The Costa Rica One-Year Anniversary Blog—well, not this time….

Published: June 6th 2006
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Perfect shot of Arenal VolcanoPerfect shot of Arenal VolcanoPerfect shot of Arenal Volcano

All pictures courtesy of Mark D! Gracias!
To be introspective or not….

I could not remember until just yesterday exactly what day last June I moved to Costa Rica. I looked through my handwritten notes, emails, and even airline ticket receipts—essentially anything that would have a date on it. I could not find anything. Then in the middle of the night, it came to me (stupidly!): “Look back at your blog entries Andrew!” So, I went through my blog, now at 120 pages and 60,000+ words, and found an entry from June 4, 2005:

“Day 1 (June 4, 2005):

Today truly is the first day of the rest of my life. We made it to Costa Rica (meaning me and my friend Beth/co-partner in crime at the B&B) and are ready to start this new adventure.”

So, there you have it. Mystery solved. Case closed.

I had intended to make this my one-year anniversary blog with many paragraphs about what I’ve accomplished (or not accomplished as the case may be) in Costa Rica, what I’ve thought about living here, what I want to do next, and so on, but I’ve decided to hold on that, perhaps for a few weeks, perhaps forever, as I just don’t have time to be long-winded right now and won’t have time to even think about being introspective for at least another week or so. Therefore, hang in there! Instead, I’ll just write about a few experiences here in the last few days and let you enjoy the pictures in this entry (pictures are courtesy of my friend/soon-to-be-new-neighbor Mark!).

Seeing things more clearly….when not driving

Mark, who is moving to Costa Rica next March, and has been staying with us past few days, invited me to join him on his day trip to La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano. Not feeling terribly motivated to be productive on a Sunday (who is really?) I agreed to join him, as the perennial “Sunday drive,” even in Costa Rica, is always terrific, particularly when venturing up to Arenal.

The scenery one passes on the 1.5 hour drive up to the volcano, when not shrouded in mist, fog, clouds, or some combination thereof, is always terrific. And, what was best about the trip this time is that Mark did the driving so I finally got to see what I had been missing in the year I’ve been living here. Think rolling hills with several shades of green among the grasses, trees and low-lying plants. Think incredible vistas with mountains of all shapes and heights. Think birds with incredibly-colored torsos of red, blue, green and other shades I didn’t even know existed. Think the rainforest, think the plains of the Midwestern U.S., think the drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and think of almost any terrain in between. And, then there are the sounds of the land and the trees. That’s a whole other story. It’s truly a spectacular drive any way you slice it, and yes, it is indeed about the journey, not the destination (but the destination isn’t so bad either!).

It’s always a crap shoot when the road winds up a hill, then levels out, and the Arenal Volcano is in front of you, as to whether you’ll see it or not: it’s upper two-thirds is often covered in clouds so you often just see the base of what looks like mountain, but not much else. On this perfect Sunday, however, our first look provided newbie-Mark with about an 80% view which is very good for one’s first visit. I’ve been to Arenal eight or nine times now and I’ve seen the entire volcano completely visible twice.

Moving beyond Arenal and La Fortuna….

After taking the required candid shots of the volcano at our first sight of it, we decided to continue driving past La Fortuna where the volcano is located (though I am not sure if it located in La Fortuna proper or not, though this is the town most closely associated with it. I for one think such an awesome and ominous natural creation deserves a zip code just for itself!). I had only been through part of the huge Lake Arenal and wanted to see it again and also explore the towns of Nuevo Arenal and Tilaran. I had heard about them but have never been to them.

We made our way around the eastern bank of the lake, with it coming in and out of view as we drove through increasingly wet rainforest on either side of us. Mark commented that the rainforest seemed to creep closer and closer to the road as we continued our journey. What I enjoyed the most about this part of our adventure is that we were not sure where were heading, what we would find, or what we would do once we got to wherever we were going. We would just figure it out along the way. We did indeed come upon Nuevo Arenal but it was so small that we barely saw it passing by and elected not to stop.

A few miles beyond Nuevo Arenal we found a suitable pit stop, a souvenir shop/art gallery/restaurant/B&B run by a wonderful German woman named Monica. Her jack-of-all-trades shop, “The Lucky Bug” ( was a terrific stop for us. Being the low season, the shop was empty so we found her sitting at a table having coffee, and very willing to talk with us. Always surprising to me, she had actually heard about Angel Valley Farm B&B.

We learned all about Monica’s life in Costa Rica (she’s been here 15 years), her family, and most interesting to me here experiences running a business in Costa Rica. We learned the good, bad and ugly about her being here so long and I certainly learned some new things about an ex-pat’s life here. I also decided she was happy here. She was absolutely thrilled to show us her B&B, house, a small lake and the land behind her shop (like everyone here it appeared she had her hand in real estate as well). It property is beautiful and reasonably priced. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to stay in the Arenal area in a serene and quiet environment and also wants to avoid the higher-priced tourist-oriented hotels in La Fortuna.

After spending some time with her, we informed her that we were heading to Tilaran. In response, she very bluntly, perhaps harkening back to her German roots, advised us: “Don’t bother! There’s nothing to see there!” So, we decided we should comply with her admonition and headed back towards Arenal.

On the way back to Arenal our road trip continued to be, in a sense, more European than Costa Rican (except for the palm trees and plants with leaves so large that Ticos once used them as umbrellas and raincoats). I told Mark that Costa Rica is known as the “Switzerland of Central America,” and I would soon be proven correct.

In the meantime, however, continuing with the German theme, we stopped at a German bakery in Nuevo Arenal, and met a nice young man from Berlin, who was working behind the
Bridge on the way to La Fortuna/ArenalBridge on the way to La Fortuna/ArenalBridge on the way to La Fortuna/Arenal

This bridge always seems to have problems, or is just out of commission, and is a little daunting to cross. However I haven´t seen it shake--yet!
counter. He moved to Costa Rica about a month ago and clearly wasn’t sure how long he’d stay or what he’d be doing in the future, but it was clear he came to experience this country for a while. I was impressed with his positive outlook despite being so far from home and not knowing what the future would hold. As we decided which German pastries to purchase, we learned more about his life. It’s just such a good experience to really get to know people in new places, whether they are foreigners like us, or locals. It just makes the experience much richer.

Ah, finally in Switzerland!

About ten kilometers later, we approached three decidedly Swiss-looking buildings, perfectly clean and maintained with stunning grounds and outrageously ideal views of the lake and volcano. This was clearly a replica of what I had remembered in my own trip to Switzerland several years ago. In fact, we had stumbled upon “Los Heroes,” a small Swiss enclave with a hotel, restaurant, church, and even its own small train line. Having had my fill of Tico food recently, we decided to stop for lunch. I amused myself by saying “gutentag” or “hello” in German to the young Tico girl hanging out on the side of the restaurant, and then inside we both feasted on weiner schnitzel and potato soup. It was definitely a surreal experience—we definitely felt as though we were in Switzerland for an hour—well, the Switzerland of Central America at least.

Baldi Hot Springs….

We did have one objective for this day trip and that was to spend a few hours in one of the hot springs in and around Arenal. Our original target had been the well-known and over-touristy Tabacon resort. I had been there before and remembered it being an idyllic and relaxing place, despite the tourists. What I did not remember was how expensive it was to spend an afternoon there! It was $45 but somehow I remembered that on my last visit there it was $29. Neither of us wanted to spend that much so we ventured down the road, going closer to Arenal and decided to check out the more Tico-oriented Baldi Hot Springs resort. For $25 (plus $5 for a locker—not made clear until you actually get to the locker area) we decided to go in, figuring the $15 savings over Tabacon was worth about 19 beers at a bar in San Ramon.

We were more than happy with Baldi, and in fact, I now no longer see the need to go back to Tabacon. Baldi has just as many pools and springs, if not more than Tabacon, and the huge cold-water pool on the very edge of their property has the most incredible unobstructed view of the volcano. By the time we found this pool—we had to investigate further to come to realize that there were several more springs and pools beside the three near the swim-up bar—the volcano was completely visible from its base to its very top. It seemed so close that I felt I could almost touch it. Mark was so taken by it that I think the “Arenal trance” came over him as he just stood in the pool staring it for what seemed like an hour.

Extending our day trip….

I convinced Mark that we might just want to stay the night so we could get a look at Arenal in the evening. During the day, it doesn’t look as though it is doing much of anything except spouting out steam occasionally, but I had heard it puts on quite a show at night—at least a show that the human eye can actually see.

We found a reasonably-priced hotel with a view of the volcano that apparently had opened just recently, and was owned and run by a nice Tico couple—and apparently their aunts and uncles and kids too. The hotel was so new that the reception area was a wobbly table in front of the rooms. In our crude Spanish we got to know them a bit and learned that the couple’s son is heading to San Ramon next year to attend college at a branch of the University of Costa Rica. We also learned that they were looking to sell their hotel. Even Ticos speculate in real estate apparently, or perhaps learn that maybe it wasn’t all they thought it would be. In any event, they were very friendly and helpful, particularly as we were their only guests that evening (I’ve known that feeling on occasion!).

After checking in, which basically consisted of them giving us our keys and then throwing our nap sacks in the rooms (we hadn’t planned on staying overnight), we found a terrific pizza restaurant and ate like animals, wanting to be completely happy before spending the night in front of the hotel watching Arenal do its thing.

And, the Arenal volcano did do its thing. While passing clouds made our view seem as though we were watching a movie that is out of focus, every so often we witnessed a glowing red matter that shot dozens of feet from the top of the volcano, and then, only a few seconds later we saw what looked like large boulders, on fire, careening down the right side of the volcano, ending up somewhere out of our view. We heard the rumbling of the boulders as they zoomed down the barren side of this gigantic, imposing figure, heard the oozing of gas and saw sparks flying everywhere. It was a great show.

I became frustrated with the clouds, however, particularly not being able to tell because it was dark if they were building or dissipating, moving away or towards the volcano’s cone, or just holding in place. My plan was to watch a little TV, perhaps sleep for a few hours, and then go back outside in the middle of the night when I thought the volcano might be completely clear. I figured it was akin to putting the VCR or DVD player on “pause:” I would just pick up where I left off later. Well, I did pause but never got back to the show as just a few minutes after stretching out on the bed, I was sound asleep.

It was a good, no terrific, Sunday. This short overnight trip made me realize just how very happy I am to be here! Perhaps much introspection is not required after all.

Thanks for reading! I’ll be out of pocket until after June 15 so look for another blog entry around the 17th or so. It’s going to be a very special and surprising blog at that—guaranteed—keep an eye out for it!

Pura Vida!



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