Back in 1951, 40 Quakers from Fairhope, Ala., moved here to 3,000 acres of remote hillside pastures and primeval cloud forest in Central America's mountainous heartland. The pacifist Friends were attracted by Costa Rica's abolition of its army in 1949, repelled by America's first peacetime draft in 1948, appalled by the Cold War and Korea.
They spent those first rough years in tents more than eight hours by four-wheel-drive and winch and mule from the nearest paved road. Some gave up, of course, but others continued to be pulled here by the same dream that inspired the original settlers.
Arnold Hoge, 72, came from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 26 years ago "to get away from the military in the States: paying for the military past, present and future."
Hoge smiled a broad, Midwestern heartland dairy-farmer smile. "That was the first reason," he said. "The second was adventure."
Now a bloody U.S.-backed insurgency is under way against a Marxist-led revolutionary government in Nicaragua, just 50 miles to the north. El Salvador's slaughter is on the rise as Washington pumps millions of dollars into the military there. In Honduras, American trainers are whipping whole battalions into shape for a possible regional war. Guatemala's murders continue on a huge scale.
Even down in placid Costa Rica's normally easygoing capital of San Jose, exiles, guerrillas, politicians and plotters of every stripe are following each other's intrigues with close, sometimes violent attention. Washington is financing modest training aimed at teaching Costa Rica's police how to act like soldiers.
Yet, for the moment at least, this is not a story of trouble in paradise.
The Quakers have managed to make and--what is more rare--to maintain Monteverde as a strange kind of Central American Shangri-La where soldiers never set foot and solid old liberal dreams never die. Peace and pacifism, pure environment, community and cooperation not only exist here; they appear to be prospering.
Those first Quakers have been joined by naturalists and botanists, retirees and a few lost-seeming leftovers from the days of the hippies. Of about 150 people living in Monteverde, about 100 are Americans and the rest are Costa Ricans. ("We've never wanted to exclude anyone," explained a resident.)
"Here at the end of nowhere," as one of the younger Quakers called Monteverde, the pastures are used for milk cows supplying a pristine, efficient little dairy plant that makes much of the nation's better cheese.
The cloud forest has been turned over to a scientific foundation so more money can be obtained to save even more of the irreplaceable acreage from slash-and-burn squatters.
Now the vast jungle of gigantic trees, of mist and ferns, of the mystical green-feathered quetzal and the unique golden toad, stretches for 8,000 protected acres. Monteverde is less than two rough hours from a paved highway, and the capital is only about 90 minutes from the junction.
A blond, bearded teen-ager walks barefooted down the lane as a visitor enters Monteverde. A little further up the road a young woman with long black hair and a cheap guitar case is hiking from a friend's house back to her own. The air is as fresh and cool as a Swiss summer's.
The Pensio Quetzal, down a narrow drive of pebbles and weeds, is one of those sharp-angled wood and glass houses people build on Cape Cod or Martha's Vineyard. A long-dead Volkswagen bus sits outside with little doodles drawn in the dust on its windows. Under a shed are a couple of disintegrating mopeds.
Nobody here is talking about war or revolution.
"What's that bush?" asks a gray-haired woman wearing a T-shirt, shorts, rubber boots and single-lens reflex camera.
"Stachytarpheta," answers Bob W. Law, an owner of the little boarding house, who is sitting on the porch. He spells it. A hummingbird is working its way among the blossoms. "Fork-tailed emerald," he footnotes casually.
Up at the little store, where Monteverde's people pick up their mail from small wooden lock-boxes that no one bothers to lock, Joyce Fuller explains why she and her husband Bill, both in their sixties, came down from New Hampshire to teach at the tiny school last April.
"We're tired of the strain in the States, the pace, the lack of optimism--not that there's anything to be optimistic about," she says. "The atmosphere is so nice here."
At the information center at the entrance to the cloud forest, Huck DeVenzio, 36, a visitor from Pittsburgh wearing a Pirates cap, is about to head down the trail. "I wanted to see jungle," he says. "We don't have much jungle in Pittsburgh."
A 6-week-old owl is fluttering and whooing back and forth across the room watched over by Alexis Chavarria, 23, a Costa Rican who was born here and who manages the center. He plans to stay for the rest of his life.
Sometimes ("when I bore myself," he says), he goes down to the capital. "But I can't stay there long," he says. "It's strange to me. I can't sleep."
A few years ago, said one of Monteverde's oldest residents, "we got worried that the community here was only interested in the community." So a study group was started to learn about the outside world and, especially, about the strife of the region.
Now called the Latin American Action Committee, its few members read and discuss what they hear is happening.
Two or three times a year they visit some of Central America's vast refugee camps. They publish an informal newsletter and collect money for relief work.
"Our main goal," said one of the group's founders, "is the human contact."
Then they come back to their cows, their tidy houses and their forest in the clouds.