Arenal Volcano

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View from our room. If not for the clouds, you would have a perfect view of the volcano through that window.

It’s sunday morning and we’re enjoying the view from our room.  The volcano is shrouded in clouds but I took a cool little panoramic photo showing the color transition from sunrise to darker sky (currently displayed as the blog header at the top of the page.)

When we were in San Jose we were amazed at how pleasant it was when we waited at the car rental place.  A nice cool breeze blew most of the time.  Up at Arenal Kioro we slept the first night with A/C on but the next morning we opened the window and it felt like there was A/C outside.  Sooooo nice.

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Arenal Volcano and some bamboo orchids

We had some coffee in the room and then went out for breakfast.  We needed our rain jackets and grabbed an umbrella on the way out the door.  Apparently dry season should be taken with a grain of salt.  The weather here changes more often and faster than I’ve ever seen.  A dark stormy sky would vanish and become a beautiful sunny day (Sandy has the sunburn to prove it), but then the clouds would strike back, darkening the forest and maybe we’d even get some rain.  Then sunny again.  It was interesting watching the level of cloudliness which shrouded the volcano.  One moment you couldn’t see it at all.  Then the clouds would start burning off and we’d think maybe we’d finally see the peak, but then the clouds came back again.  Eventually we did see the peak in mid-afternoon and it would come and go for the remainder of the day.

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Arenal 1968 map

Next we headed out to Arenal 1968 Park which was named because in 1968 it was buried in lava.  The park had two hikes to choose from, the shorter easier hike took you through the lava field (from 1968) and up to a viewing point where you could see the volcano and the lake and had a nice view of the surrounding countryside.  The longer hike took you through the rain forest and around a small lake formed by the eruption.  It was a harder hike, joining up to the lava field hiking at the end, but it gave you a better opportunity of seeing animals.

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Our first view of Costa Rican wildlife

We decided on the longer hike and were almost immediately rewarded with…. cows!!!  Actually, not just cows, but egrets too, hanging out with the cows, presumably waiting for the cows to disturb the grasses enough to send insects jumping for the egrets to scoop up.

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Just like early explorers, we fight our way through the jungle as we trudge uphill to the summit

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Howler monkeys!

The paths were wide and the inclines/descents were well maintained with concrete pavers.  Can’t really speak to how this is in the wet season, but for us it was a great set up.  Not to say it was easy.  It seemed that you would hike up a small hill for the sole purpose of hiking back down.  We did encounter some mosquitos and had to apply bug spray (we did not encounter any other mosquitos during out entire trip).  As we’re hiking along, I see a palm tree off in the distance moving back and forth. It got my attention because it was moving more than the other trees around it. As I’m focusing on that tree, trying to see if there was an animal, I notice much closer, high up in the trees a troop of howler monkeys.  Sandy and I were very excited, there must have been at least a dozen (include a baby we saw ride around on the back of it’s mother).  We watched for a bit and took some photos before me moved on.

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Sandy spotted and orchid as we made out climb

We hiked out to the end of the lake with some short breaks to watch some yellow winged water birds in the lake and a column of leaf cutter ants (okay… only I stopped for the ants and then I had to hustle to catch up with Sandy).  After we worked our way around the end of the lake the hike became a little more challenging.  Instead of having the nice concrete steps that had been worked into the little hills we had been traversing over, now we were scrambling (well… walking slowly and carefully) over volcanic rock.  CostaRica_20130217_0143_Arenal_blog400Some of the rock was loose and Sandy was very happy to have the walking stick that I picked up for here at the beginning although the stick did almost cause her to fall once when it got stuck in a hole (she regained her balance). Portions of this climb were very steep and we had to grab on to ropes that they had strung between the trees to help hikers.  As went higher, we left behind the coolness of the lake below, the sun had started to come out and it was getting hotter.  Sandy used her new catch phrase several times as we hiked, “I think we’re almost there”, and eventually she was right as we broke out of the jungle and reached the summit.

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We made it!!

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The blue jays chico relatives

The climb back down didn’t take long.  As we got down to the parking lot I thought I spotted a blue jay… but something wasn’t quite right so I moved closer to investigate and found a half dozen birds that must be related to blue jays.  They’re just a little bit bigger and fancier than the ones we have back home.

CostaRica_20130217_0214_Arenal_blog600 CostaRica_20130217_0219_Arenal_blog600It was time to head out and get some lunch.  There was a nice resturant just a few minutes down the road from the park.  We had a couple of cervezas and watched as a coati paced around the perimeter of the restuarant, trying to figure out how to get a free meal out of us.

DIGITAL CAMERAAfterwards we headed back to the hotel to enjoy some time by the pool and as the sun went down we headed again for the hot springs.  The hot springs were a series of perhaps a dozen small pools going down the side of the mountain, water flowing from pool to pool in a series a minature waterfalls.

Going to Costa Rica

Apparently, Sandy doesn’t like how I’m able to wake up early and be in a good mood.  I know this because she told me.  The alarms went off at 4:45am, first Sandy’s and then mine.  We had a long travel day ahead of us and the pep that I started the day with would be drained out of me by the end.

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Ugh! Can we go yet???

Our taxi took forever to come.  Apparently everyone was going to the airport at the same time as us.  It did get there eventually though, we breezed through security, boarded one of the smallest planes I’ve ever flown in and crammed ourselves into the tiny little seats.  Then we sat there.  Apparently Philly had an “all stop” for air traffic and we’d be stuck on the tarmac for the next hour waiting for things to open back up.  Of course we don’t just wait at the gate… the plane works it’s way to the end of the runway, to a small parking area for delayed planes, and shuts it’s engines down.  Then I sat there and watched out the window as plane after plane taxied by, working their way into position and launching off into the wild blue yonder while we sat there stuck.

We did eventually get the okay.  The flight was short but because of the delay we had to run to catch our connecting flight in Philly (although another flight from Boston was even later than ours and it had a whole troop of youngsters destined for Costa Rica so it turns out we had plenty of time).

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Costa Rica forests below

The flight was uneventful (as all good flights should be).  I had a window seat so I was able to watch the Costa Rican landscape pass beneath us as we approached San Jose.  Lots of forests and rivers as well as some small lakes.  The sun hits the lakes at an angle that really lights them up and gives the water an almost metallic look, like a little pool of mercury.  As we near San Jose I see more fields and the trees become sparser.

We were an hour late landing.  We had rented a car from Alamo because they were at the airport.  Except we discovered this wasn’t really true, they had a desk at the airport but they shuttled you offsite to a facility where you actually did the paperwork and got your car.  Here’s where we learned a trick.  If you rent your car from the airport (including our case where they just picked us up there) you have to pay a 13% airport tax.  For us that amounted to nearly $100.  However if you take a $5 taxi ride from the airport to the car rental facility then you don’t have to pay that airport fee.

The process of renting a car is so painful.  I really wanted to get to our hotel before dark but we were at Alamo for over an hour as the sun slipped closer and closer to the horizon.  After reading lots of horror stories regarding people getting stung by charges for damages from car rental agencies we had decided to get all the insurance when we booked the car (at a cost of $320… almost as much as the car rental itself).  At the dealership though, they managed to find an additional insurance that wasn’t on the website.  Another $80 fee.  Ugh!


View 2013 Costa Rica trip in a larger map

Once we finally managed to extricate ourselves from the rental agency, we had a three hour drive to our first hotel, Arenal Kioro.  Dusk was already falling so the drive was going to be in the dark.  The first hour wasn’t so bad but after that we hit the serious mountain roads.  These roads twisted and they turned and they went up and they went down.  I am certain the roads were less than the width of two cars but that didn’t stop the locals from speeding by as I clutched the steering wheel in terror.  The last half hour of the trip improved.  The roads seemed to straighten out somewhat after we went through the town of La Fortuna.  And finally we reached our destination.  The hotel staff was wonderful and got us checked in and made sure that we got dinner reservations in the hotel restaurant.

Okay… this was the hardest day of the trip.  The rest of my blog entries will be much more fun to read.  I promise!!!

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Heading off to the hot springs to relax after a long day