After our encounter with the policia at our first highway stop at Costa Rica, one person in our party began to remember some Spanish she had learned in school. That person was Camille Munro – Miss World Canada. Her friendly smile and attempts to speak key words made it much easier to get what we needed without offending local residents.From the unfriendly and lackluster town of Canas, we journeyed inland to the highlands. It was a beautiful trip that exposed us to our first non-paved roads. Warnings we had received about the roads certainly were not over exaggerations. Speed limit signs stated: “Velocidad maxima 40 km/hr.,” and we rarely reached that speed. The roads were dirt and rock, mostly rock since the rainy season tends to wash away anything smaller than a one-inch (2.4 cm) rock. My wife perfectly summed up our travels inland by saying it was similar to driving on a dry river bed. Our travel book mentioned holes that were bathtub-size and we encountered those as well. It was very fortunate that we rented two small four-wheel drives instead of cars as the terrain would have done some serious damage to the undercarriage of a smaller vehicle. I can’t imagine the number of vehicle shocks that residents purchase in a lifetime. It is interesting to note that there is a raging controversy about the roads as many residents don’t want them improved because it will increase the number of tourists that visit the area and that could disrupt their lifestyle. In our travels, motorcycles constantly whizzed past us and it quickly became obvious why two wheels are the mode of preference for many Ticos. They could pass at the narrowest spots and could easily navigate around rocks and holes. Most of the motorcycles were small by North American standards and typically had engines in the 125 cubic centimetre to 150 cc-range. However, we also saw people riding much smaller units: mini-bikes (50-90 cc) and four days into our journey I finally saw a high-power unit. It had a 200 cc-engine! For people who have never owned a motorcycle, a 400 cc bike in Canada is considered a small highway motorcycle. Our first accommodation in the highlands was a beautiful four-bedroom house near the small town of San Rafael (close to Monteverde) which overlooks a large valley. Below the house were cattle, coffee plants and sugar cane. Growing up in British Columbia, I helped chase cattle through some hilly countryside. However, that terrain pales in comparison to some of the slopes on which cattle graze in Costa Rica. We attended a fiesta on the night we arrived at San Rafael. I learned their cowboys ride horses and motorcycles. Rodeo action consisted of local residents riding bulls in a very small arena. Anyone could participate and it was obvious that many bull riders were inexperienced. Furthermore, the bullfighters were also volunteers who were looking for a thrill. When a rookie rider fell off and was in danger of being gored or trampled, they got in front of the bull and waved a red flag in order to distract it. Needless to say the results weren’t always positive when both the rider and bullfighter were novices. Most memorable were the experienced riders who put on a show by riding bulls with both hands in the air! The high country produces the best quality coffee beans and we were treated to organic, locally grown coffee. It is marketed through a “farmer direct” program which eliminates middlemen and allows growers to obtain a fair price for their product. It was also the place where creepy crawlies took a fancy to our family. Small tarantulas (2 ½ inches long) would sneak under doors at night and then show up at the most unexpected times on floors, walls and ceilings. Thankfully, they seemed to gravitate to our youngest son, Matthew and his girlfriend (Camille). Their yelling, shrieks and tales of terror provided plenty of entertainment on a daily basis. A night hike in the jungle (led by a guide) proved to be a rewarding experience as a large orange-kneed female tarantula was spotted, along with vipers, a sloth and young porcupine. An armadillo and ant eater were too fast to be caught in our flashlight beam. Daytime adventures included going on a zip line tour through and over the rainforest. Christmas day was like no other because street vendors at Monteverde put on Santa hats. Other than that, it was business as usual. After four days in the highland, we left the terrible roads behind and headed for Lake Arenal and the La Fortuna volcano. It was there that we embarked on one of the shortest and most difficult hikes ever encountered . . . and saw the policia in action.