Today we took a trip to a butterfly farm. I learned a lot about insects, bugs and arachnids--and I got to play with a praying mantis. The mantis is really a cool insect. I played with a (large) female and I was amazed at how her head could move: she followed my finger as it circled her head just as a cat might. During the pre-tour info session, I learned that cockroaches are actually very clean. they spend a lot of time cleaning themselves, much like cats. I also learned that they're only two percent water, so you can microwave or freeze them and they won't die.
Anyhow, the point of the tour was to see butterflies, and that we did! I got photos of transparent ones, striped ones, owl-looking ones, and iridescent blue ones. Butterflies are really neat -- we saw one who just finished coming out of its' chrysalis and the wings were still wet and unfolding. It's amazing how fragile these bugs are. On a side note, I learned that moths BUILD their cocoons from other materials (like the log-cabin moth that makes a cocoon out of sticks that looks like a log cabin) whereas butterflies grow a chrysalis like shedding skin. Anyway, I got some good pictures and walked away with lots of new knowledge.
The farm was run by a US citizen and volunteers from the states, so the tour was speckled with humor that made me feel right at home.
After the butterflies, we caught our ride back towards the lodge, but asked our driver to let us out early so we could explore the town nearby a bit. We had to verbally wrestle with him since he spoke absolutely no english at all, and eventually I had to open a door to show him what we wanted to do.
When we got out of the jeep, the coffee shop from yesterday was so close that we had to stop in for some coffee. There we saw a couple from our butterfly tour group and some of the zip-liners from yesterday (the Israelis). We sat and chatted for a while, and I decided I don't like Carajillo. Stick with coffee, Sid. Also, while we were there, I nerded out for a bit (ten minutes) and sent some emails from an internet station in the cafe. Only a dollar for ten minutes, not bad.
Afterwards, we proceeded on a hike to the bustling town of Saint Elena (really quite built up around a cobblestone road) and found a quaint little restaurant for lunch. The family-owned establishment had a huge menu, and mom and pop quickly fixed us up with some flat-fried chicken, rice, beans and pickled veggies that their six-year-old daughter served us with gusto. An amazing meal with huge portions, a glass bottle of coke and a banana smoothie (fruit, ice, water) all for about eight bucks. I have a new favorite place for tico food. After lunch we waddled down the road a bit to a second coffee shop where we played cards and drank extremely strong coffee. On our way out I picked up some cigars to celebrate the new year.
We passed a grocer on the way back, so we stopped in and bought some wine and an apple to go with the fresh loaf of bread (US$0.35) we bought from a bakery. Fully loaded for a party, we slowly began our uphill trek of about 4km (very steep) back to the lodge. We took about an hour to do it, mostly because half of the road was on at least a thirty degree incline.
Back at the lodge, we made "reservations" for dinner and plowed through the wine, bread and apple over two more hours of card games.
We were the only guests left for the night, so we had the whole restaurant/bar staff waiting on us. I kind of felt bad that they couldn't take off and go celebrate with everyone else, but they seemed pretty happy to serve us.
After dinner, we played more cards (I'm beginning to think it's a compulsion) until we grew weary, then listened to a fireworks display before hitting the sack. We had a long day ahead of us: we were to set out towards Arenal to see a volcano the next morning . . .
Santa Elena is really a neat town, not as touristy as many of the other towns in Costa Rica.