after getting settled at our hostal in santa elena, we wanted to check out the nature reserves in the area. our hostal owner gave us her opinion on which one she preferred (because it was transparent about where its money went: the local high school). so, for our first full day in the cloud forest we headed to the santa elena reserve.
we had a good time at the reserve and got to cook our own dinner at the hostal that night, which felt novel. so, we were feeling better about our costa rica budget. we still didn’t want to push it, though. so, we opted to try a free activity the next day. once again the hostal owner came through with her knowledge of the area and sent us about twenty minutes out of town to a giant strangler fig that was supposed to be pretty cool. (and she was right!) we didn’t have a great map and the roads leading out of town weren’t well marked (surprise, surprise). so, when we came upon a group of high schoolers heading home from school, we asked if they knew where to find the tree. just our luck, they were going there! this was a little confusing to us because we headed up a steep gravel road and then one of the girls just veered off onto a dirt path and said to follow her. but, the other two kept walking up the road. but, she seemed like a harmless 15 year old. so, we let her lead us down the path. and, sure enough, a group of kids was hanging out just past the tree. her other friends had just taken a different route in. apparently this was the cool kids’ hang out after school. not a bad high school experience, in my mind. but, anyway, back to the tree. it was impressive to say the least. here it is in pictures..
what happens with a strangler fig is that it grows around another tree and eventually suffocates it. the inside tree dies away and you are left with this cool jungle gym to climb up. it got narrower and narrower as we climbed, which was actually a nice thing because you felt cocooned and safe near the top.