A walkabout is a rite of passage- a person will go out into the wilderness to discover his or her identity and purpose, and then return home.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Weekend Trip #2: La Fortuna

La Fortuna

La Fortuna is known as a tourist destination {in high-season anyway} as it is the town closest to the Arenal Volcano and its surrounding national park.  The Arenal Volcano was Costa Rica´s most active volcano (and one of the top ten most active ones in the world), but since 2010 its explosions have died down, and it has been pretty quiet since {though it did erupt unexpectedly in 1968 and destroy the small town of Tabacon, so you never know...}.   Lindsay, Dean, and I decided to go there because both Lindsay and I had never seen a real, live volcano before, and Arenal is quite well-known.

Dean once again took off Thursday night, saying he may or may not be traveling with us that weekend.  He said if he was at the hostel on Friday night, then he´d be there, and if not we were to presume he was off at some other destination.  I fully expected him to come to Arenal, but Lindsay had her doubts.  We´d find out in no time, regardless.

The Journey
Friday afternoon Lindsay and I went directly from volunteering at the Hogarcito to the major bus terminal of Palmares.  We´d done some research {using the handy-but-not-always-reliable busschedule.com} into transportation, and discovered that a bus left from San Ramon (a large town 10 minutes away from where we volunteer in Palmares) at 12:30pm, so we planned to take the 12:15pm bus from Palmares in order to get there on time.  It probably all would have worked out, except that the 12:15pm bus from Palmares didn´t end up appearing until 12:25, meaning we missed our connection in San Ramon by about 20 minutes by the time we´d located the bus station.  

After talking to a nice lady working in a small store at the bus station {she´s now become our go-to helper whenever we end up in San Ramon}, we learned the next bus to La Fortuna was at 4:00pm- meaning we had an almost three-hour period to entertain ourselves in San Ramon.  Fortunately, in the never-ending search for an American-style iced coffee {have I mentioned Lindsay´s obsessed with iced coffee?  In Costa Rica they always blend the ice into the coffee, and sometimes add ice cream- it results in a tasty drink, but not exactly what she´s looking for...} we happened upon a University museum with a few art and biological exhibits.  We wandered around there for a bit, though once we saw a preserved human fetus in a plastic jar, we were pretty ready to get the hell out of there.  We then spent the next few hours tracking down the McDonald´s we were both positive we spotted on the bus ride into town {don´t judge}.  You´ve no idea how accomplished we felt when we eventually found it,and in celebration bought french fries (Lindsay) and a twist ice cream cone (me).

Thus sated, we headed back to the bus station in time to catch the bus and finally begin our journey to Arenal.  We arrived four hours later in the dark- no stunning view of the looming volcano for us yet.  After being accosted by tour guides, we extracted ourselves and made our way to the hostel.  We walked inside and were greeted by the sight of Dean {! told you so, Lindsay}, already hard at... work... hanging out with a large, rowdy group of people.  Lindsay and I checked in, dropped our stuff on our bunk beds, and headed out to join the party.

Friday Night Meet & Greet
The people we saw Dean with turned out to be a fun bunch of volunteers based in San Ramon {of all places}- four Canadian guys (Bryan, Ryan, Ryan, Tiaan) and one American girl (Kelsey).  Also amassed in our new group of friends was a British girl, Jo, and a Dutch guy, Floris.  They all introduced themselves, and quickly invited Lindsay and I to sit down.  The rest of the night is just one big, enjoyable blur.  After talking and joking around for a while {and being invited to chill with them in Manuel Antonio the next weekend}, our group decided to hit the pool for a late night dip {during which chicken-fighting and the origin of our motto "Pop a tit" occurred...}.  We then returned nice and soggy to the common area to meet with some more hostel guests.  Everyone had stuff planned for early the next morning, though, so by 2:00am we decided to call it a night and go to bed.

On the Road to Cerro Chato (and Other Natural Wonders)
Saturday morning Lindsay, Dean, and I awoke relatively early {it´s actually ridiculously hard to sleep in in Costa Rica, thanks to the early morning sunrise and rooster crows}, and met up with Floris (from the night before) to plan our day´s adventure.  We were positive that we wanted to check out the Arenal waterfall, as it was supposed to be gorgeous, and had also heard about this hike up a small, extinct volcano right next to Arenal that provided a great view of the active volcano- and a lake-filled crater existed at the top that you could swim in.  The smaller volcano was known as Cerro Chato.

At Floris´s suggestion, we decided to rent bikes and ride to the entrance of the waterfall (only a 30 minute trip, or so we were told)- that idea was doomed from the beginning.  We did manage to find four, seemingly functional bikes to rent in town, but our luck went downhill from there.  As soon as we passed our hostel, Lindsay´s chain fell off, twice.  And the second time Dean attempted to fix it {as the rest of us stood on the side of the road, sweating in the hot sun}, he cut his thumb and had to run into a nearby restaurant for some antiseptic to wash it out.  After 20 minutes of fruitless tinkering, we called it quits and decided to go exchange her bike for one that actually worked.  But, as our luck would have it, the rental place only had those four bikes.  And the one up the hill had two bikes out front, but actually they were reserved.  And the hotel over the bridge that rented bikes didn´t have any left either.  Lindsay was extremely frustrated after our third unsuccessful visit, so I decided to give the guys my bike to return as well, and said we´d meet them {who were still so intent on biking} at the waterfall- the girls were taking a taxi.  

Turns out our decision not to bike was the right one to make.  Lindsay and I arrived at the waterfall a bit after 11:00am, a whole 1.5 hours before the boys did.  As we climbed down the 493 steps to the falls, admired the beautiful 70 meter cascade of water, swam in the natural pool there, and sunbathed on the rocks nearby, Dean and Floris were {so they say} struggling up an incredibly steep, difficult hill in order to reach the entrance.  I´m pretty sure they got lost and went the long, wrong way to the falls, as our cab ride was only 10 minutes and the roads we took were relatively flat.  But anyway, the bike trip was apparently so exhausting that the guys could speak of nothing but how tired and sore they were the whole rest of the day.  I kid you not- the. whole. day.  Lindsay and I eventually just tuned them out....

After letting the guys rest and take in the exquisiteness that was the waterfall, Lindsay and I told them we were heading back up the 493 steps to the top in order to start the hike up Cerro Chato.  They moaned and groaned and acted like big babies, but eventually convinced each other that, though they already done the equivalent of 15 workouts thanks to the bike ride, they could probably make it up Cerro Chato.   I think they mostly just were afraid of being showed up by two girls {and possibly missing out on something really cool}.  

We payed our entrance fee and met another American couple who were also starting the hike at the same time, so the six of us set out up the volcano around 1:00pm.  All of us had heard that the hike was steep, grueling, and would take about two hours to make it each way; we initially scoffed at that- WE were young, fit, and determined.   How hard could this hike actually be?  Answer: very. 

Okay, so the beginning of the climb was fine.   We all joked about how, if this was considered hard, we'd be back in an hour.  We kept up a good pace and admired the great views we were getting, as well as the lush trail we were following.  Then, about 20 minutes in, it began to sprinkle.   And everything went to hell. 

The Hike from Hell 
Right after it started sprinkling {which was actually welcomed at first, as we were all damp with sweat at that point anyway}, we hit the part of the hike that switched from a relatively flat, well-defined path, to steeper, grass- and mud-covered hills.  By a bit into that portion of the hike, the rain had increased to a pretty heavy downpour, so rain was not only dripping off us in rivulets, but coming down the hill in small streams as well.   Conversation dropped off, and we all focused on making it up the hill without slipping and falling on our asses.  Eventually we had climbed high enough to where we'd reached the jungle near the summit of the mountain.   Unfortunately, it was also the most challenging part of the hike. 

Imagine doing a lunge up a stair.  Then another.  And another.  Endlessly.  Now, let's be creative and add in some other fun stuff.  Torrential rain?  Check.  Waterfalls cascading down each step?  Got that too.  Slippery mud, trippable tree roots, extreme elevation?  Yes x3. Now take how you'd imagine you'd be feeling after 45 minutes of that, multiply it by 50, and you'll be close to how I felt.  It got to the point where I seriously contemplated turning around- Dean and Floris had after 15 minutes of being in the jungle portion- and all that kept me going was the promise of a lake-filled crater at the top {and the ability to brag about making it all the way up later.  Assuming I actually survived the journey}.

Finally, relieving-ly, we reached a flat spot at the top of Cerro Chato from which you climbed down through the forest for only about five minutes to reach the crater lake.  We came into the clearing at the beach on the lake, and gasped in amazement: the water was bright green. I'd never seen anything like it before.  It was so beautiful I wish I could show you what it looked like, but of course my camera had run out of battery 10 minutes into the hike....  The four of us: Lindsay, the couple, and I {the champions who made it ;)}, stripped down to our undies and dove in.  We had a group of local kids- the only other people there- take some pictures of us, and then decided we should head back before it got dark.  Regretfully we began the climb back, but when we reached the flat spot at the very tip again, it was as though the clouds had been waiting for our arrival to clear.  We had the most breathtaking view of the Arenal volcano- it was such a serendipitous moment, and it made the entire, hellish climb worth it {the lake was cool, but I was a bit underwhelmed}.  I still have a hard time believing that happened. 

The climb back down was exhilarating in its own way.  Luckily it had stopped raining by then, but the steps {not to mention our clothes/shoes} were sopping wet and muddy, making our "climb" down more of a jump-from-step-to-step-and-hope-you-don't-end-up-slipping-all-the-way-down sort of game.  {We took a clue from the local kids who literally ran down the mountain, every once in a while falling and laughing hysterically- the Costa Rican version of skiing, I suppose.}  We made it back to where we´d started about four hours after we began.  In one piece, but a lot more worse for the wear. 

The couple was nice enough to give us a ride to our hostel in their rental car, and once we arrived we both headed straight to the showers {my first hot shower in over a month, and it was glorious}.  Lindsay and I headed out to grab dinner in town with a few other girls from the hostel.  We both ordered HUGE casados (the typical Costa Rican dish: rice, beans, fried plantains, meat, steamed veggies, and a green salad. This one was premium and included mashed potatoes with cheese, tortilla chips, a tuna salad, and a beet salad, as well}, and you better believed we devoured them all in record time.  The other girls sort of exchanged horrified glances at our maniac eating until we explained that we'd had nothing but raw green beans since breakfast, had gone on this incredibly exhausting hike, and were therefore starving.  They understood after that.  That night we were supposed to go out dancing around 11:00pm with a group of guys we´d met at the waterfall... but we had both fallen asleep by 8:30pm, and didn't wake up until morning.  Oops. 

After a nice, relaxing brunch with Floris, Jo, and an Australian named Lucy, Dean, Lindsay, and I packed up our stuff, said our goodbyes, and headed out to catch the bus back to Atenas.  No major horror stories about transportation this time- though the bus situation didn't go exactly according to plan, the longest we had to wait for a connection was only an hour, and we made it back to Atenas by dinner time. The worst part of the trip home was having to stand on the bus for the 45 minute ride from where we got off on the side of the highway {a sketchy stop, but it saves us an hour of going into and then back out of the city of Alajuela} to Atenas. 

All in all, a fun, successful weekend.  Though my thighs could feel that hike for days after.

xoxo, Cleome

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