Which came first—the animal or the deadly sin?
I ask this question to the group on our way to a sloth forest just outside of Arenal. We pull into the parking lot to find over a dozen people gathered around staring into a tree. People walking by stop to gawk, and cars slow down as they pass. A mother sloth and her child are visible from the street.
Yesterday, I went on two nature hikes and searched fruitlessly for Costa Rica’s unofficial national animal. The elusive creature is hard to find, especially without a guide. But today, I see one first thing in the morning. It’s a stroke of luck.
The sloth is the last impressive sight I’ll see in Arenal. After another long nature walk, filled with owls, lizards and a marching army of carpenter ants, it’s time for our group to leave the town. My comrades and I have to rush back to the hotel to make the bus.
Monteverde is our next destination. It is not far as the crow flies, but the journey is arduous. It starts with a long drive around gorgeous Lake Arenal. Then you go up into the mountains, passing horses, cow farms and tiny hillside towns. The roads are windy and rough, though no worse than some I’ve driven on in rural Alabama or Mississippi.
The city of Monteverde is built on the side of a mountain. It’s a tough walk getting anywhere—uphill both ways, as the old saying goes. But the cardio is worth the effort. At night, every building in town glitters. You’ll see chicken shacks, supermarkets, tourist traps, bakeries and hip bars. And like every town I’ve been to in Costa Rica, the centerpiece is a massive iglesia.
On our first night in town, we stop by TacoTaco, located on the top floor of a two-story building. It has a beautiful bar, and I eat tasty pulled beef in a cinnamon rub. The walls are adorned with a drawing of a rooster and a massive poster of Frida Kahlo.
And walking home from our epic meal, our group passes a massive mural on the side of a building featuring you know what—a sloth. The day has come full circle.