I booked, a few folks mentioned that the Sky Walk tour is locally owned, which I will probably support in the future.

All the tour companies here make things very convenient. Their free buses and vans crisscross the roads to any hotel, hostel, or Airbnb to pick you up and take you home. The roads near the park are super sketchy and narrow so they probably want to dissuade tourists from attempting the drive, especially in rainy season. For a portion of the return trip, the cloud cover was so thick you could barely see the cars coming the other way until they were right on top of you.

Here’s the deal: Selvatura has a bit of a theme park vibe going on. The entrance area looks a bit like a hockey arena in which they are the only sponsor. There is hardly a square inch of bus, signage, or stitch of clothing worn by the employees that does not bear their logo. There is a visitors’ center, restaurant, gift shop, etc. It feels a little like the opening scene of Jurassic Park before the carnage begins. Very corporate. Very “you’re safe here/we are zipline professionals,” which is good. They have great systems and employees that keep things moving. Very little waiting. Tons of people making sure you are in the right place. There are COVID measures like foot disinfecting mats, masks everywhere (not on the trail unless you are near other people), and temperature taking both getting on the bus and arriving at the park.

But here’s the thing: much like in the dinosaur movie, all the corporate branding and bluster melts away as soon as you step into the rainforest. There is just a raw and wild aspect to Costa Rica that you cannot tame, bottle, or brand.

These things sway as you walk.

Whether you are screaming through the canopy on a zipline (which we weren’t quite ready for) or venturing out 500 feet above the forest floor on a metal bridge that creaks and sways on steel cables that stretch somewhere into the dark canopy, the splendor and majesty of the dense cloud forest just takes your breath away. And seriously, these bridges have no stanchions. They hang in mid-air from cables.

The trail to the 8 hanging bridges takes about an hour and a half, depending on how much time you spend taking things in and taking all the selfies. The cost is around $45 per person. Not cheap. Tourist pricing for sure. But I would say it was worth it for being so much more than just a walk through the woods.

The sloth reserve is a much shorter tour (around 40 minutes?) and is around $35 per person. It is led by a personal guide for your party who is an expert on sloths. The park has 18 of them and are expecting around 5 more. All are females that fell from their mother’s arms in the canopy and were abandoned. Sloths have so many predators and move so slowly due to their diet and metabolism that they only leave their tree-top existence to defecate once a week. If a baby sloth falls, well, they’ll make more. So, orphans found alive are generally raised in reserves like this one.

All the sloths in the reserve are female. As in the human world, the males are extremely territorial and will end up fighting each other. The females peacefully coexist and lazily eat and nap in each other’s company. They are extremely flexible and their heads can turn 360 degrees. Their feet and hands have a locking mechanism that clamps down on whatever they attach it to while they sleep, so they never fall.

And get this—they have a muscle in their chest that blocks blood from rushing to their head when they hang upside down.

Mmmm. Salad.

In the wild, their coats will turn green from algae and moss, making them virtually waterproof in the rainy season. The sloths in this reserve are always indoors so their coats remain brown and algae-free. Although they are plentiful in Costa Rica, sloths are nearly impossible to spot in the wild. Their survival-driven ability to blend in is hard-earned. Looking up into trees already covered in moss and bromeliads, they become invisible curled up in stillness in the canopy above. Here, they can be studied and appreciated by the public.

When we were on the trail within the dense canopy, it was often very silent. Not even a bird chirping. Almost complete stillness.

At one point, we both remarked that it was a shame we weren’t seeing more wildlife. In that instant, we looked at each other. We both knew what we meant—easily visible birds and critters and butterflies and such. But we also instantly realized our oversight: wild life energy was flowing and buzzing all around us—literally, above us, below us, and on all sides.

It’s hard for me to convey the spiritual rush I get from being in the presence of such dense life energy. It’s available everywhere, of course, not just in Costa Rica. It’s there in your local park, in the trees you see while walking your dog, in the birds you see at your home feeder, and even in the little sprout emerging through a cracked city sidewalk. It’s there wherever you are, at all times and in all seasons. But walking through a rainforest is like sloshing through a wet sponge saturated with the life force that surges in all things throughout the universe and connects us all. For me, it is a taste of that eternal divine spark to which we will all one day return.

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God:

But only he who sees takes off his shoes.”

—Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Pura vida!

Published by Tom Cox

Tom & Jean, a couple of contemplative ex-pats from Pittsburgh, shed all their earthly belongings and move to Costa Rica. What could possibly go wrong?

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