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An outdoor odyssey to Costa Rica

Painted oxcart wheel at Sarchi Artisan CenterRoom With a Volcanic View
Sitting on my bed at the Arenal Manoa Hotel, I had a full view of a looming volcano. For a while, I contemplated the mammoth mountain, whose top stayed shrouded in misty clouds.

However, the hotel grounds begged exploring, as the property is arranged like a garden with rooms spread out and partially hidden behind flowers. As I explored the grounds, I saw flashes of blue, yellow and red as tropical birds fluttered in and out of sight.

Rufous-tailed hummingbirds, Montazuma oropendulas and cattle egrets flew past me. There were many more beautiful birds whose names I never learned. I tried to soak in every birdcall, from the lovely songbird sounds to the stranger bird noises that sounded more like a “Star Wars” robot.

I left the hotel and headed to the Arenal Hanging Bridges, where a two-mile trail that weaves between cable bridges hundreds of feet aboveground allowed me to experience a rain forest from the treetops. In addition to birds and other wildlife, I viewed panoramas of the nearby Lake Arenal and the Arenal Volcano.

“We walk across these bridges because around 70 percent of this area’s wildlife hangs out in the tree canopy,” said Alex. “The monkeys in Costa Rica don’t ever even have to touch the ground; they have everything they need in the trees.”

I left the wild rain forest for the most biodiverse farm I had yet experienced: the Don Juan Educational Farm. Workers at this 10-acre organic farm grow 38 different crops, alongside cows, chickens and pigs.

“Don Juan was a teacher who opened an organic farm,” said Christian, our animated guide. “Local farmers would come here to learn about organic farming, and they still do. The best way to teach is to let the students know anything is possible.”

The organic farm tries to waste nothing. Even leftovers from the farm’s restaurant are fed to the cows or used for fertilizer. Instead of using pesticides for insect control, the farm uses other plants, such as bananas, which distract birds from eating the crops.

At the end of the farm tour, Christian pulled some volunteers from our group to demonstrate how to remove juice from a sugar cane. Two women energetically turned the wheels of the machine that squeezed out the sugary juice. To celebrate their success, Christian let us sample the tasty drink.

A final stop at the Eco Thermal Hot Springs proved a great way to wind down for the day. The natural hot springs allowed me to float in the dark while listening to the nearby call of howler monkeys, which reminded me of my exotic locale.