Day 9-11: Off grid living at Las Tablas

Costa Rica travel diary

A short trip south brought us to the small village below Las Tablas. Here we had to leave our trusty bus behind and hike up. The road up to the small very remote farm was rough to say the least, no way the bus would have made it, even four wheel drives would struggle here. During rainy season it would be completely closed, completely isolating the farm for weeks at a time. We are staying as guests with Mr. Miguel’s lovely family on the farm, deeply set in the highland cloud forest of the mountains bordering Panama. The family has lived and worked the land there for about 60 years, completely self sufficient and off the grid. They enjoy endless free electricity, a luxury we have learned to appreciate by this point, courtesy of an amazing old water wheel power generator. They grow and sell crops, mainly passion fruit, and also raise cattle. Mamas, the matron of the home, was a great cook and we were treated to very nice fresh home grown food. Quite special.

The first day we mainly strolled around the edge of the pastures surrounding the farm and there were a lot of orchids – and I mean really a lot!! More concentrated here than any other place we had been so far! We say a lot of Lepanthes, Restrepia, Tristetella, Barbosella, Schaphosrpalum, Platystele, Miltonopsis, Epidendrum, Maxillaria, Stelis (yes all over here too) and more! Oh what fun!

It almost felt like time stood still here… a simpler life in many ways. Having weaned myself off wifi weeks ago by now I welcomed it. The weather changed quickly here and it often became very windy as a front passed over, and then just as quickly it was quiet again. Truly amazing to see the clouds roll in to cover the mountains, hugging the canopy on the way down. Just what I imagined a cloud forest to look like.

On the second day we woke up to glorious blue skies and sun yet again. Very uncharacteristically nice weather in this wet region. The plan was to hike up El Sura, the mountain top overlooking the farm. We followed what used to be an old small road, mainly a cow trail, up the mountain but that had recently been completely ruined by four wheelers, apparently intruders from town, so now it was a sad mess of muddy deep tracks. Sad.

Still, it was a fairly easy hike compared to our adventures at Las Alturas. A few kilometers up there was a real orchid hotspot, a place where Daniel previously even had seen Dracula growing. That would have been cool to see, but unfortunately we struck out on that this time. There were a lot of other orchids though, and us orchid nerds lost ourselves in the woods for a few hours while the rest of the group walked on up. I felt no need to count summits, more fun to hunt for orchids at this point! Blooming Tristetella, Restrepia, Lepanthes, Masdevallia and several different Platystele, including Platystele mictotathanta, a favorite in my collection at home. Different agendas, but it all worked out though. All in all a nice day on the mountain.

Our third day on the farm we revisited The Continental Divide of the Americas, but now further south and a lot muddier, knee deep in spots! This area is notably wetter than last place we came up the Great Divide. Although we have only seen rain at night while here, aside from a light drizzle one afternoon – the only time I unpacked my rain jacket during the whole three weeks in the rain forest! On this trek we saw recent tracks from Puma, Jaguar as well as Tapir but none of the animals made an appearance in the flesh. We also saw some birds and orchids of course… Lepanthes, Sobralia and Brachionides to name only a few. The highlight for me as a very nice specimen plant of Lepanthes, It was the largest plant of the species I had ever seen. Beautiful too in full bloom!

Well back at the farm we did have an interesting photo session with a very rare and quite poisonous snake, Bothriechis nigroviridis, which the family had caught and held for a researcher who would visit them soon to study it. Iw was kind of small but beautifully green with diamond shaped head. i looked fierce! I am glad we got to see it, but happy we did not run into it out in the field. The amphibious contingency in the group also went on a night hike and actually rediscovered a small frog previously thought to have gone extinct, Isthmohyla Rivularis. Cool!

This marked the conclusion of the rainforest expedition. I had mixed feelings packing up all the gear one last time. In the morning we were leaving for the Pacific Coast and a few days relaxation in Dominical before returning home to Sweden again. In one way I think we were all quite satisfied and “done” with the rainforest, but I knew I would miss it as soon as we had left.

About the Author:

Karma is a digital nomad graphic artist and writer, orchid nerd and long-distance hiker from Gothenburg, Sweden. Former editor-in-chief for the Swedish Orchid Society magazine, published internationally and held lectures on orchid culture.

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