So, 3 separate buses and 5 hours later, I made it from Sarchi to La Fortuna. On the way I discovered the incredible pineapple strudel at Musmani’s bakery, got hyped up with some 80’s pop and managed to just about get by in my still terrible Spanish. First impressions of the place- hot, humid, and jungle all around. I was pretty underwhelmed when I got to the hostel- the receptionist just tried to push the tours they sold onto me, and it seemed deserted. Thinking it would pick up in the evening when everyone came back from their day trips, I chilled out in my room, grabbed a snack and wrote a couple of articles for the travel website I work for. Spoiler alert: it did not get busier. I cooked food, took several walks past the empty bar and pool, and retreated to my room for a face mask and Netflix.
The second day looked little better so I booked myself onto a volcano tour for the following day at reception and took a wander around town to get my bearings a little more and pick up some snacks for my hike. The air in the town was sticky and heavy, and it seemed to be full of the same three shops selling Costa Rica souvenirs (the words Pura Vida shall be etched onto my retinae for all eternity), tours of the surrounding area, and bars.
After waking up at the crack of dawn (read- 8am), myself and a couple of guys from my hostel were swiftly bundled into a dubious looking minibus with Augusto and Errol from Arenal Jungle Tours. 20 minutes of chanting ‘Pura Vida’ at the top of our lungs later, and we arrived at the bottom of the trail to hike up Arenal volcano. Our guides explained to us that we should put on mosquito spray now if we had some, as once in the forest it is forbidden as the spray is highly toxic and travels through the air and can be absorbed through the skin of frogs and salamanders. Then we split into two groups and set off up the volcano.
We spent the next couple of hours trekking up muddy trails through gorgeous untouched rainforest. Hummingbirds could be seen in the trees, butterflies fluttered through the air and our guide Errol picked fruits from the trees for us to eat. He also warned us not to grab onto tree branches if we slipped, in case a pit viper was sleeping on one. At lunchtime, we reached the lava fields formed by the eruption of Arenal in 1968. Currently the top of the volcano is closed due to activity in recent years. In 1968, the volcano erupted violently over the course of 3 days, completely scorching 15 square kilometres of land and killing 87 people. We snacked, had photo opportunities looking over to Lake Arenal, and began hiking back down.
Once we were almost at the bottom, we stopped for lunch and a quick dip in a volcanic lake. Although I was warned it was cold before I went in, by anyone north of probably Mexico’s standards- it was balmy. Then we piled back into the minibus, and drove around to Cerro Chato. Halfway down the dirt road to the car park, the bus driver slammed on the brakes and the guides turned around.
‘There’s a snake in that tree. Who wants to come and see it?’
A few of us climbed out of the minibus and followed Errol over to the tree. At about 2 feet away and still no snake, I started wondering if he was having us on. Then he pointed to a tiny yellow snake with beautiful long eyelashes, curled up the size of my palm in a knot in the wood.
‘It’s a pit viper. He’s just eaten, that’s why he is not going to move for a few days.’
I leaned in to take a photo.
‘No. Not that close. He will jump on you. Let me take it.’
We parked next the the Arenal Observatory Lodge and began walking through more stunning rainforest, and across some of the area’s famous hanging bridges. Errol took us down some steps to a waterfall, which even though it was chillier in this forest, looked really inviting. I was the first one to take the plunge, and the same as with the lake the water was still pretty warm. We swam over to the falls and sat on a rock right under the cascade. For me this was probably the highlight of the tour, and it felt really surreal.
As the light was fading, we jumped back into the bus and drove to the hot spring. Mist was coming off the water into the air, and candles were lit around the sides, giving the whole place a magical looking glow. After a day of trekking through the jungles it was just what I needed. The guides came around with sugar cane liquor, and face masks made of volcanic clay they’d picked up earlier on our walk. If you looked up through the trees you could see the moon faintly through the clouds. I never wanted to leave. After an hour or so though, it was time to go back to the hostel, where I pretty much fell asleep as soon as I walked through the door.
The next day I went back to the hot springs again (with more alcohol this time)- those things are addictive! I also noticed that after swimming in the water there- all traces of green left in my hair from a dodgy dye job at my old hair salon are gone. The magical properties of volcanic water, huh?!
Next stop is Los Pargos, Tamarindo so until then- Pura Vida!