Published: May 19th 2010May 19th 2010
Looming large over La Fortuna
La Fortuna, Costa Rica
La Fortuna is a very touristy town. Tour companies are everywhere, everything is in English and prices are quoted in US dollars - it is a condensed version of the rest of Costa Rica. The reason for the tourist mayhem is primarily the looming, ever present (except when shrouded in cloud) Volcan Arenal. It's quite a sight to be wandering up the High Street (or Costa Rican equivalent - we shall call it Gringo Street) and there is a huge, active volcano, barely a kilometre away.
We managed to find, with the help of a friendly French chappie, a really cheap hostel called Gringo Petes. Gringo Pete was in fact the owner of the hostel, and lived up to his name, a helpful and cheerful American who seemed not to speak a word of Spanish (or at least chose not to!).
Our first day in La Fortuna we caught the twice daily public bus to the entrance to the Arenal Volcano National Park. One thing we have noticed about Costa Rica is the infrequency of buses - possibly due to the fact everyone has a car! Our transport choice (always trying to
Hiking near Arenal
The private reserve near La Fortuna
do things cheaply and not do a tour - that's the budget traveller way!), involved a half an hour walk to the actual National Park. Just before we got there, we stopped and asked a guy how much further we had to go. Somehow (possibly through some kind of hypnosis) we were convinced not to go to the National Park but to save $2 on the entry fee and visit this guy's private walking trails. As we didn't make it to the National Park, we can't say how it compares, but we did have a lovely couple of hours, saw some great views of the Volcano and Lake Arenal, and climbed over the lava flow from the 1968 eruption. We saw lots of birds, mosquitoes, orchids, and huge amount of ants that quite possibly could have been Army Ants (the ones that are capable of moving a small animal or eating a human bit by bit). Either way, there were a lot of them, and we ran through them as fast as we could! We finished a little earlier than we expected so we walked down the road to the nearby Tabacon Hot Springs, a ridiculously lavish hotel and hot
springs complex. We thought we would try and have a nosy by pretending to look at the price list in the reception but they had clearly cottened on to this so we could only see a bit of the restaurant. But that was nice. So instead of blowing our monthly budget, we climbed down from the road to the sneaky “public” hot springs, a section of the same river that runs through the hotel. We had been told about this local secret by the American/Venezuelan family who gave us a lift in the Osa Peninsular. Turns out it wasn't really a local secret as in fact tour groups routinely visit the river, but nevermind, it was free and lovely and warm! Unfortunately we hadn't bought our swimming cossies, but we had a lovely toasty paddle. Still not being time for the return bus, we decided to carry on walking back to La Fortuna, and catch the bus wherever we saw it.
The next day we splashed out a bit and treated ourselves to a 'canyoneering' tour. We enjoyed 'canyoning' so much in Australia we thought we'd give it another go in a cañon here in the
Some strange bugs
Having some wholesome bug fun
Central American tropics. We walked a short-ish trail through a narrow, jungle-lined canyon with a cold stream/river running through it with a group consisting of a couple from Los Angeles, a German lady and four Costa Rican chaps, as well as the two guides and one guide/photographer. We did four abseils (or 'rappels' as they are called here and in the USA) down waterfalls, one of which was very small so that we could 'learn the ropes', another of which was 30 metres, and the biggest which was around 60 metres high. However this one was more of a zip-line than an abseil. There was also some pools to jump into, waterfalls to stand under and an interesting part that they called the 'human dam', where one of the guides dammed the river at a narrow section with his body, while the rest of the group sat in the gully that went downwards and downstream. When the guide got up a strong torrent of water would batter the group.
On our way back to town we all went to the local swimming spot, a place where two short waterfalls feed a deep and wide swimming hole with rushing torrents
of river water. Here there is a rope swing that if you get a decent swing you can drop in from around 10 metres high. Here we also saw fish either trying to jump up the waterfalls, or coming down rather ungracefully, bouncing off of the rocks. Here you can also observe a semi-organised commitee of thieves, complete with hand signals, patrols around the perimeter and scouting missions to peer at unguarded possesions and the like. We were warned beforehand so were wise to this, and kept a vigilant watch over our things! (Not that we had a lot with us, only soggy clothes and shoes.
The following day we bought ourselves a ticket to the other local hot springs resort (the less expensive ones) for 21 dollars each, including dinner. We decided to walk to save some money, and it was a long, hot and dusty 5km walk along the main road. The resort however exceeded our expectations massively.
There were something like 14 pools of varying degrees of water, some of which were slightly warmer than the swimming hole, others which were far to hot to even stick a toe into. They were all very immaculately
set out in leafy jungley grounds. There were even bars that sat in a dry island in the water, where you could sit and drink a beer for 6 dollars 50 cents or a 10 dollar cocktail. We took our own water, and didn't even fork out the ludicrous sum of 5 dollars for a locker. There were also 3 waterslides here. We thought they would be rather tame given the nature of the resort, however they shot you out into the water with such force that we sustained minor injuries! The dinner was really good too, in that it was a buffet! However we just can't make use of all-you-can-eat buffets like we used to...
We bumped into a nice couple who were staying at the same hostel as us at the hot springs, and they very kindly offered us a lift back (we couldn't face the walk back as it was dark, we were refreshed and a bit tired, and i'd hurt my foot!). But first we drove around to the other side of the volcano (the hot springs sat at the foot of the volcano) and watched the lava streams, bright red spills glowing brightly in
the very dark sky, from a vantage point on a bridge, where a fair few other people had also congregated.
We had intended to then enter Nicaragua via a border crossing roughly in the middle of the isthmus, which would have involved a couple of buses, then an hour and a half boat across a river to a supposedly dingy town, then a boat ride to a nicer town. However Gringo Pete, upon hearing our plans, regalled us with his experience of this trip. He had a terrible time, the notable points being swarms of irritating insects, really unfriendly people and eating at restaurants in the dark (so as not to attract the swarms of bugs). He strongly reccomended that we cross the other border at the Pacific coast, and since we'd missed our bus while sat listening to his story, we decided that we would!! (this was all on the morning that we went to the hot springs - this being our 'something to do' in the additional day we'd found ourselves. There were a couple of Canadian girls making this trip as well, so bright and early the next morning we all headed off to the border.
We took a taxi at 6am to a nearby town, then a bus to the border. The border was not the prettiest of places. Nor did it have any semblance of order. No-one offered any advice on what to do or what forms to fill in. Swarms of opportunists surrounded the bus as soon as it stopped. These were bag carriers, money changers, and people with the immigration forms. There didn't seem a way to obtain these other than off of one of these people. Some charged a 'tip' for this, while others just refused to give them (to our Canadian companions). Queuing was a completely alien concept. It was also very very dusty and hot. After getting our departure stamp at the window we walked across the no-man's-land to Nicaragua. After a short while of passing a couple of derelict buildings, non-descript office type buildings and no-urinating here signs, we were at the Nicaraguan side. There was a bus station here (very well hidden, and expertly reconaissanced by Sarah while I distracted the taxi drivers - we are pros at dodgy border crossings now!), and a duty free shop, as well as the dustyness and ordered chaos of
the other side. After queuing for a long time (made so much longer by the masses of people who cut in front of us - what can you do when 20 people push in front of you?), trying not to let the taxi drivers see our destination on our immigration forms, paying money for who-know's-what at the booth, and then another 'tax' for passing through a small gate to where the buses were parked, we were on a very old chicken-bus, of the type not seen since Panama City, and on our way to Ometepe. An island formed by two volcanoes rising out of Nicaragua's (and Central America's) largest lake.
There are more photos below