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Monteverde Cloud Forest Costa Rica

I followed my friend, Irmi, through a world of green, trees and plants of every description filling the air with moist, sultry scents, water trickling down leaves and trunks in the magic that is a cloud forest. And yet i found it hard to think about anything except stepping on snakes.

We were taking a short cut down the hill and the ground beneath our feet was inches thick with rotting leaves and branches, slowly decaying to feed the forest floor. Life just grows on top of itself here and everywhere mushrooms and moss covered the trees, insects feeding on top.

We came to three of the biggest trees in the forest and each was entirely hollowed out inside. Once the royalty of the woods, they were now just shells, skeletons of their former glory and had become ladders to the forest canopy. Irmi, being a little braver of heart than myself, disappeared into one of the trees and moments later her head popped out to say hello some forty metres above.

The assassins of the trees made no effort to hide the evidence and could already be seen attacking other trees that had grown too big; vines that were as thick as a human twined themselves like pythons around the tree, burrowing deep under the soil to strangle the roots. After a while the trees can no longer drink from the earth and die. They fall some months later to decompose and nourish the forest floor.

“I don’t think they take it personally,” Irmi smiled as she popped out of the trunk, “I think they understand it’s all part of the whole cycle of life and death thing and that they’ll live on in another form. Perhaps as a butterfly.”

Some young vines were hanging down from a branch high above on their way to commit murder underground. When I thought Irmi wasn’t looking I succumbed to a lifelong ambition to play Tarzan. Fortunately the floor was soft with leaves and moss. When the vine snapped I didn’t hurt anything more than my ego.

There were insects of every colour imaginable, impossible. You had only to close your eyes, dream up an absurd combination of luminescent colours, wings and legs and a few minutes later, you’d find your vision on a drooping green leaf the size of a plate. With the variety and beauty of the insects here I forgot to feel any aversion to them as bugs.

Then, with a grace I’d only ever seen before in bears, the largest butterfly in the world gave us a new meaning to poetry in motion. With purple and brown wings that stretched like the span of a hand, it seemed an impossibility that it could fly. It flowed through the air like a Tai Chi master and we weren’t going anywhere until the dance was over.

We emerged from the forest just above the Quaker dairy factory. The Quakers are a nonconformist branch of Christianity who found they could not sanction the Korean War of the 1950’s. To avoid direct confrontation with the US-draftboard many families left the country to resettle in the cloud forest of Monteverde. They stuck with the dairy business that they knew so well and today their cheese is for sale throughout Central America.

We ate some ice cream and Irmi put up a poster advertising the teepees that she makes. For a thousand dollars she could equip anyone with a mobile home. She spends the days sewing and sewing, hoping that someone in Costa Rica might know what a teepee is.

The day’s mission accomplished, we climbed back up to the Rainbow House where Irmi lived and i was staying as a guest. Casa Bom is an open house and from the moment i stepped in the gate i knew i was arriving somewhere unique. There were archways above the gate of woven branches and the sunset simmered below us. a workshop in the garden sheltered around twenty drums and didgeridoos in various stages of construction.

On the side of the house itself was an amazing sculpture of a big-lipped, wide-eyed face made from clay and mud. The house was all wooden and the residents lay on the floor drinking mate tea and playing guitars.

Irmi’s housemates were from Israel, Argentina and Uruguay. She’d hooked up with them at a Rainbow Gathering the previous year and had been invited to join the house. For a few hours every day each worked on manufacturing their drums, batik designs and teepees which they placed in shops of the nearby capital of San Jose for sale.

When the times grew more scarce they found another way to make money and maintain the Good Life up on the hill; once a week they rented the nearby Paradise Cafe for an evening and would put on a music and fire show, serving a special menu of world cuisine and shichi, a homemade alcohol made from pineapple peel.

“All over Central America no one eats anything except rice, beans and meat!” Irmi laughed, “So everyone just flipped out when we served Jamacian Chinese stir fry or samosas with mango chutney or coconut curry!”

The end of the week was approaching and Noam, being Israeli, engineered a meal of falafel, hummus and pita bread for the Friday meal. Six of us formed the kitchen crew and the air flowed with English, Spanish and Hebrew. Clouds mingled with the trees outside and the sun began to burn in the West.

Guest poured in for the Shabbat feast in Casa Bom – an influx of new faces is as standard as the huge meals they cook up each day. When you live on top of the hill sometimes there’s little motivation to go down to the town. Visitors bring up all the news and supplies you might need.

The sun was already a memory by the time the full moon rose and began to pain the sky blue. Her light trickled through the trees and caught in the dream catchers above the door.

My last memory of Casa Bom was to be of the forest.. We all shivered as an evil cackle resonated from a brach above the house.

“Hee-Hee-Hee!”

The witch bird of Monteverde.