Fri 10 Aug 2007
Predawn. We had neither watches nor cell phones (our usual method of telling time) so I was appointed timekeeper, judging by the light and activity when we should get up. This grave responsibility meant I slept lightly, jolting awake every few hours to make sure it was not yet morning. I had just drifted off after one such jolt when an otherworldly groan (fast forward to the 42 second mark) echoed through the room. It was coming from outside. It repeated, and repeated again. My foggy brain listed the possibilities. Jaguars. Volcano exploding. Howler monkeys. Some fainter answering groans came from across the gorge– choice C must be the right one. I thought I saw a shadowy figure moving in the biggest tree but was too befuddled to focus. A few hours later, we devoured our complimentary breakfast in the restaurant– pancakes, eggs, sausage, fried plaintains, gallo (beans and rice), papaya juice, coffee, and lined up with other guests for a guided hike through the grounds and to a waterfall. Our guide, Eduardo, set up his scope so we could peer at the comically groucy faces of the howler monkeys groaning in the trees. He set it up again near a grassy field so we could watch the parakeets and cherry headed parrots swooping from tree to tree. A wild turkey dropped by just as the clouds broke, giving us our first view of blue-grey Arenal. Puffs of steam and ash streamed from its top and we could see puffs of dust as hot rocks rolled off the rim. It was hard to know where to look, there were so many interesting things happening at once. At the waterfall, we got drenched in mist and I stuck my sweaty head in the pool though our guide had sternly admonished us that we had no time for swimming. He pointed out medicinal plants and plucked citronella berries for us to break open and rub on our skin as mosquito repellent. We got towed back to the lodge in a painted cart pulled by a tractor.
The lodge had a lovely tile pool and clover-leaf shaped jacuzzi. After our hike, we swam a bit and sat in the jacuzzi to watch the volcano before heading into town. In La Fortuna, I discovered mango con leche– a mango fruit smoothie. From that moment forward I ordered smoothies at every opportunity. They only cost a dollar and were sometimes made with juice, and other times with fresh fruit. Delicious. Dr. G. discovered comida tipica– stir-fried rice and beans, grilled meat or stew, and fresh vegetables, which he ordered every chance he got henceforth. I think Costa Rica produces most of its own food, and nearly everything we ate– fruits, vegetables, fish, meats, cheeses– tasted fresh. After exploring the park and the tourist shops, we headed back to the lodge for a sunset hike in the national park across a recent lava field. It was the same guide, and this time he pointed out toucans and buzzards in the ancient trees, and showed us how to identify guava trees to pluck our own fruit. As we waited on the bare volcanic rock for the light to dim, we looked out over Arenal Lake at the base of the mountain. The clouds were not allowing good volcano views, but from this close we could hear the groans from its core and the crashing and splintering of hot boulders being pushed out of the cone. When the clouds moved, we could see glowing red sparks as the boulders rolled down.
We were so full from breakfast and lunch that we decided to skip dinner and take advantage of the low ($40 a person, but still better than $80) night rates at the Tabacon Hot Springs. The resort had redirected a steaming hot river (41 degrees C) into a collection of interconnected pools and waterfalls, some natural and some paved. They were connected by trails snaking through mangrove-like trees. At the entrance, they had a hot-water waterslide into a pool below, where you could then swim up to a bar to order the drink of your choice. Our favorite section was one of the waterfalls, about forty feed wide, that we could sidle behind and then stick various body parts through the pounding water. Two hours there was enough for us. We were delighted but sapped of strength, parched and exhausted. Time for bed, yet on our way back we noticed the now-clear volcano putting on quite a show. We had to stop and watch awhile.