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Costa Rica: La Fortuna

Lake Arenal
The next day, after breakfast at the Treehouse Café, it was onward ho.  We were headed to a real live (as in still active) volcano accessible from the town of La Fortuna.  The bus ride out of Monte Verde was not quite so tortuous because the route was shorter and we were in a mini bus, which navigated the roads much better than our former gargantuan bus.  Plus, it was in daylight so we could at least enjoy the stunning views. 

Our bus deposited us at one end of Lake Arenal, a boat transported to the other end, and another mini-bus picked us up and took us to our hostel called Posada Inn.  It was a recommendation from a local guy at the internet café in Monte Verde.  It turned out to be great—we had a clean, spacious room with a real horse outside.  The proprietor had even lived in North Carolina for several years, but said he couldn’t make it on only $7 an hour. 

 

Lake Arenal

Posada Inn Lake Arenal

Rainforest
On the bus ride over, we had already booked our tour to the volcano (this being another occasion when it was logistically impossible to do it on our own).  The $25 tour included a short hike through a rain forest, viewing of the volcano from the side where the lava pours down, and soaking in the hot springs.  It was raining during our hike through the rain forest, which was actually quite lovely.  Our guide told us that the forest, with the exception of a few particularly large trees, had been destroyed when the volcano had a major eruption in 1968.  In the forty years since, the forest had made quite a recovery.   The mosquitoes were fierce, the plant life abundant, and we even saw some howler monkeys up in the trees.  Like all things on tours, the hike was too short.

rainforest
rainforest rainforest rainforest
rainforest rainforest

Arenal Volcano
But the Curse of the Tour manifested itself most prominently at the Arenal Volcano viewing place.  Here we were, at a freakin’ live volcano, which isn’t bound to be an experience one has often in life, and the area was packed with other tourists and we had an hour time limit.  Furthermore, it wasn’t quite dark yet when we first arrived, so we couldn’t see much at all for the first half hour, except little puffs of smoke. 

As it grew darker, the occasional lava spills became more visible.  The lava looked like red-hot coals rolling down the conic shaped mountain, or mini fireworks explosions.  As it got darker, the light show got better and better until I thought that I too would erupt with joy.  It was about that time, of course, that the tour guide informed us it was time to go.  I cursed the Curse of the Tour.  As our van pulled away, the volcano was still spewing…but it was not for our eyes to see.

 

Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano

Hot Springshot springs
 I guess I shouldn’t complain too much though, because the next place that the tour was rushing us off to was the hot springs.  These were not just puddles of hot water as I had imagined.  All the tourist dollars pouring into the place enabled them to create a resort style venue, complete with fake rocks, waterfalls, and beautiful flowers to enhance the dozen or so pools of hot water.  It probably would have looked quite tacky by daylight, but at night it looked exotic and steamy.  It was fortunate we were there during the cool night because the spring water was indeed hot.  We pool hopped for the next two hours, standing under water falls, lazing about in the pools, and spending quite a lot of time at the pool with a water slide. 

 At the entrance to the hot springs, the guide had warned us to sit up if we go down the water slide because there is a slight jump and if we’re lying down we’ll hit our head.  Somehow, I had never gone down a serious waterslide in my whole life, so I was quite excited about this new, wedgie inducing experience.  I only went down once and discovered the “jump” was not so much a jump as a drop-off half way down the slide, where you were airborne until the slide flattened out at the bottom, and then you skidded across the water.  The slide was obviously dangerous, the sort of fun not to be had in lawsuit-limiting America.  However, I found it was far more enjoyable to relax in the hot springs and watch the other tourists become airborne while Shanu (who is a lawyer) narrated all the different ways such lawsuits would play out if someone did crack their head open.

Chasing Waterfalls
 The next day, we decided to chase the famous waterfall of La Fortuna.  Our hostel owner showed us a very good map with clear directions to the waterfall.  It was about a three mile walk to get there and we knew for certain that it did exist.  The road was rocky and dotted with horse turds, and we trudged uphill as other tourists, via taxis, mini-buses and horses, passed us by on the race to the waterfall.  I always hate it when we hike to a destination only to discover a parking lot at the top.  It seems like everyone should have to struggle a bit a to reach a beautiful destination.  Well, we told ourselves, the cool water will feel so much better to us, having sweated our way up there.

It's not the heat, it's the humidity.
papayas

The Waterfall of Fortune
 We successfully reached the waterfall and it was stunning.  La Catarata de Fortuna cascaded about 30 yards down through a canyon and crashed into a clear, turbulent pool below.  We stayed there for hours, swimming in the frigid stream, and enjoying the picturesque setting with the waterfall juxtaposed next to the rainforest.  It was like being in a postcard, (except that the postcards never show all the other tourists.)  Zac especially enjoyed swimming in the churning waters right below the waterfall, where the force was so powerful it was impossible to get very close to the falls.

The Waterfall of La Fortuna
La Catarata de Fortuna The Waterfall of La Fortuna La Catarata de Fortuna

We eventually tore ourselves away, and climbed out of the canyon.  We walked slowly back to town and this time were affronted not only by taxis, buses, and horses, but now there were quad bikes zooming up the road towards the falls, kicking up dust and gravel.  If only great tourist attractions could be kept secret and revealed only to a select few (the secret wish of every tourist, I’m sure).  It rained on the way back, and a lame dog adopted us.  We took shelter under a bridge for a while, then continued home when it let up.  The rain had cleared the skies a bit and we had a great view of the perfect conical volcano. 

The Waterfall of La Fortuna
Arenal Volcano

Ice
We spotted this ice delivery van on our walk back.  If you look closely, you'll see that the ice cubes appear to be coming out of the polar bear's butt.

Arenal Volcano

Inconsistency
That night, we ate at the same restaurant where we had lunch the day before, and I ordered the exact same dish, since it was so good.  And here is another fun thing about small restaurants in other countries: even the same menu item is not always the same.  Compare this with chain restaurants where you can go anywhere in the world and get exactly the same hamburger.  Yet here was the same restaurant in the same town, only a day later, and the meal was slightly different.  Sometimes inconsistency is refreshing—it’s as if a real person is back there cooking the food.

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