Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Let the fireworks begin.
By now I think you all know how I feel about travel days. But I was actually looking forward to today. Hina and Terri were infectiously fun so I was relieved when they got up in time to join us. We quickly ate breakfast and said goodbye to Ronnie and his super cute family.
“When I come to Canada, I’ll visit you,” Ronnie said.
“Well I hope it’s not in the next year because we’ll still be traveling.”
When I explained our trip Ronnie surprised. “I guess I’ll have to wait until you come back then.”
He was a super guy – although the hostel was basic and the internet sucked, he and his family made it a lovely place to stay.
Marie had just woken up too and we quickly exchanged contact info to share tips as we followed each others footsteps. Then it was time for the four of us to trek to the bus stop. I say trek because although it was just 10 minutes away it was mostly uphill, like most of Monteverde. But we got there with enough time to wipe the sweat off our brows before boarding.
The ride back to Tilaran was a beautiful one and despite all the rain in the last few days the roads were clear and we made it there in just over 2 hours. Normally that would have been a good thing but we were in no hurry – the next bus to La Fortuna wasn’t until 1:30. That was a lot of time to kill and although Tilaran was cute it wasn’t that big. As we were standing there lamenting our good/bad luck a taxi driver approached us and offered to take us $100 (or $25 each). We just laughed at him. Another driver approached and said he’d take us for $10 each. The price was double what we’d pay for the bus but still quite cheap and we’d get to our destination a whole 6 hours earlier than expected. I explained to the driver that we were going to two different destinations – we were going to El Castillo and the girls were going to La Fortuna and asked if the price was still the same. The man nodded and repeated $10 each or $40 total. I repeated the two different destinations again and repeated the price; he still nodded. So we agreed and Hina in her friendly and charming way told the driver “Now don’t you go changing your mind and asking for more money when we get there. Okay”
The ride was quick over paved highway that ringed the lake. We passed monkeys hanging out in trees, coatamundi’s scrounging in the leaves, and lots of pretty scenery. Soon we hit rows of hotels and resorts – marking that we were getting closer to La Fortuna. At the turn off to El Castillo. I reminded the driver that we were going there. He said yes but he wanted to drop the girls off in La Fortuna because the roads were very bad and he had to come back this way anyways. That sounded reasonable. So I shook it off.
As we got closer to La Fortuna we could see Arenal looming over the city. The weather was noticeably hotter and sunnier than Monteverde and we all took off a couple of layers. We pulled up to the cabins the girls were staying at. It wasn’t too good to be true – the rooms were clean and cute. The family running it spoke no English but were very nice and patient as the girls stumbled through the check in using Spanglish.
Satisfied that they were in good hands, we took their money and went back to the cab for our trip. Rather than start the car the driver begins a new song and dance – the roads are bad he’ll need more money to take us out. I told him no and reminded him about our agreement. His memory went blank and he said no that’s not what we agreed only La Fortuna. I let out a string of explosive explicatives and told Adrian to get out of the cab. The man tried to talk to me but I actually gave him the hand.
Hina and Terry came out and asked what was wrong. I explained the bait and switch to them and they were furious too but also felt bad. I handed over the $40 for the ride and told the driver to Adios. I asked the owner of the other hotel about buses to El Castillo and the driver interrupted to say there were no buses. I told him adios and gave him the hand once again (I know, I know but I was mad). The lady agreed that there were no buses so I decided to call the hostel to see if they’d pick us up. Just then an English speaking tour rep for the hotel arrived and he offered to call Essence Arenal for me. Hina and Terry told him what happened. For some reason the tour guide apologized for the drivers dishonesty but confirmed that there were no buses and that taxi drivers usually charge $20 to go out to El Castillo. I told him I was just angry about being lied to again. Scammer jammers.
The guide spoke to the hostel and yes they were coming to pick us up – and for free! Crisis averted. It gave us a chance to hang out with Terry and Hina once again and play with the cute little puppies that Adrian had discovered at the hotel and check out the giant iguanas hanging out in a tree. El Buho was definitely a good choice. I hoped our place was just as good.
When the van arrived from Essence Arenal, the owner Nico was another super nice guy. Although German, he was raised in Spain and now living in Costa Rica. As we chatted and drove out to the hostel, we discovered just how bad the roads were. It was an hour long drive through the national park to the active side of the volcano on a road as bad as Ometepe. I now understood the extra charge but was still angry about being lied to. Nico pointed out the spot where tour groups usually come to see the volcano. That’s right Volcan Arenal is a very active volcano. It has been continuously erupting since 1968. People pay $25 for a chance of catching the volcanic fireworks; often clouds pass by the cone blocking the view but with only an hour tour they’re often disappointed. At the hostel we’d have a 24/7 view of the volcano (weather permitting). So we continued up through the tiny little town of El Castillo and then up and up and up and up to Essence Arenal. The hostel was a tiny but cute place on a big chunk of land with an absolutely priceless view of the lake and the volcano. It wasn’t quite as lux as my impressions of the pictures but it was still great.
There was one other couple staying there. Georgia and Josh were from Australia and had just made there way from Chile. We chatted and enjoyed a dip in the small pool which helped dissolve the tension from the taxi scam. The peace and quiet was absolutely lovely except when we realized how hungry we were. The nearest restaurant was halfway down the hill. So down we went for lunch that we easily worked off on the walk back up. It was quite the workout but we were lucky that the clouds that rolled in didn’t have any rain in them. We hoped they would disappear by dusk so we could get a clear view of the eruptions.
As the sun began to set, the clouds cleared a bit. Josh and I grabbed our cameras and began fiddling with them to try and figure out how to take a clear picture of the lava about 9km away. The darker it got the brighter the lava became we could clearly see the continuous explosions that reviled my explosion in the cab. But it became harder became to take pictures. I just pressed the button and hoped they were in focus. Nico and his business partner Kelly invited us to join their weekly poker game but we declined – the real entertainment were the fireworks on the mountain.