Climbing the Ficus Tree / Strangler Fig in Monteverde

Ficus tree in Monteverde

It was my penultimate day in town and after taking things to greater heights at Monteverde Extremo Park, joining a night walk, and getting a visit from white-faced monkeys at Que Tuanis, I could’ve just stayed at the hostel and lazed around. But then, the front desk attendant, who ended up calling me Josh during my stay (and I just let her because who knows if I was a Josh in another life), told me to visit the Ficus tree in Monteverde.

So what is a Ficus tree? Welp, thought you’d never ask! Actually, it was also the first time that I learned of such a thing. (A thing!)

A Ficus tree, also known as a strangler fig, is among the plants that grow on the surface of another plant. Ever heard of orchids? However, unlike orchids, this fig continuously grows upward for sunlight while its roots go downward, ultimately enveloping and strangling the host tree after making contact with the ground. The original tree sometimes dies, leaving the Ficus tree hollow and on its own.

Remembering Science classes, the Ficus tree and host tree have a symbiotic relationship of commensalism, but unbeknownst to the latter, it can transition into a form of parasitism. Traidor! It’s like being betrayed by someone you used to snuggle with all the time.

I was told of two Ficus trees in particular—a hollow strangler fig as described above and another which takes the form of a bridge. After Googling photos of them, I knew I just had to pay a courtesy call on the Ficus tree bridge even if looking for it eats my entire day that I can no longer check out the other one.

Map to the Ficus trees in Monteverde

Ficus Tree Bridge

The hostel attendant’s instructions to turn right, from the road, to a narrow path was crystal but I was having a hard time looking for it. Fortunately there was a local nearby so I whipped out Google Translate, keyed in “tree bridge”, and went ahead with:

“Buenos dias! Tengo una pregunta. Donde esta el puente de arbol?”

He pointed me to the path and even waited for me to find it. At seven minutes past ten I started making my way through the woodland, followed the trail, and walked and walked and walked…

Path to the Ficus tree bridge

Path to the Ficus tree bridge

Path to the Ficus tree bridge

Until I came across a sign four minutes later which read:

“Do not pass. There’s a crazy man with a gun.”

Private property sign

For not having seen any sign of life at all apart from the greenery, I immediately turned on my heel and guided myself back, though in retrospect it was essentially just a message indicating that it’s a private property. And that’s when I remembered another instruction: Once you hit the river after going down the path from the highway, follow it downstream to the right where the Ficus tree bridge awaits.

Sure, I Googled it beforehand, but it was still nothing like I’ve ever seen before. Otherworldly, it was. From the looks of it, it indeed seemed to have grown on a fallen comrade. With no one else around, I scampered for my tripod and went for the kill. It was the first time I brought it so an experimentation naturally ensued; I hurriedly took multiple shots from different angles in fear that someone might come and spoil the moment and make things #awkward.

Ficus tree bridge

Ficus tree bridge

Ficus tree bridge

I crossed to the other side to test if it was a portal that’ll whisk me away to its origin but immediately there was a drop so I could only do so much. Still feeling dissatisfied, I tried other angles and eventually found one that fit the entire tree in the frame. I was fucking sold. I wallowed there for roughly 30 minutes and no one else arrived. Huzzah!

Ficus tree bridge

Ficus tree bridge

Ficus tree bridge

Hollow Ficus Tree

Hiking to the other Ficus tree wasn’t the easiest as I, after looking it up on Google Maps to be “El Arbor Hueco / Ficus Tree”, found myself on a continuously steep road. I’m not one to whine but I was definitely gasping for air. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Lodge signage was my landmark; there was a path leading into the unknown woods across it.

Walking to the hollow strangler fig

Before long I came across a strangler fig in all its erect glory. I’m very certain I’ll never see a wormhole in this fleeting life but from its base I would like to describe it as one (if not a monster’s orifice, that is). It was a thing of beauty.

Ficus tree

Ficus tree

Climbing the Ficus tree

During my hookup with this Ficus tree a Dutch woman lady girl and an American couple came by, with the guy remarking that he thought a monkey left its backpack on the ground. (Do tell!) Like many Caucasians, they hardly took photos and didn’t stay long so I was once again saved from being seen as a loner, desperately aspiring for good and emotional dramatic photos.

Ficus tree

It also gave me a chance to scale the tree again. Went up as high as I could with my good old pal and spent another 30 minutes in total including the second photo shoot of the day.

Climbing the Ficus tree

Climbing the Ficus tree

At the hostel that night I met a Swedish couple who thought I was a photographer (ano ba!) after seeing me browse a million photos on my laptop and phone. When the guy caught a glimpse of the Ficus tree bridge, I learned that they looked for it, came across the warning sign as well, and was about to follow the river but gave up because it was already getting dark. They were leaving at first light so the regret on their faces was beyond doubt when I told them that it was only a few steps away had they pursued it.

Tips

  • Visiting these Ficus trees is one of the things you shouldn’t miss when in Monteverde on a trip to Costa Rica because it’s free. If the hollow Ficus tree also sits on a private property, though, there’s a chance that this might totally change. After all, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
  • The structure of a hollow strangler fig makes climbing it as easy as pie. You just have to be careful when you’re on your own or when it’s wet (why are a handful of things dangerous when wet anyway). Better yet, if your monkey instinct tells you not to ascend, then don’t.
  • You could actually also climb and be on the Ficus tree bridge. I didn’t go for it because I was already euphoric ogling it from the ground and there was also no point if my intention was to take photos using the tripod.
  • I was told later on by the hostel attendant that I was lucky no one stole my things while I was climbing the Ficus tree. In other cases, cars parked outside of the woods are broken into through the windows.
  • Furthermore, I was informed that I was in fact at the wrong Ficus tree, as there was a bigger and hollower one. The one you should be seeking is the one below, courtesy of Danielle and Anna. You could climb it all the way up to the canopy. All was still good for me, though, thanks to the Ficus tree bridge. But I wonder if the Dutch and the Americans knew that we were at the wrong one?

Ficus tree in Monteverde

Visited: December 2019

Nelson

View posts by Nelson
An outdated software engineer with the attention span of a fruit fly. Follow me on Instagram if you have one? Cheers!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: