Inukjuak River Part 3: Inland and Upstream

After heading through the Gullet, we spent one day windbound and then pushed a big day to our first portage bringing us up-river and away from the coast. We landed in the cold, pouring rain, and realized that the water was too high to camp right on the shore. Instead, we had to hump all our gear up a short but STEEP hill, where we crashed out a respectable tent site.

This is where this portage started to go wrong. See, we have these goretex wading pants with attached goretex feet, which are beautiful things for keeping our feet dry in the icy Hudson Bay water. However, the feet on mine are huge so there is all sorts of extra material flapping around. I know (from painful experience) that I can’t walk any distance in these pants and my main tripping shoes without getting terrible blisters.

But we had to carry multiple loads up this hill. And my feet were freezing cold and totally numb. So I did not feel the onset of these blisters until partway through the portage the next day.

The 4km portage that took us 1.5 days.

And involved walking through an ice-water swamp. 3 times, because with 7+ weeks of food we were carrying 3 heavy loads on every portage.

So anyways, I don’t have any pictures from this icy, blistered, multi-day portage. But eventually we finished it, and I spent every evening for the next 2 weeks re-bandaging a loonie-sized blister on my heel. Yay!

A few portages in we had to find a portage heading to a different waterbody, not simply going around a rapid. We had a heckuva finding the landing – alders can be a terrible thing.

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Eventually we got through the alders, through the woods, up the hill, and arrived on quite a scenic ridge.

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The next section of the trip involved a lot of portages, some easier than others. The best ones followed nice open ridges the whole way, like this one:

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But, we also ate lots of good food along the way, which had the dual bonus of being delicious and slowly lightening our packs.

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Quiche baking in the reflector oven.
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Using fire irons to cook on the fire

Some people are skeptical about powered eggs. Some people are wrong!

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Supplemented now and again with some fish.

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We saw quite a bit of wildlife inland as well, including freshwater seals (they really are a thing), otters (my faaaaavourite), bears (we were so over bears), a couple of wolves (neat to see, but one was a little too curious so we encouraged him to leave with a flare), and 1 caribou (cool!).

This bear was an interesting one. We paddled around a corner, and caught a distinct aroma of stinky fish. And then saw this bear having a snooze on the rock offshore! When he saw us, he immediately hopped into the water and swam to the main island. However, he kept his eye on us, walking behind the shoreline bushes and poking his head up now and then. We had our paddles down, casually taking pictures, when he suddenly crashed out through the bushes and started swimming! Towards us! We wasted no time getting our paddles back in the water, but as we sprinted away we realized he was not swimming towards us – rather, I guess upon further assessment he decided that we weren’t a threat after all, and was heading back to his rock where he had abandoned a big fish.

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Although we saw only 1 caribou, we saw lots of caribou sign, mostly discarded antlers, plus a couple of skulls.

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No pictures of the wolves, but we did come across this wolf den on a portage (not in use at that time of year). It was neat to see all the different exit and entrance tunnels.

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There was also the odd bug.

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But, more importantly, there were so, so many beautiful spots to stop for lunch or to pitch a tent.

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Entering relaxation mode at lunch.

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This trip can really be divided into pretty distinct parts. We had the coastal section, this inland section, and then the final section. This section was good going. We had a mixed bag of weather, moved steadily every day for about 3 weeks, getting ourselves into a really good rhythm.

This changed dramatically in the final stretch, when we were faced with winds like we had never seen before – which will be described in the (eventually) upcoming part 4, the final installment!

Inukjuak River Part 2: Hudson Bay cont.

Day 3 at the Mega Wind site we woke to ideal paddling conditions and were on the water very early – it’s mentally hard to be stuck 2 days in a row so early in a trip! We carried on up the sound for a while, before popping out through the boat opening onto the open coast.

There was some cool geography along the way, with interesting layers. And if you want to know more about those layers you had best ask someone else!

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We had a destination in mind for this day, knowing that about 40km away there was a refuge cabin on the coast. It was a nice, calm day and we got there easily. As we discovered daily black bears LOVE the intertidal zone and they seemed to be roaming around on just about every beach, making us especially grateful for each cabin that we found.

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Although we had a cabin to sleep in we figured we should set up our recently flattened tent and assess its condition.

It is supposed to be symmetrical.

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Fortunately the door frame proved to be an excellent tool for re-straightening tent poles, and we were able to get it back pretty close to its original shape.

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Being windbound was a common theme at both the start and end of the trip. We were stuck at this spot for a day and a half. It was mostly nice weather, just too windy too paddle, so we were able to wander around outside a bit. Right outside the cabin we found this tent ring.

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We took shelter in the afternoon when a thunderstorm came rolling in.

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After a day and morning at this cabin we were back on the move. A bit of a swell so not quite ideal conditions, but not too bad. However, the wind did start to pick up again and, as we started to think about getting off the water, we saw another roofline! I believe we had counted about 10 bears at this point, so we were quite pleased to be stopping somewhere with walls and a roof.

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We were still a bit shaken by the tent-flattening-canoe-flying incident, so even though the wind was reasonable and we were quite sheltered we tied the canoe to the building.

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We were NOT stuck here at all, and portaged over the rocks to the water the next morning and were on our way once more.

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I’m finding that I really didn’t capture this stretch of the trip very well. When we were paddling we were paddling hard and/or dealing with adverse conditions, and I didn’t get many pictures. One of the concerns was that the water had been completely covered by sea ice just a week prior, and we could still see a long line of ice looming on the horizon. Fortunately we only saw bergy bits up close, but we were motivated to move quickly in case the wind switched around and blew the ice back in.

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On this day we also had my favourite wildlife sighting of the entire trip, unfortunately not captured in any pictures. But still worth mentioning! We were paddling past the mouth of the Little Whale River, and the conditions were a bit dicey with the current flowing out and hitting the swells. As we bounced along I saw the back of something grey and mottled – I thought it was a seal, but then it blew out of its blowhole! And then a few more popped up, and they were belugas!! We paddled through a pod of 6-10ish (they were spread out, so it was hard to tell, but some came quite close to us). I was a bit confused as to why some were grey and others were white, but conveniently a book we both read later on the trip talked about belugas and explained that younger ones are grey, and they get whiter as they become adults. So there is your beluga fact of the day.

The wind was picking up as we passed the river mouth and we decided we should get off the water and wait it out. The shoreline was friendly with lots of beaches so theoretically we had lots of take-out options….except that there were bears wandering around on every single beach! The wind died again before we found a bear-less beach, so we carried on.

Interestingly, we seemed to hit a wildlife boundary later that afternoon – all of a sudden there weren’t any more bears, but the beaches were covered in musk ox.

The next crux on this stretch was paddling through the Gullet, a narrow neck a few kilometres long connecting the open coast to Richmond Gulf, a triangular-shaped inland bay. The Gullet is tricky because there are major tidal rips as the tide flows in and out. We did our best to time it with slack tide, and all looked good as we entered.

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We were cruising along calmly, but things quickly sped up and we hit a small rapid. We pulled into a large eddy and watched…waiting…expecting the flow to stop as it hit slack. However, we floated there for about an hour and nothing appeared to be changing (except the bear that came and went – back in bear country). We crept along the shoreline, and pulled off again – I held the canoe while Conor scrambled over a hill to take a look at the next stretch. It looked okay so we carried on. The tide was with us, so we were flying. Lots of whirlpools and funny water and we had to be on our toes, but okay.

The funny water lasted a lot longer than we expected, and we found a tiny pocket beach where we thought we could camp. However…as we carried our stuff on shore… a large bear started meandering along the shore, totally ignoring our shouts and whistles. He didn’t seem especially interested in us, it was more like we had happened to land right in his buffet zone and he was going to stay.

So we left.

We were now pushing a 50km day and feeling pretty tired. We cruised back and forth along the shore trying to figure out what spot looked the least “beary,” and also had key features like access to fresh water. We decided on an open grassy area, at the base of a huge rock formation called The Castle.

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We were windbound there the following day (surprise, surprise), and had one bear come to visit – fortunately this one reacted appropriately to our whistle, and scurried back into the woods.

We were able to leave the following morning, but had to start with a crossing to the far shore through some wavy tidal waters.  Needless to say we didn’t linger during this stretch! It was reasonable weather until just after lunch, when the cold deluge started. We kept pushing to the start of our first portage heading inland, arriving there cold and wet. Even in my waterproof pants with attached waterproof socks my feet felt like blocks of wood. The water was too high to camp right on the shore, so we humped the gear up a steep hill and crashed out a tent site on the portage. Dinner and hot drinks helped warm us up, and then we dove into the tent for a good night’s sleep before tackling the 4km portage!

Scuba Diving in Tobermory

We’re taking a quick interlude from canoe trip reporting for a recap of this past weekend diving in Tobermory, a world class diving area in Lake Huron, in Ontario.

I headed down on Friday afternoon, catching the Chi-Cheemaun ferry from Manitoulin Island to Tobermory. It was my first time on that ferry, and it was an unusually (apparently) bouncy ride! While there were no sea sickness issues, my plan to get some work done was quickly replaced by a plan to stare out the window at the horizon.

My friend Katie drove up from Toronto. Our friendship goes back to our Newfoundland high school days. We counted the years…and then felt old.

We car camped at a nearby private campground, and woke up to light rain on Saturday morning. Having spent nearly 8 weeks fully immersed in the elements this summer, I was quick to suggest the nearby coffee shop for breakfast, which was a stellar choice indeed.

After breakfast we headed over to Divers Den to get our gear sorted for our afternoon dive trip. Wandered around a bit more once our gear was prepped, and then back to the shop for 1 pm.

There were quite a few divers out that afternoon – 11 on our boat, plus 2 more boats. It was quite rough, so sites were limited to a few very sheltered ones, meaning that all the boats went to the same places. I assume that with more amenable weather conditions the boats would have spread out more, but it certainly wasn’t an issue.

The first dive was at a wreck called the Charles P. Minch, at a depth of about 35 feet. Curtis, the divemaster on our boat, was very helpful in making sure our gear was set up correctly and in lending a hand as needed.

I didn’t bring my camera on this dive. It was somewhat of a milestone for both Katie and me. My 12 dives thus far had all been either as a student or 1-on-1 with a divemaster, so this was my first quasi-independent dive. Katie had done a few warm, shallow dives with her husband, but this felt like another step for her as well.

So we focused on not dying instead of on pictures.

With some minor snafus (difficulty sinking initially and an errant flipper) the first dive went well, and we were able to calm our nerves as we got comfortable. I was also very pleased to not experience the vertigo-on-ascent that can give me issues when I’m wearing a hood.

We were remarkably cozy during the dive, but the weather was pretty chilly during the surface interval. Fortunately we had the foresight to bring the hideous mustard yellow fleeces we got at a running race a few years ago. Pretty sure everyone else was jealous….except the guy who brought hot chocolate.

The second dive was at a wreck called the Sweepstakes, which was a really nice spot. It was also quite shallow, eliminating any stress – bumping into a kayak above me was a greater hazard than anything happening at depth. So this time I brought my fake go pro along and snapped some pics.

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Got a couple of shots of our divemaster cruising around

And lots of pics of Katie and the boat.

We were mildly ravenous after skipping lunch and hanging out in cold water, so we headed to the local brewery for supper.

Katie was pretty excited for raspberry beer.

On Sunday morning we explored the terrestrial side of things.

Post hike Katie headed back to Toronto, and I wandered around looking at sailboats and getting really jealous of their owners, while waiting for the ferry.

All in all a great-if-quick little vacation, and I’m looking forward to going back for more next summer!

Inukjuak River – Part 1

This summer we embarked on our longest canoe trip to date – a 53 day journey through northern Quebec, culminating with a run from source to sea on the Inukjuak River. We covered just over 1000km with 115 portages.

This year we switched up our starting point by flying into the community of Kuujjuarapik and beginning with 100km on Hudson Bay before heading inland. A friend was also heading up the coast, so we figured we’d stick together for as long as it worked out (foreshadowing: not very long).

We caught the plane in Chisasibi, at the end of the James Bay Hwy. Although very isolated, this highway has nice, free campsites en route.

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Once we and all our gear arrived in Kuujjuarapik, we headed to a put-in a few km north of town.

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It was our latest starting time ever – almost 9pm! However, days were long and we had only a few km to go, as we were meeting a group at a cabin just up the coast. So we weren’t exactly roughing it on our first night!

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The next day there was a bit of a headwind, but nothing that would keep us on shore. We landed on a point in the early evening, on which there were cabins a few hundred metres back. We opted to just set up our tents – it was a nice spot, getting to the cabins required walking through snowbanks (!), and there didn’t seem to be a need to crash someone else’s place.

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The wind really picked up overnight, and it was clear we were not travelling anywhere in the morning. We lounged in the tents, watching the walls move in the wind, but not overly concerned because we had made it through a very windy night. Not long after lunch things seemed to shift, and all of a sudden the wind felt a lot more intense… as we decided that we should pivot our tent to face more into the wind (we were getting hit side on), our friend called out from his tent that his tent pole had just snapped.

We scurried out of our tent – Conor headed over to help while I unpegged the guy lines to rotate ours. Big mistake, we had waited too long – the second I untied the lines the tent flattened completely in the wind. Instead of rotating the tent, we ended up gathering all our stuff in our arms and beating a hasty retreat to the cabins.

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It was so windy that the cabin itself was blowing in the breeze – it felt like being on a sailboat! Much as I love boats, it’s not as comforting a feeling when it’s a building that is swaying back and forth.

After tossing our stuff in the cabin we rushed back to move our canoe. It was a two person job – there was no way that it could be lifted and properly portaged in wind like that. As we were getting it settled behind a small cliff that offered some protection we heard a couple of loud THUNKS.

I climbed onto the rocks where I could see better…and there was our buddy, standing next to his canoe, which lay half in and half out of the water. The wind had scooped it up and somersaulted it through the air for a couple of hundred metres, bouncing a couple of times and finally come to rest at the water’s edge. Although bruised and battered, it was lucky it hadn’t blown any farther or it would have landed in the water and been long gone!

We got that canoe with ours, took shelter in the cabin, and spent the following day (also too windy to paddle) repairing the canoe.

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It was hideously windy, but it was also beautiful.

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And there were some interesting fossils to check out.

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On day 3 at this site we woke to perfect paddling conditions. Conor and I were up very early, antsy to move, and headed north, leaving our friend undecided as to what he was going to do (ended up heading back to town and restarting a little while later).

That’s all for now! Stay tuned!

Costa Rica Part 8 – Tenorio Volcano National Park

Well folks, here it is, the final Costa Rica installment. Just in time to make room for canoe trip recaps!

On our return to the coast from Monteverde we detoured to Tenorio Volcano National Park, which we highly recommend! It has a super 6km hike (round trip), which we were fortunate to hit on a not-too-blisteringly-hot day.

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The hike followed the Rio Celeste, and the first attraction en route was a beautiful falls. And beautiful stairs to get it to it. Many, many stairs.

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From there the trail continued to the next look, which provided a view of the Tenorio Volcano Complex, which is part of the Guanacaste Volcanic Mountain Range. The Tenorio Complex consists of Tenorio One, Tenorio Two, and Cerro Montezuma.

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After admiring the volcanos we continued along through the woods and over some bridges to the turn around point, where there is a very cool phenomenon occurring in the river. Two rivers (Rio Buenavista and Quebrada Agria) meet at this point, and the bright colour is caused by the mixing of two non-coloured effluents. The pH change in the mixing point increases the particle size of a mineral present in the Rio Buenavista. Some of these aluminosilicates rest on the river bottom (the white sediment), but most remains in suspension in the water. These suspended particles scatter sunlight in such a way that the river becomes a gorgeous sky-blue.

In the physics word, this optical phenomenon is called Mie scattering (for the record, physics bores me to tears. I included this sentence purely to make my physicist Dad proud. Or maybe to poke fun at his love of physics. Hi Dad!).

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And thus conclude my Costa Rica recaps. Sad, I know. Time to change channels back to spring and summer canoe trips…guess I don’t have much to complain about!

Costa Rica Part 7 – Catarata Llanos de Cortes and Palo Verde Park

We’re nearing the end of my recaps, and I’m mashing two things together for this one –  a waterfall and one of two national parks that we visited.

First off, post scuba diving one afternoon we drove to a popular waterfall that was nearby, say a 40ish minute drive, called la Catarata Llanos de Cortes. Although not an official park, it does have an entry fee, operating hours, and a lifeguard (who stopped me from getting as close the falls as I wanted to…).

It’s a gorgeous spot with a lovely pool for swimming below the falls.

There was also supposed to be a trail to the top of the falls. However, we waded across the river to get to it, and found it blocked up with caution tape. Now, we did see a group go up anyways, but we weren’t in the mood to break any rules and potentially have to explain ourselves in Spanish.

Instead, we swam, relaxed on shore for a little while, swam again, and then headed back to Playa del Coco. Had we come earlier in the day it would have been a great spot for a picnic lunch and to hang out with a book. For us, the 4:30pm closing time meant a relatively brief visit.

Our biggest day trip venture from Playa del Coco was to Palo Verde National Park. Now, this is the only thing we did that I don’t wholeheartedly recommend. It was good…but it wasn’t great enough to be worth the long, very rough drive in. So while it was still a good experience, in hindsight we would have opted for something different. But, if you’re passing close by, it could be worthwhile. It was also a great place for birding, if you’re into that, and I bet it would be a much different place in the rainy season – it was quite oppressively hot and dry when we were there.

The park entrance was one of my first big Spanish tasks, because the staff there spoke absolutely no English. Through my Tarzan Spanish, hand gestures, and maps, I was able to book us a boat ride and find out which two trails were most recommended. Not bad!

Our first destination was the boat tour, but en route we were entertained by capuchin monkeys!

At the end of the road our boat was waiting for us. A couple from Quebec were on the tour as well, so I had fun chatting in French (and feeling much more competent compared to my Spanish bumbling!)

On the tour we saw lots of birds, some iguanas and, most impressively, lots of crocodiles!!

Those crocs could move FAST. No matter how hot it was, there was certainly no temptation to jump into that murky water for a swim.

On our drive back out through the park we stopped for two walks, the first being quite a short one, basically the length of this boardwalk. You can see from the cracked mud how dry it was!

Our second walk was more substantial, about 1.5km each way (which doesn’t seem substantial, unless you’re there and feeling the heat!). This one took us to a nice lookout. And included howler monkeys startling us with howls along the way!

All in all, we saw and did some neat things in Palo Verde. It didn’t end up being our ideal activity (although the crocs were cool!), but that speaks more to our own interests and inclinations than the experience itself, so don’t let that deter you if it really appeals to you!

My next post will talk about a national park that we did really love!

Hasta proxima!

Costa Rica Part 6 – Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

On day 7 of our trip it was time to head inland and upland, i.e, up to the town of Monteverde, located in the mountains at 1440m. The draw here is the Cloud Forest (bosque nuboso), a rare forest type located in tropical or subtropical mountain environments where there is a consistent cloud cover. There are over 100 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, and 1200 species of amphibians and reptiles living within the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

There are a number of different parks and reserves in this area, each offering different activities. We spent a day at Selvatura Park, which included a canopy walk, butterfly garden, herptarium and frogs, hummingbird garden, and insect museum. There was also ziplining, but we were there for the wildlife and landscape.

Everything was with a guide, except for the hummingbird garden. We were impressed at how knowledgeable all the guides were! Our first tour was the main event, the canopy tour with the hanging bridges. We saw lots of interesting and beautiful plants and birds…and I can’t remember the names of any of them. But here they are!

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The beginnings of a fern

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Looking at baby birds in a nest

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Even the trees are expressive in the cloud forest.

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Next, we toured the butterfly garden, herptarium and frogs, and the insect museum (i.e., insect collections…not live insects). The butterfly garden was quite large, with a wide variety of butterflies and flowers.

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The frogs and reptiles were really neat, but don’t photograph well in their glass aquariums. Here is one lizard to serve as a representative of the herptarium.

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No pictures of the pinned insects…although that was actually surprisingly interesting!

Our last stop at Selvatura was the hummingbird garden. It was a cozy little garden with a few hummingbird feeders and benches to sit and relax. If you stand still the hummingbirds will use your finger as a perch to drink! Both Mom and Dad served as excellent hummingbird perches. I did not…see, not only were there hummingbirds around the feeders, there were also wasps. I have never liked wasps, and after last summer’s traumatizing wasp experience I really don’t do wasps. So I failed miserably at holding my finger still long enough for a hummingbird to land. I did take some pics though!

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There was also a coati that wandered through! This was exciting…until later we saw one in the garbage can (like, literally climbing in and fully disappeared), and realized that they’re basically the Costa Rican equivalent of Canadian trash pandas (i.e., racoons).

But they’re still cute.

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The other thing we did in Monteverde was a night walk – this was SO cool! We paid for a private tour with a very small company called Johnny Loves Nature Eco-Tours – it is Johnny himself who owns the company and does most of the tours, but hires his brother for a few. He picked us up at our hotel and drove us to a small, nearby reserve. The tour was worth it before we even got there though – en route we stopped to admire some snoozing sloths that he has spotted on the way over!

The tour was awesome. I was expecting mostly creepy crawlies, and we did see one tarantula, but we also had some really good mammal sightings – we had a perfect sighting of an armadillo, a weasel, an olingo, and a weasel! Plus frogs, tree frogs, toads, lizards, and a teeny tiny praying mantis. Johnny was a fantastic guide – he was extremely knowledgeable, and extremely enthusiastic – some of the mammals we saw aren’t that common, and he was really excited to see them and show them to us!

Given the fact that this was after dark, there was no point in trying to take pictures. One of those experiences to just be enjoyed in the moment. But if you’re even visiting the cloud forest, a night walk should be on your to-do list. I highly recommend Johnny’s tour, but even if you go with someone else, make sure you’re with a small group. The animals move quickly, and had we been a larger group only the first 2-3 people would have seen many of them.

Be forewarned, the drive up is not for the faint of heart. I only screamed outwardly once (we were on the outside of a switchback with a precipitous drop when a bus came hurtling around the corner, half in our lane), but I rarely stopped screaming inside. Near the top we weren’t near as many cliffs but the road had some really rough sections. It’s totally doable, tourists do it all the time, but it’s definitely not super fun. If you’re leery, there are lots of tourist buses to shuttle people to Monteverde and back.