Friday, July 26, 2013

Alajuela and La Fortuna (Costa Rica)

We have been so occupied getting our *permanent* move on (more on that later) that we haven't had a chance to do much else... until now. Our next destination is a popular one among Americans - Costa Rica. We thought we'd go see what all the fuss is about.

The airport for the capital San Jose is actually in nearby Alajuela. Arriving in the evening, we heeded the horror stories about driving at night in the country and bunked down for the night. Even picking up the rental - a 4WD called Jimny, like the cricket - was a bit of an adventure. As my experience with a stick shift has been limited to tractors with, say, a maximum speed of 15 mph, Rich was going to be our primary driver. The gears are the same as in left-side-driving British cars, but the relative orientation to the driver makes it a tricky switch (e.g. pulling towards you for first gear rather than pushing away in the UK). Also, addresses in Costa Rica are of an idiosynchratic nature, with most roads not having a name and based on local spots that may, or may not, exist any more. For example, one place is listed as at "600 meters from the old school." Luckily, the rental car agency actually drove us by the hostel, pointing out the relevant landmarks- Delta gas station, hospital, etc. - to make sure we'd find our way back.

Bright and early we hit the road towards La Fortuna. The 3 hour drive into the mountains is pretty and lush now in the rainy season. "Sodas," or cheap eateries, beckoned to us along many turns, all boasting the best "mirador" (= scenic viewpoint), and roadside stalls hawked pyramids of spiny rambutans and fresh mangoes.

La Fortuna is the gateway to Mount Arenal. We did a bit of hiking around the observatory lodge, but cloud cover hid the top of the volcano most days. We paid the hefty entrance fee to see the La Fortuna waterfall, a striking 75 meters (about 250 ft) in height. The plummeting waters created a surprisingly strong and choppy current, easily wearing swimmers out from any romanticized notions drawn from The Blue Lagoon.

While the Arenal volcano may not be active any more, the natural hot springs are still a big draw. We took advantage of a low season 2-for-1 deal at a swanky resort to check out how the other half  (or 1%?) lives. Eighteen pools of varying temperatures were laid out in secluded nooks of tropical plants and with little cascades offering gentle massages. The day pass meant us plebes could also sneak in a game of billiards and check out the onsite wildlife rescue center. Living there are toucans, monkeys, sloths (called "perezoso" by Costa Ricans, which translates to lazy!), and a variety of predator cats confiscated from illegal owners.        

No comments:

Post a Comment