Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Arenal Volcanoe

Today I hiked to the base of Arenal Volcano, the  most active volcano in the America's,  where I witnessed the rumbling and explosions of boulders erupting from the volcano leaving a lava dust trail as they rolled down the volcano's side. I never seen anything quite as impressive as this! I realized today that I have been on a volcano search since visiting Mt. St. Helens in 2005, and then the Colima volcano in Mexico later that same year. Well I saw a big one today, I was thrilled and now I want more.

The volcano tour was the second to last of the days adventures that I shared with my guide, Miguel and our driver Guilermo. It all started yesterday when I found my hotel room by luck after getting a tip from a German couple in a tourist information booth. The original plan was a nights stay in a little luxury before heading north to a much less tourist oriented habitat. That quickly changed after reading the 'tours available' binder at the hotel reception. I couldn't help myself, and since I wanted an intense experience in little time, I signed up for the all day excursion with a local tour company. They would pick me up at 7am the next day.

The next day I was up early, ready to roll. Then I sat at the reception waiting. 7:15 a tourismo van pulls in and a short stocky guy, not much younger than me, jumps out, looks around and says someone's name. Wasn't my name for sure. He hurries to the reception- a fast blathering of spanish and off he goes to the guest's room. Before long he's back, no guest and after another short discussion we all realize it is me they are looking for. Hop in the van, Miguel, the stocky guy starts talking a mile a minute doing introductions, there are others in the van including the driver, Guilermo, and off we go. First stop the hanging bridges, 13 bridges and trails through the forest canopy and forest. Miguel turned out to be a great guide, well informed and funny when necessary. We learned a lot about the canopy, jungle trees, and other growing things. I heard my first Howler Monkeys and Miguel found a Blue Jeans Black Leg Frog the size of my thumbnail with legs. 

We exited to Arenal Volcano. Most of the cloud had cleared and I saw it clearly for the first time. Wow is all I can say. Miguel bought out cold beer to celebrate. I like this guy!

Next stop- drop the other guests then grab a lunch back at my hotel, the Casa Luna, all part of the package deal. And it was a great lunch. Top of the menu stuff. Stuffed! I discovered the next tour would be to the La Fortuna waterfall, a short drive from my hotel. Arriving there I discovered that it was a short drive but then it was a serious long way down via stairs and coming back up was going to be a killer especially after a large lunch. Oh well, down we went. It was incredible. A high, thin spout falling from way above into a pool. The water was icy and fresh. The spray smell reminded me of childhood. Swim done, we hiked all the way back up which was not so bad after all.

Next was the late afternoon volcano hike. We picked up a family and headed off to the 'other' side of Arenal, the dangerous side. At the parking lot before starting up the trail, Miguel got all excited and told us to see if we could see anything on a tree. We couldn't see anything except this small yellow looking fungus type thing. The yellow thing was actually an extremely poisonous yellow coral snake, and yet it was tiny and looked harmless. Not so Miguel explained as he showed pictures of 21 more deadly snakes including the easily provoked Fer de Lance. The ladies in our group were well freaked by the time we started up the dense Bamboo Palm lined trail to the volcano. The trail ended at the bottom of an old lava flow but the spectacle above was pretty cool. Below us is a jungle and then Arenal Lake which flows into the distant horizon. Flocks of Yellow Keeled Toucan's were flying between the trees in the fading light.

Miguel rounded us up and led us back. Driving back to town we saw lightning bugs flicker all over the fields and memories of Quebec nights returned.

Last stop was at a thermal pool resort where the guys left me for a soak and dinner. The soak was in a series of cascading rock-lined hot-tubs- hottest at the top, this one had a small waterfall that poured boiling hot water onto my bald spot. Sure wasn't as relaxing as the brochure said. Looking around I noticed the hot springs had this huge fence with barbed wire the length of it. As well, loud erratic disco music was playing out of very old speakers making a beautiful place very weird indeed. Ignoring the noise I worked my way down the pools with a couple of Negra (beer) stops along the way. Hopped out for dinner feeling pretty good.

Dinner was part of the package and as I sat eating a delicious meal of Sea Bass I loud explosion went off just behind the restaurant. Nobody seemed bothered and there was no screaming so I forgot about it until my driver, Guilermo picked me up and asked if I had noticed all the armed security guards outside.  I hadn't noticed which is not unusual since there are plenty of guns in Costa Rica, even beer trucks have flak-vested armed guards. He went on to explain that there were two thermal pool operations side by side and the older operator was very angry at the new operation and was doing his best to destroy the business with loud music, homemade bombs (everyone does this here) and other tactics. There had even been a shooting recently. I thanked Guilermo for this info. 

I jumped into his van, now loaded up with his family, and they dropped me back at the Casa Luna. A great day indeed!