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February 26, 2010

Arenal

Filed under: Costa Rica 2010, Travel, Volcano tourism — anotherheader @ 5:55 pm

A coati--a member of the racoon family

With partial overcast, we were out in the morning to see the Volcan Arenal.  Continuing our counter clockwise loop around the base of the volcano that we started on our arrival, we ended up on a pot-holed gravel road to the Arenal Observatory Lodge (AOL).

Montezuma Oropendola at AOL

AOL was built in 1987 as a Smithsonian Institute research station.  Today, the Observatory Lodge functions as restaurant and hotel.   AOL has the prime view seats for Arenal’s current eruption cycle.  Sitting on the lodge’s deck you can hear a rumble and look up in time to see massive smoking boulders careening down Arenal’s steep volcanic scree field leaving a trail of dust and smoke.  Little doubt was left of the power held within the nearby volcano.

AOL sits within its own private nature reserve.  Our visit gave us a chance to see some of Costa Rica’s colorful birds and animals.  Toucans look even more improbable in the wild than they do in the zoo.  It also introduced to trails in the rugged Costa Rican terrain.  Sometimes the trails are buff and smooth but just as often they are impossibly steep ladders of irregular placed cinder blocks.  It was as if the stair climber at our local gym had its difficulty knob turned four and a half steps beyond maximum.  Ropes and climbing gear would have been suitable accessories for the trails.

Area of High Volcanic Activity

One such trail took us down the gorge between AOL and the volcano.  We were headed to the stream that ran at the bottom, to Rio Agua Caliente.

“Agua Caliente,” I said reading the map.  “A hot water stream.  We’ve got to see that.”

A Keel-billed Toucan

Perhaps a little more research would have been useful.  When we reached the small stream at the bottom of the ravine, we put our toes in.  The stream wasn’t hot.  In fact, it could have been could been the coldest water we experienced in Costa Rica that wasn’t cohabiting in a glass full of ice cubes or coming out of the shower at Pacuare Lodge.

In any event, we’d find ourselves repeating our workouts on the steep, stair climber dial set to 14.5 style trails the following days.  Beyond another hike around the base of the volcano, we also chose a rainy day to head down into a deep jungle gorge to the La Fortuna waterfall.  During our descent, Doppler shifting metallic sounds straight out of a science fiction space epic periodically juxtaposed the primal jungle sounds.  High above, adventurers were crossing 250 feet above the gorge on a zip line.

La Fortuna's waterfall

We’ve all seen exotic vacations advertised with beautiful models swimming at the base pool of a tropical waterfall.  The La Fortuna waterfall could easily have been used for these ads.  Indeed, if we had our usual bevy of swimsuit models at hand, we might have come away with a collection of promotional pictures ourselves.  But, alas, we’d get no revenue from selling our model-less pictures from this day to ad agencies.  We were just left to admire the power and force of the waterfall that plunged in a white, five-foot wide airborne column of water more than 200 feet down into a convulsing blue pool.

Arenal erupting. What we didn't see.

Evenings at Arenal all followed a similar pattern.  First we’d soak in Tabacon’s luxurious mineral hot springs.  (The otherwise pricey entrance fee was waived since we were staying at the resort.)  The springs at Tabacon are really two streams that twine together and are gently dammed to make pools for the guests.  One of the streams is cooler than the other and the water ranges in temperature from 80 to 107 degrees Fahrenheit.  With the tropical landscaping and low lights, Tabacon is the Disneyland of hot spring experiences.  Add in the nearly odorless low sulfur mineral water and it can’t get much better than this.

After a soak and after dinner, we’d check with Tabacon’s staff about seeing the volcano erupt.  We wanted to see more than boulders being ejected from the top in daylight.  We wanted to see glowing orange lava.  We wanted impressive pictures of the devastation in progress.  Our best chance would be at night.  To save us an unnecessary drives when clouds obscured the mountain, we’d ask first at Tabacon’s desk.

Red Torch Ginger

“Will we be able to see the volcano erupting tonight?” one of us would ask?

“I’ll make a call.” the Tabacon desk person invariably replied.

“Are you calling a volcano ‘hot’ line?” I asked one night.

I thought it was a legitimate question, but there was a groan and a rolled-eyes “very funny” look from the desk person.  When the receptionist put the phone down I’d hear the night’s condition report.

“It is 95% clear,” she said.

A Zebra Longwing, I suppose, in the Butterfly Conservatory

Somehow I suppressed the urge to ask whether the response came from a magic eight ball tucked away in an office somewhere.

I did ask, “Does this mean we will be able to see the lava?”

“It’s 95% clear,” the desk person repeated.

I was only 33.2% sure what that actually meant but we’d head over and join the other hopeful lava watchers on the view side of the volcano.  But we never saw any lava.  When we had a clear view, the volcano was not producing enough molten rock to be visible.  Oh well.  I guess actually seeing the lava will be another reason to come back and visit Arenal’s numerous hot springs.

Aside from the hikes, we also visited the Butterfly Conservatory.  The conservatory propagates a variety of Costa Rican butterflies.  On a tour, we saw the how the entire butterfly life cycle, from egg to butterfly is supported.  A volunteer lead us through net cages containing the butterflies in the environments that mimic Costa Rica’s microclimates.  Knobs was definitely in his element on this one.  I’m pretty sure he is contemplating a future life as a volunteer Costa Rican butterfly conservator.  Taking good butterfly pictures under the tents was easy.  It did not necessitate the patience needed to get pictures of the wild butterflies.  That is, except for the Blue Morpho, the most memorable of the butterflies we saw in Costa Rica.  These large, iridescent blue butterflies are shy about showing their colors when they land.  We’d have to continue our quest for the perfect Blue Morpho picture at another conservatory (there are many in Costa Rica) later in the trip.

Lollipop Plant

From Arenal, the next step of our journey would take us to the other side of the Arenal reservoir to Monteverde and its cloud forest.  There are no active volcanoes in Monteverde, but every leg of our journey in Costa Rica seems to offer something new and different.


The Butterfly Conservatory:

http://www.butterflyconservatory.org/

Pictures, perhaps better pictures, from three days are here:

http://picasaweb.google.com/AnotherHeader/Arenal#

http://picasaweb.google.com/AnotherHeader/LaFortuna#

http://picasaweb.google.com/AnotherHeader/ArenalNP#

Inside La Fortuna's church

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1 Comment »

  1. […] (More Information – Photo) […]

    Pingback by 10 Insane Plunge Waterfalls Part 2 « Enblast — January 28, 2013 @ 1:04 am


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