January 12, 2008
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I drove on into La Fortuna, stopping to wash up and change clothes in a rest room. After parking near the church, I explored the area around the center of town. Along the way I tried 4 different ATMs, but had no luck with any of them.
But my credit cards worked fine in the stores. I bought a couple of T-shirts, and stopped in the super to get pop, sun block, & some peanut/raisin mix.
Travelers from Canada and Europe are encouraged by some guide books to change their currency to US dollars before traveling to Costa Rica. During the entire trip, most businesses I visited quoted prices in US dollars, the only exceptions were the fast food restaurants, gas stations and supers. Most places converted money at 500 colones to the dollar, so it was easy to do the math, regardless.
I found a shady spot to sit on a side street and have the peanuts and raisins for lunch. An older man came along and sat near me, so I offered him some nuts and we chatted. He was from Peru, working in Costa Rica. I wasn't surprised at the end of our conversation when he asked me to buy him a drink, but said "no."
A little after 2, I stopped at the Arenal Canopy Tour office, next door to Sunset Tours. After paying the $55 fee, they sent me taxi, a couple of kilometers south to a location where a party was getting ready to ride. I was the last one there, and they shuffled horse (I assume to give me one of the largest ones).
This was the first time I have ever been on a horse, and after 30 seconds of instruction, we were on our way into the hills. 10 tourists and two guides. The route was pretty, though the ground was uneven and often muddy. One of the first things we did was ford a 20' wide river. The horses were well trained and made it easy for us. I was the only one to ask for their horse's name - my horse was Tortuga.
We rode about 30 minutes, then dismounted and the guides helped us into harness. The four of us that primarily spoke English were briefed by one guide, while the other one instructed the others. The other three English speakers were a professor and two college students from Boston. Other than the professor, everyone was less than half my age.
Then the long climb up to the upper most platform of the canopy tour. I had quite a struggle with the climb, and was the last one to get to the top, panting hard, with one of the guides asking if I have heart trouble. But that was the last real work. There were 9 zip lines on our tour, the longest about 1,500 feet. Some of the zip lines require breaking at the end, at others, some of us would come up just a little short and have to pull ourselves the last few feet. One young woman came up about 40 feet short of a platform, and a guide went out and pulled her in.
I didn't find zip lines that exciting. You don't see much at that speed, and during the rides, you pretty much just sit in the harness and ride a more or less straight line. It is fine as transportation, but I don't see it as much of an end in itself.
The sun was going down as we finished the canopy tour about 5:30, and by the time we rode back to the ranch, the stars were out. The horse rides were my favorite part of the day. During the ride back, I asked one of the guides if bigger people than I had done the tour, and he said "yes, much bigger!"
By this time I was pretty dirty, sweaty and generally disgusting. I was going to be too tired to shower, change and make a long drive back out to supper, so I stopped at the only place I felt comfortable in that condition - Burger King. A combo meal was about the same price as in the US. The burger had a slightly odd taste, like the pre-made Stewart Sandwiches, that were heated in radiant ovens when I was in high school in the early '70s. The fries tasted familiar, though a little less salty. I probably could have used the salt. I filled my drink cup with ice before leaving.
Back at the hotel, I went to the restaurant to change a $100 bill from my backup money. On the way to the office, I saw the first glowing lava of the trip.
After getting change, I returned to the room and settled down to watch the volcano for a while and found the coffee liquor was much better with the ice. The top of the mountain was still shrouded in clouds, but some lava was getting low enough to be seen. It was faint like the glow from spent fireworks, and very fleeting, glowing for only a few seconds at a time. Even with my tripod, I was unable to get photos. Guess I should have stayed at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, a few kilometers closer.
I watched for about an hour, and saw lava several times. Finally the clouds settled lower and it could be seen no more. My legs had stiffened up while sitting and my left ankle hurt if I put any weight on it. I finally crawled into the room, with my thighs cramping when my legs were bent. I was too sore to even shower before going to bed and it took nearly 2 hours to fall asleep.
At 1 AM, I checked the mountain and saw lava again. I sat outside, seeing occasional, fleeting glimpses of the glow of lava.
An opossum crept by, about 12 feet away.
copyright 2008 by Keith Stokes.