15 April 2008

Costa Rica ReCap, Part 1

Our Costa Rica adventure began at 3:00 am on Sunday when we got up to head to the airport. Two uneventful flights, plus a nightmare trying to find a change house in the Bogota airport that would give us Colones (which we never did find), got us to San Jose in 6 pieces (2 suitcases, 2 backpacks, 2 persons). We successfully found a change place and were on our way to the rental car place with some duty-free wine and Costa Rican coffee liquor.

Step 2 of the adventure came when we tried to add me to the rental car agreement to share the driving responsibilities and I realized that I'd left my license in Medellin. Brilliant. I was already planning on doing the lion's share of the navigating (apparently Jenna can't navigate herself out of a paper bag), and this just certified I would be in charge of all of it. Which is actually pretty difficult given the state of the roads and towns in CR, and the crappy rental car company map I had. Needless to say, we did have to backtrack some. But we made it.

The first leg of our journey took us to Denny's for lunch. We were both super excited to have something so totally American...living in the backwoods of Colombia, we don't get anything like that. I had some "Moons Over My Hammy" and hashbrowns. It was awesome.
We then headed on our way to Arenal, which is the most active volcano in Costa Rica. The drive was very scenic, but took entirely too long and we ended up traveling at dusk, which wasn't the best for my driving friend. The little town at Arenal was fun--quaint and touristy. We stayed at a hostel (my first ever), which, if you forget about the PVC pipe sticking out of the wall that was the shower (at least there was hot water) and the terrible pillows, was a great place to stay. The staff were super friendly and helpful, there was cable, and the beds were comfortable.

Monday we spent around the town of La Fortuna, where we found a great little shop to get really good Costa Rican coffee. The shop was run by the owner of the coffee farm, and we had a chance to talk to him all about how they run the farm. Jenna and I both ended up sending 5 lbs of coffee home to our parents, and we bought 4 1/2 for ourselves here. We went a little overboard. Check out their website:http://www.godowntoearth.org/ That night we went on a night hike at a nature preserve, where we saw a three-toed sloth, some caymans, cool bugs, and frogs, including this little guy who was quite elusive.
Tuesday we got up early and headed out on the 'combination tour' touted as the best way to explore the area by the folks at our hostel. We started out at the Arenal Hanging Bridges, which is a trail through the rainforest that goes over something like 14 different bridges, some fixed and some suspension. We got to see a ton of really cool plants, to take in amazing scenery, and to watch some animals. We saw some spider monkeys playing in the trees, and we heard a ton of howler monkeys but were unable to see them. This is a picture from one of the last bridges we crossed, looking down at one of the earlier bridges.

After the hanging bridges hike, we headed through La Fortuna to hike down to the La Fortuna waterfall. It was a pretty normal waterfall, but the day was really hot and the hike down included something like 800 steps, none of which was actually the same height as any other.
Jenna and me at the top of the falls:

G'Nome made the hike, too, although the trip up damn near killed him (and me)!

The next stop on our tour was to the west side of the volcano, where we hiked up to the most recent big lava field. Arenal is a volcano different from what we were expecting: it doesn't actually spew liquid lava. The pressure and heat build up and force huge boulders out the top that roll down the side of the mountain until they reach a stopping place. So in a catastrophic eruption, huge, on-fire boulders rain down on the land and leave behind craters. It was pretty cool to see the remains and to hear the stories of what happened. The white 'streaks' you can see at the top of the mountain are the trails of rocks that we watched come down.

Jenna and me at the lava flow (as they say), sporting our Keens-bought especially for this trip.
The tour ended with a trip to the Tabacon Hot Springs, a resort built around the river which exploits the natural hot springs of the river for monetary gain. Don't get me wrong; it was really nice to take a hot soak after our long day, but it was a little over the top. There were upwards of 10 different pools with different temperatures and features. And there were about a million people, too.

Since this is the end of a day, it's the perfect stopping place for me now. Stay tuned for Part 2. The adventure continues...