A Lonely Planet Weekend
Trip Start Nov 28, 2010
12Trip End Dec 23, 2010
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Where I stayed
With another week's work behind us and a soccer game under our belt, it was time for the girls and me to head out of town for the weekend. I wanted to dig into these rain forests that Costa Rica is so well-known for. They are everywhere, it's just a matter of picking one. Since the town of La Fortuna is only an hour away, a cheap ride away, and on the edge of Arenal National Park, we opted for that one. Good or bad, La Fortuna is one of the country's most popular, and therefor touristy, towns around, but it offers a lot, even a Burger King and Alamo Rental Car. The town came into fashion in the early 70s after the Arenal Volcano, the town God, blew its top and invited nature enthusiasts and adrenaline junkies from all over
After a beach weekend, my goal was to experience quintessential Costa Rica, and do the things you read about in the guide books, when you picture yourself in that cover photo. I now wanted to look down into endless green from a scary bridge. I wanted to scream my head off as I zip lined atop massive trees. I wanted to hike to an impressive waterfall. I wanted to see some strange animals, birds and bugs. And, with any luck, I wanted to do all of this, without the rain.
We were dropped off in the center of town Friday where the volcano sat half-covered by clouds, but at least it was dry. The town has a pretty central park, complete with fountain, and tall white church in the middle, with a main drag full of hippie shops, sodas (cafes), roaming town dogs, and endless tour operators offering jeep rides, waterfalls by horseback, zip lines, rafting, hot springs, splunking, you name it. We chose to go straight to the Lava Lounge and enjoyed some local cerveza and quac, then called it a night.
A miracle happened the next morning. I walked out my hotel door and was smacked in the face with a perfect, crystal clear view of the very top of the Arenal Volcano - no rain, no clouds, only sun and an overpowering active volcano to eat huevos and plantains under
After haggling with the tour ops, and somehow passing for a student to get a discount, we waited in the SUN for our ride to the Arenal Hanging Bridges, a two-mile walk through a thick primary forest with a series of six swinging suspension bridges, some a football field long and 200 feet up. Our giggly guide, who's name I never caught, walked us through the terrain, pointing out various plants and bugs. We saw parades of Leaf Cutter Ants marching by carrying green leaves, a million times their size, to the queen who is making compost. He spotted a Tarantula in its dirt hole, which was both creepy and cool. Apparently they are hiding all over the place. We saw some little blue-tailed lizards and gross crickets. But other than that, the jungle was quiet. I spotted some critter balancing on a branch, turned out to be a squirrel. I was psyched that we saw the sloth and coatis last weekend.
The bridges were definitely swingy and we were high. Below were waterfalls and rivers and that infinite green I wanted to see. From some bridges you could see other bridges below and above on the trail to give you an idea of how high you really were. Some bridges offered perfect views of Arenal and I thanked Mother Nature for giving us a break this day; she was in rare form and showing off. And once again, for an hour an a half we had the park more or less to ourselves, with only one other couple passing us by.
On the way home our driver, Jose, picked up on our conversation and the desire for free stuff, and stopped by the natural hot springs the Ticos go to off the road
The real fun was still to be had with zip lining ahead. Our new guide Hanzel and another driver named Jose picked us up and off we went, about ten minutes out of town, to the volcano's slope. The zip line, or canopy tour, was invented in Costa Rica and a must do. It's basically a series of cables attached from tree to tree, above a forest's canopy. You clip in and zoom along the line, pulled by gravity. EcoGlide's system consisted of 15 cables up to 160 meters long (525 feet), or nearly two football fields, and 18 platforms up to 70 feet high, among and above massive trees.
I was kinda scared. I bungee jumped off a hot air balloon 300 feet up. But that was for my 21st birthday when I was a complete idiot. I remember being terrified beyond myself and the only reason I jumped, was out of peer pressure and the greater fear of humiliation. The horror that filled me was beyond explanation. I was having flashbacks - Vietnam-like.
You arrive and they suit you up in a heavy harness with all kinds of clamps and ropes. They give you one baby practice run and off to the track you go, farther up the volcano
The staff with us made the trip and were a blast. I loved to watch them arrive at a platform, more or less hop on the cable Super Hero-like and whiz off, disregarding all the rules they made us abide by. They were like paratroopers jumping out of an airplane, with smiles and whoops. Each time you landed at a platform they had good words for you, telling you how cool you are. By the last two platforms, they were asking us to go dancing that night. These are clearly the BMOC of La Fortuna, searching out the gringas.
Half way through, they take you to the optional Tarzan Swing. Holy s**t. You stand between two staff in front of a metal gate as they secure you in the harness and attached you to a rope attached somewhere millions of feet above you. The drop below seems endless and as they harness you in, you can feel yourself being pulled forward towards the gate. You know when it swings open, you're toast. And that's what happens! The door swings open and down you go
The fun eventually ended and they reward your bravery and balls with a much-appreciated Imperial beer. You watch in horror video of yourself they secretly taped as you zipped and swung. More invitations for disco and loose plans were made as we headed back to town to stay on the ground for a bit.
We wanted to head out at night to catch a lava show on the west side of the volcano, but the locals gave us the truth and admitted that there has not been any red hot lava action since springtime. So, my night finished relatively early, but the girls hit up the disco with the locals. They made granny proud. They did such a good job that they slept until 11am on Sunday, and we ditched the waterfall hike. Which was fine, because yes, the rain was back.
No matter. Soon, after a 100 km and $1.50 bus ride, I was back home in San Carlos, with a feeling of mission accomplished.