It took a bit till the first colorful impressions wore off and I realized the sorry state of the gardens and the unfortunate existence of the creatures trapped in there. It also took a bit to warm up with what later became my favorite memory of Monteverde: The girls of the Butterfly Garden.
Once the last tour ended and the entrance door's been closed, the volunteers and interns who were housed on the property took over, and turned this place into their own.
Like R, the night owl and instant bar legend of Santa Elena village who would go, in the blink of an eye, from cursing in vibrant slang that would leave the urban dictionary in awe, to well mannered and refined science talk. From gangster to professor in a sec. Whenever she gave a tour, the gardens were filled with laughter and even the most botton-up german would crack up eventually. And of course G, her partner in crime who brought science talk to yet another level, leaving me even more puzzled then after R's Drake impressions and who surprised me on a daily bases with her unshakable optimism and the ability to find the silver lining in even the darkest clouds. A true science lover who sometimes managed to put her reinforcements and encouragement in an academic metaphor which already demanded a PHD degree for a chance to comprehend. Needless to say I was clueless and speechless for most of the time hanging out with these two, but smiling all the way. Luckily J was around to fill me in on the references and insiders that I would never get. J, who stunned me out with a passion, for even the tiniest and most obscure creatures, that I’ve rarely seen before. Not a beetle or plant in the garden where she couldn’t come up with a fascinating fact and not an insect in the world that she wouldn’t learn to admire. And at last A who would remain a mystery throughout my stay as she wandered barefoot in fields of dirt, sorting out stones with patient hands, planting new trees in quiet grace. She would appear and disappear in the rhythm of the butterflies, beaming at them as bright as their wings every time they'd flatter by, because she was blessed with the same gift of living life at her own pace.
I knew I would thrive within the solitude of the cloud forests and that I would rejoice at the ever-present strolling of bugs, birds and mammals but I didn’t expect to be overwhelmed so quickly by the curiosity, wisdom and strength of four striking animal lovers with all their riddles and laughters. And if one of you four happens to read this, I want you to know:
Although neither my words nor pictures can do you justice, I hope you realize how much I've cherished these brief days between sunsets and rain. When you made me share dreams and embarrassing through-up stories, when you amazed me with your knowledge without making me feel stupid as you made science communication the coolest thing ever. When I knocked on your door you opened your worlds and views and let me glance at your zeals and sorrows, not for long of course, but long enough to leave me mesmerized and inspired by the wonders of nature, and the girls of the Butterfly Garden.
Once you get more familiar with the gardens and its inhabitants, in all their colors and places to hide, you also begin to question the broken wings as you see them hit the ceiling and dusty windowpanes. As you see them crawling on the ground in desperate attempts to fly once again, doomed to be disposed like trash because this is not the heaven of butts and buggs but solely a tourist attraction. And butterflies are supposed to be beautiful not crippled.
Sure in wildlife broken wings will happen as well and sure they are exposed to their many predators. But, and this is my true belief, once you decide to take an animal in, no matter if dog, pig or butterfly, you better give them the best life you can offer. Otherwise, don’t pretend, not even for a second, that you would care about animals when all you want is shiny wings and paying costumers.
If I had the choice to live until a hundred and one in small apartment in Berlin with five meals a day, Netflix and consoles or to live out of doors in this fucked up world full of dangers and wonders, with a fair chance to get hit by a car, bitten by a snake, drowned in the ocean, ending up with blood poisoning because I can’t help myself playing with strays and nosebears, I would choose the wild every single time. Because as I read in the cloud reserve on a corny sign which I happened to like a lot of course: nothing ever dies in the forest, life is just transforming. The wild is forever they say and just like Ikarus, you have to feel the burning sun sometimes. And if you end up with the broken wings of butterfly I rather be surrounded by giants in green and filthy sloths then a grey apartment in Berlin.
In three small indoor gardens and one larger enclosure, 30 types of butterflies and ohter wonderful creatures can be discovered. On your first walk through the gardens it’s hard not to be delighted, when you see a huge morpho butterfly passing right by and you get a glimpse at its wide open wings and eveytime the wings come clapping a deep blue sea is beaming in flashes. With the help of R. you spot some fat caterpillars chilling under a leaf and supposivley haven’t moved an inch in two days as if they were waiting for some sort of enlightenment. But there won’t be an enlightenment, much better, nature will pull of one of its sickest tricks in the book, and these lazy suckers will transform into colorful beauties.
With the help of J. you spot a Leaf-mimic. In a garden of leaves, underneath a big leaf, there’s a little leaf, all crumbled and tattered, and only its tiny feet give away the idea that it’s not a leaf but a butterfly with a camouflage game that would put every army adjutant and even John Cena to shame.
To experience these kind of wonders, was one of the best parts of volunteering in the gardens. I also learned about compost and planting and about the leaf cutter ants which build entire kingdoms of their own underneath Costa Rica's red soil. Above the ground and everyday of my stay I had time to explore the lush greens of the many national parks and nature reserves that you can find all around Monteverde. All that, while nature is celebrating a music festival that never stops. Starting early with countless birds singing and tweeting their favorite operas. During the day, with now clear schedule the heroes of black metal will join in. Howler monkeys will communicate from high up in the trees dropping some of the most obscure growling sounds which may come to a sudden stop when the old fashioned rain hits the leaves, drumming it’s pleasing tune. Having crickets as an evening act comes as a welcoming change with their string section vibrating in the warm lights of a setting sun, until restless dogs will wrap the day howling loud to every star.
Last week I started some volunteer work in the Butterfly Gardens of Monteverde.
It’s not a Garden of Eden. This much I know already.