We woke up around 7:30 am, had breakfast (I had cereal, toast, coffee, juice, yogurt and Lauren had LOTS of fresh fruit, toast, and coffee; after breakfast we worked seperately – Lauren on her classwork/test, I on illstreet stuff; packed up our stuff and checked out of the hotel around 2:30pm; went into town, bank (money-currency exchange via atm pretty cool – all over cr). We needed gas but it was our first time and we couldn’t understand anything the guy was saying in spanish. We scooped some lunch at a cool mexican place called las brasitas – good reasonable portions of mexican food – I had a fruity sangria drink and She had beer – waiter thought it was funny. We stopped at a supermarkado on the way out of la fortuna for beer (which you can buy individual cans of for so many colones a piece. Also you can buy liquour at the grocery store. We got local rum, bought more cookies and other essentials. The drive was interesting and VERY bumpy; went from paved streets back to unpaved dirt and gravel/rock roads except unlike the carribean roads these were uphill and I mean UPHILL! lauren practiced manual for a little while on these roads; made it to monteverde and checked out a really nice hotel, didn’t stay there b/c ol’ Lauren couldn’t afford it so we stayed at Hotel Bosque instead and made arrangements for an early morning zip line canopy tour and rainforest hike (little cabin like room w/ high school kids all around us); drank rum and coke, made some collect calls, had a fiesta with a “toxic” tarantula, ate pizza for dinner at a restaurant within walking distance – good wine, great pizza; came back and went to sleep to be ready for next day.
Though the alarm clock on Lauren’s watch was set for 7:30 am I woke up inexplicably early (maybe due to the excitement about the prospect of viewing a Volcano spew lava) about an hour before the alarm would start blaring. Well, not blaring, it’s just a littly itty bitty digital watch. I grabbed my computer and headed for the pool to soak up some of the free wireless internet provided by the hotel. As I caught up on work, Lauren slept in, that is if sleeping until 7:15 am qualifies as sleeping late.
She met me at the pool, an assigned Victorian english novel in hand, and we both were productive until Lauren’s need for coffee became more pronounced than her need for scholarship. Breakfast was a great pick-me-up for the both of us. Coffee, juice, and cold and hot water were laid out in ample supply on a table in the dining area of the, once more, open-air restaurant (typically restaurants and bars in Costa Rica are open-air given that the weather is awesome most of the time and doesn’t need to be altered with any man-made climate controls). We both had a steaming hot cup of cafe negro with sugar and ate a typical Costa Rican breakfast of rice and beans, eggs, a tortilla, some rubbery but appetizing local queso, and fruit.
After eating, Lauren waited anxiously for a german woman who was staying at the hotel to finish up with the public computer in the hotel’s reception office so that she could take an on-line test for her summer school class. As soon as the german finished up with the computadora Lauren was off and I headed back to the pool to continue working. About an hour or so later I came by the office to consult Lauren on our plans for the day. Would we take a tour to the volcano, drive through the rainforest on atv’s, or act like stereotypical tourists and take pictures of everything and anything while buying as many cheap souvenirs as possible? We both went for option A with an added bonus, a guided tour of the Volcano and surrounding rainforest along with a trip to the Baldi hot springs resort AND dinner all for $65 a person (badass, I know). The tour left from the hotel at 3:35 pm so of course we made arrangements to join in about an hour before.
Lauren discovered that her online test wasn’t due for another three days and I was so impressed with how much work I had gotten done that we concluded we should reserve our room for another night and enjoy our tour all the while knowing we would be working again the next morning. No problem, you’ll find that with enough Costa Rican coffee working it’s way through your system you can do just about anything. Lauren and I hurried to get ready for the tour, decking ourselves out in hiking gear galore (light weight hiking shants i.e. pants that convert to shorts, sweat wicking shirts, bug spray, camera’s, etc.) Upon discovering that we were hungry at about 3 pm we tried to make an MRE rendition of pad thai as fast as possible on our quaint little porch and then gobbled it with no extra time to spare.
We walked up to the office, where we were supposed to be waiting for the tour bus about ten minutes prior, but luckily it was just pulling in as we arrived. We both thought ourselves lucky to have “timed it just right” until one of the guides for the tour popped out of the bus and asked us to change our shoes (we both were wearing Chaco’s made for hiking but apparently not sufficient for the treacherous trails surrounding Vulcan Arenal). Dammit, we thought, of course we couldn’t be on time for any one thing. Hiking shoes and breathable socks on foot, we climbed aboard the tour bus/van filled to capacity with other curious tourists, and drove for about twenty minutes to the trailhead as Jorge the tour guide with Canoa Adventures discussed the logistics of the tour with everyone in both english and spanish translations.
The tour bus/van stopped and parked at the opening to the trail which doubled as a observation point for the volcano. All of us tourists bustled out and started snapping pictures of the scene as fast as our fascinated and eager little fingers could. We then split off into two english-speaking and one spanish-speaking groups. Lauren and I aligned ourselves in the guide Bernado’s group alongside three other members and commenced on our informative yet somewhat slow tour of the secondary rain forest. Within maybe 20 or so paces we were introduced to a plant which, upon any type of touch, closes in on itself to ward off predators.
We continued on, hiking over muddy and rocky hills, learning about indigenous flora and fauna such as The crested one (an indigenous bird related to the turkey) and Heliconia (a bright red and serpantine like flower). Although our goal was of catching a glimpse of spider and howler monkeys along with Tucans and other such novel birds was futile, we did get to swing on a hella cool tarzan vine. The rain forest tour ended a little before we would have preferred it to but cold bottles of water and the promise of viewing hot lava sliding down the side of the Arenal volcano were enough to quelch any of our desires to push the rain forest tour any further.
Once all of the groups had concluded their tour we once again piled into the tour bus and drove for about 15 minutes to the Volcano observation point or what was better known as a bridge leading to the observation point. Lauren and I situated ourselves near the bridge which provided a pass for vehicles over a river that rushed over a small and crumbling dam. I manipulated my tri-pod with camera attached to a position which was adequate for taking pictures of the volcano and, hopefully, flowing red hot lava. A communion of maybe thirty to forty people crowded around the river and bridge all harboring the same hopes as Lauren and I and making excited, half-drunk, and loud outcries at any sighting of molten rock and earth. The Volcano ralphed maybe four or five times in a period of 30 minutes to the appreciation of all of it’s viewers, the act of which might have been reminiscent of ancient villagers praising fire gods sitting atop the giant outgrowth. Lauren and I, as expected, were the last to realize that our tour group was leaving, requiring the tour guides to come and find us personally amidst the crowd. From the observation “deck” we traveled to the Baldi hot springs resort where we ate a pre-paid dinner of sufficient if not absolutely scrumptuous platos tipicos served as a buffet. The best part of the meal had to have been the almost sickly sweet fruit juice and cake soaked in sweet milk. After filling up, Lauren and I headed to the changing rooms, rented a locker to store our belongings in safely, and were off to explore the various naturally hot water pools that made up the resort. Our first stop was at a larger pool of a comfortably warm bath-water like temperature that had a wetbar built into the middle of it. We both ordered “last calls” which were the strongest of the ludicrously priced mixed drinks ($10 each regardless of how much liquor and/or junk was in them) and drank them as we chatted up two surfer girls from the states who were just embarking on their two-week journey through Costa Rica. Given that our first drinks were a little mild we buttered up the bar tender, kind of, into making us stronger drinks for the same price. He readily obliged, handed us two drinks which were markedly more clear (coca cola was in the drinks, with the first being much darker than the second), then accepted our payment and tip.
The second pool we visited was MUCH warmer than the first given that it was 150 degrees (it was scalding to be more exact). Lauren and I decided to vacate the nearly boiling water, coming to the realization that extreme temperatures and alcohol consumption don’t mix so well. We wandered to the third, and final, pool of luke warm water, waterfalls, and ,wah-bam, water slides. There were two options for slides to choose from, one enclosed slide which was “crazy but a lot of fun” according to one pool patron and another slide which resembled a jungle gym slide experiencing a roid rage (steep, fast, and confusedly switching between ups and downs). The first slide we went down was the tube which allowed for any body of matter traveling down it to reach a speed of around 45 kilometers per hour. I went down first with Lauren following me, both of us sustaining some minor injury (mine being a good knock to the groin and her’s being a good knock to the noggin – we both went airborne inside the tube). I went down the same slide a second time hoping Lauren would be able to capture a video but she sucks at working the camera.
She went down the other slide twice and I got a vid of it. Lauren made a nice little comment in the youtube video so definitely check it. We hung out under some steaming hot waterfalls and then got dressed and went back to hotel. We were both pretty worn out so we went to sleep early after showering.
Though we only slept a few hours we awoke well-rested and anxious to get back to our car and, more so, to the Arenal Volcano. We both showered and packed our bags, then went down to the hotel restaurant for some breakfast. It was around 9:45 or so when we sat down at a table so we knew we’d probably be late for our boat (by this time we had started to figure out that we generally work on tico time and do everything about 30 minutes late). Para desayuno we had fresh fruit, like pineapple and watermelon, eggs, black beans and rice, huevos or blugh eggs, dry bread, coffee, and fresh guava juice. It was still early but the heat was already beating down on the little village. We could feel it being blown in byocean breezes as we scarfed down our food (well at least I did, Lauren eats like she’s savoring each morsel of a last meal on deathrow – very slowly). Eddie, our canal guide from the day before, arrived as our food did so he just chuckled a little and said “I’s ok, take your time, enjoy breakfast.” He said he’d meet us by the river where he had dropped us off the previous day then left just as quickly as he’d come in. I guess he thought it was funny that we were always eating breakfast late when he was trying to transport us. No worries, he didn’t seem to mind. I finished up before Lauren and, as we were already running late, headed to the river to meet eddie and grab a humongous bottle of water from one of the village mercado’s.
There was another passenger on the boat taxi that day, a woman from South Africa I think, but a snob nonetheless. She chastised me for running late and demanded that we leave even though I told her there was another person coming. She also belittled me about my luggage, asking in a demeaning tone after eyeing my pack up and down “And how long are YOU here for?” I told her three weeks instead of two so she’d tone down her super traveler status and back off or else it was going to be a long canal ride. Lauren arrived and it was time to hit the water so we loaded our packs onto the boat (a covered one for this trip so as not to burn the pale white folk too much), settled into our seats and left the shore, headed back towards Moin. The boat ride was enjoyable, however somewhat uneventful with a crocodile sighting here and a photo opp of some local kids in a fishing boat there.
The South African kept her mouth shut for the most part and I was admittedly grateful for that. We traveled the canal, taking familiar curves at excitingly high speeds, the warm air rushed past our faces until the boat started to slow at the dock of the Hotel Mar Azul. Eddie steered the boat alongside the wooden dock and lifted our bags up onto it with the help of a local friend. Lauren and I climbed off quickly, hoisted our overpacked luggage onto our backs, then tipped Eddie graciously and took two business cards from him that he said Francesca wanted us to have.
The plan was to load everything into the rental car and make our way to La Fortuna but that was abruptly put asunder when I was unable to locate the keys to the car. I started fervently unpacking, becoming more anxious with every empty compartment of my pack that didn’t render the keys all the while thinking how expensive it would be to replace them (nearly $400). Lauren helped me search and began unpacking her bag as well while two Ticas approached us telling us in Spanish that the sol was much too hot for us and advising us to move into the shade of the roof covering the reception office to search for the llaves. As fate would have it, however, I found the keys hidden away in an unused pocket of my pack. Both Lauren and I were washed with a wave of relief and all four of us, the two women included, let out a garbled but triumphant cry of “Ayeeee!”
The plan to travel to La Fortuna was thereby back in effect and after a short study of the guide book and map in the hotel restaurant we placed our packs and ourselves into the car and left. The trip took somewhere around 3 1/2 to 4 hours and was indicative of the diversity that characterizes Costa Rica. After spending four days on the Carribean coast it was a bit of a surprise to find that there ARE many paved roads and highways throughout the country, but mostly in the central and northern plains, and establishments such as Burger King and Church’s Chicken (the latter being where we ate lunch during this trip) in existence here, not just curb side soda’s. An added note: Costa Rican’s don’t load their poultry up with hormones and super-fattening foods so don’t expect to get mounds of chicken in any of your poultry dishes if you visit (I personally appreciate the lack of chemical enhancement when it comes to the foods that I ingest).
Upon arriving in La Fortuna at around 6 pm Lauren and I took notice of the obvious influence of tourism upon the town sitting right underneath the loom of the Arenal Volcano, the streets were paved, there were various supermarkets and gas stations in town, and even the population of stray dogs roaming the streets was significantly less. We couldn’t help but feel that some of the Costa Rican culture and lure was lost here. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the last time we felt that way. Our determination to explore the area and our lust for adventure was undeterred, however, and our first expedition was that of finding a suitable place to stay for the night. We consulted the guide book, by this point a much appreciated investment, and decided on the Hotel La Pradera. For $50 a night we enjoyed air conditioning, clean beds and bedding, a spacious room and bathroom, wi-fi, and filling breakfasts for each of the two days that we stayed there. After checking in we showered, changed clothes, and went out in search of dinner. We stopped at the first decent place we found that was open for business at 10 pm (it took us a while to check-in, unpack, shower, etc. if you’re wondering how we wasted four hours).
We ate at an open-air seafood restaurant where the food was good (I had a perfectly sized portion of chicken fajitas and Lauren had a rich plate of Fettucini Carbonara) but overpriced, the service was very attentive, and the drinks were fairly cheap. The staff at both the hotel and restaurant spoke very clear English which was helpful to Lauren and I but also somewhat of a hindrance given that we weren’t forced to practice speaking spanish (perhaps that comes with the heavy tourist influence as well). Sleep came swiftly after dinner (no we didn’t pass out behind the wheel) as we had an early morning of work to attend to.