Hola amigos y amigas.
As promised, Episode Thirty Nine will be packed full of goodies, anecdotes, Did-You-Knows and photographs. Are you ready? Then let’s go. We’ll start with a little orientation in La Fortuna.
The town itself was, in my opinion, a good place to spend three nights. Grant found it a little touristy and I wouldn’t disagree; I suppose I was expecting it and, after Tortuguero, I was even a little surprised by the character it managed to retain. After all, we were tourists, and others had clearly come seeking the same things we were; it’s inevitable that the community adapt to that.
Other than the onslaught of tour operators at the bus terminal, however, I didn’t find the tourist presence to be so strong in the main town. There were restaurants offering typical Costa Rican food as well as a great and very cheap bakery we discovered too late in the day, and a pretty park in front of the church. There was also a community centre where all the local events took place: I suspect, given the structure of the place, these ‘events’ primarily consisted of bull fights, so of course my moral compass steered me straight past, but it gave me hope that there was at least some sort of local community in and of itself.
Luckily, the people at our hostel were more than happy to point us in the right direction so as to benefit from this side of things – it was Dorothy herself who showed us the bakery and let us in on a secret spot down by the stream, which was supposedly quiet, beautiful and secluded; unfortunately we ran out of time to check it out, but again with La Fortuna I feel we made the most of it, thanks to the friendly staff at Hotel Dorothy.
The hotel itself was better than Galileo by a long way. Our room included our only private bathroom of the whole trip, which made mornings much less of a hassle, and we had a brilliant view of Arenal from our window.
This window, however, had its traps and pitfalls. On exiting the shower our first day, I noticed a crack in the curtains and reached up to twitch it closed before clothing myself. At the same moment that I tripped over the bed and dropped the towel I was clutching around myself, the curtain rail – which seemed to have been balanced precariously between two hooks on either side – slipped out of its holster and came crashing down around my ears, revealing the hall-balcony-hybrid that connects all the rooms from the outside. The only option available to me was to take cover beneath the fallen curtain itself and call for help from Grant, who interrupted his own shower to come to my rescue. Unfortunately, his idea of ‘rescue’ was to simply lift the rail off of me, stripping me of my only shield from the eyes of the world; and to wave the curtains around in the air for a while as I scrambled towards the fallen towel in full view of some random guy who, of course, just so happened to be walking by.
Grant later said when he came through and saw me curled up beneath the curtain, some girl was walking by and curiously observing the large squealing bulge in the collapsed white curtains, perplexed. I think it’ll be a while before we can all forget that one.
So there you go. Awkward couple anecdote: check. Short analysis of La Fortuna town: check. Here goes for the main act: the volcano.
Hotel Dorothy hooked us up with a company who collected us at 3 and whisked us off down the same road we took to The Springs that fateful day. On the way, guide Franklin explained the tour and told us a little about the volcano and the secondary rainforest at its base. He even pulled over at one point and indicated a sloth hanging by one arm from a tree! We all piled out of the minivan and took our pictures, while Franklin pointed out some leafcutter ants and told us about them, too. I think I might have been the only one listening: Grant was in possession of the camera and snapping away at our lazy friend up above, so I had to relay the trivia to him.
Did you know that the tiny little pieces of leaf that the ants are famous for carrying are not actually their food? No: instead, the ants use their own saliva to ferment the leaves, producing a substance upon which a fungus begins to grow, and the ants feed off the fungus. Who knew leafcutter ants were actually tiny little farmers???
Anyhow, the ants were only one of many, many species Franklin was eager to tell us about. He was the most buoyant little man I’d ever met, and a bundle of fun. Every few metres at times, he would stop and explain the intricacies of the ecosystem, and the ingenious ways Mother Nature had helped today’s plants and animals to survive. His knowledge seemed as boundless as the joy he took in recounting it all, accompanied by little jokes and quirks which made the hike a truly fun and fascinating three hours.
As well as leafcutter ants, heliconias, mimosas, guavas and even a yellow eyelash pit viper, which was harmlessly digesting away as we crowded round with our cameras, we were lucky enough to see a pack of howler monkeys mischiefing in the trees! Grant was the first to spot them, although the guide smelled them long before: while Franklin was telling us about the properties of limoncello or something, Grant suddenly pointed up into the heavens and stated, quite matter-of-factly, ‘Monkey’. Everyone turned and started snapping away; it was obvious that this was the moment we’d all been hoping for. Franklin began imitating the monkeys’ call and soon, several male howlers came swinging towards us; we even saw mothers with baby monkeys loping around! They followed Franklin’s howls for a little while before returning to their business and we carried on the trek to the site of the 1969 lava flow.
Did you know that the 1969 eruption was predicted by two hikers who reached the summit of the ‘mountain’ and felt it shake and tremor; but the people of the two nearby villages didn’t believe their warnings and as a result, both were destroyed? The eruption left 89 people dead and 100 missing: so basically, 189 dead. Since then, access to the slopes of the volcano has been restricted to the secondary rainforest area we were in.
After the rainforest hike, most of us climbed up to the viewpoint slightly further out, and took many more pictures of Arenal while Franklin went to see if he could rustle up a frog for us. He did, and we all crowded around, taking pictures of the little guy; he even clambered onto my hand and sat there stickily for a while before leaping several feet on to the guide’s shoulder.
We bid goodbye to Steven the red-eyed tree frog and called it a day. On the way back to our hostel, we had an opportunity to put our Springs day passes to good use. We’d already decided that we couldn’t afford the taxi fare for our second day at the spa, and that more of the same at The Springs was worth trading for something new and exciting further down the road. So when the couple in front of us was talking about going to Baldí Hot Springs the next day, Grant suggested we just give them the tickets. Between them, it would’ve cost no more than $40 to get there and back, which would save them money on transport and entrance to the other springs, and according to TripAdvisor.com, our place was much nicer. So at least the ticket went to good use, and we could rest assured that it hadn’t been a complete waste.
And on that generous note, Grant and I left La Fortuna the next morning. We’d opted for the slightly pricier van-boat-van ride, which was operated by a private company, rather than the long public bus journey which looped all the way around Lake Arenal. We were glad we forked out the extra cash: the journey was short, relatively hassle-free and we had some truly beautiful views from the boat across the lake.
A very pura vida to you all,