Hanging bridges and Arenal volcano

Published: April 25th 2014
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We head off early in the morning to be taken on a guided tour of the Arenal Lodge Hanging Bridges just outside La Fortuna. We meet our guide and it turns out his main thing is plants so we get to find out lots more about the jungle vegetation this time.

First plant he picks out for us is the Ataxia which he says is very poisonous. Its alternative local name is 'Lotteria' as the leaves have white spots that sometimes look like numbers and people use these as their lottery numbers hoping for a big win!

We also see some beautiful, large, hanging bell shaped flowers in a kind of pale peach colour. These are called Angel's Trumpets and are pollinated by bats not the usual insects that flit from flower to flower. They have hallucinogenic properties which explains their alternative name of 'travel to space for free'!

We also see wild annis, a plant with large, soft leaves. This plant is used to treat head aches, is used as a natural mosquito repellent and for swollen feet.

I find out what the large, red flower is called that I'd seen at Alex's place - Red Torch or Emperor's Cane. These are long lasting flowers so are popular in cut flower arrangements.

We see loads more of the structually impressive tree ferns which have been around for 300 thousand years. They prompt our guide to tell us that part of the Jurassic Park filmes were made in Costa Rica.

We pass a small shrub like planf with small, dark green leaves which because of its distinctive shape is known as the 'tropical rain forest bonsai'.

Next we pass a large plant with huge leaves radiating out crom the centre creating a funnel shape. This is the Litter Plant which catches debris in its funnel centre from which it derives its nutrients.

On our way to the first hanging bridge our guide also shows us square edged bananas and gets us to smell the crushed leaves of a plant with prominent, long stamen sticking up from the oval leaves. They smell like pepper, which is probably why it's called 'Wild Pepper'.

We start to cross the first hanging bridge. Apart from being so high up, walking on a bridge with a metal meshed surface hung between trees, which is a bit hairy to start with, you also find yourself randomly wobbling about, unsure footed as other people's footsteps are out of synch with yours making the bridge seem really unstable. It's also very funny if you forget for a minute how high up you are.

At the other side our guide points out a plant whose leaves spiral up the stem in a clockwise direction. This plant is used to treat kidney stones!

We still haven't seen any snakes on our trip so far and I begin to feel pretty glad about this as we find out from our guide that Costa Rica has 22 venemous snakes and that despite there now being antidotes available you still only have half an hour to get the antidote into you before you're a gonna! Thankfully, despite this grim fact, of the four to five hundred venemous snake bites a year in Costa Rica there are only about 4 fatalities. If you do ever vet bitten by a snake in Costa Rica this little rhyme can help you work out exactly how worried younshould be...

"Black and yellow kills a fellow

Red and black, friend of Jack"

We also pass a few more of the stranve Walking Palms with mid air roots at the base. The 'walking' is only up to a centimetre a year so we're not exactly talking triffids here. They move through root selection. Those at the back of where the tree needs to be die off and new ones grow at the front taking the whole tree with them.

We see a couple more of the little red and black Poison Dart frogs climbing up the trees. They lay their eggs in water that collects in the Bromillia plants that grow on the trees.

One of the trees we pass has a kind of gappy butress on the side which is its way of combatting potential wind damabe, the wind just passing straight through the gap.

At this point we cross one of the smaller non hanging bridges over a little wet gulley and someone spots something moving below. A little family of white nosed coyotes are snufflung about looking for food. Thesr racoon like creatures are so cute withntheir long stripey tails and little, white pointy faces. There's obviously a long way further to go on this walk as our guide hurries us along.

I had hoped to pick up some geocaches on this walk as originally there had been five placed in the hanging bridges area. Unfortunately I could tell from the previous logs that most had gone missing, either messed up by muggles who didn't know what they were or by curious animals nicking them. I didn't get a chance to look for one of the two hopefuls as our guide was whizzing past the side shoot path down to the waterfall where one of the caches was hidden and I just couldn't find the other one in the time I had, despite the very descriptive clue. A case of caching not being very easy when you're with a group who aren't geocachers (Markus and Franziska weren't on this trip).

I added to the hoard of odd items some monkey must have as my sunglasses went sailing down into the trees below as I was crossing one of the hanging bridges. Oops!

Our plant expert guide had one more plant to show us before the end of rhe hanging bridges tour. This one grows as a single leaf when young but as it gets older this leaf begings to split in two, hence it apt name of Rabbits Ears.

This was the end of the fab hanging bridges tour, but we still had another essential 'must see' place to visit when in the La Fortuna area - the famous Arenal volcano (the first syllable is stressed by the way not the second as I'd assumed).

Until 1968 it wasn't known that Arenal was a volcano. To the locals it was just one of many other wooded hills in the area. In July of 68 people felt earth tremors and the forest started to smoke and steam. Women washing clothes in a stream were amazed to find the water suddenly warm. Then in the 29th July Arenal exploded shooting out molton lava, clouds of poisonous gases and red hot boulders. More than 80 people were killed. Land near the volunco changed suddenly from lush, farmland to barren moonscape.

Since this 1968 erruption there have been many more minor events up until 2010 when scientists from the Smithsonian Institute and the Volcanological and Seismological Observatory Institute of Costa Rica declared Arenal volcano active but in a resting period.

We were taken on an extremely bumpy van ride to take a closer look at the volcano - classical cone shape that it is. If the volcano started to errupt, basically we were f**ked! Sadly the summit of the volcano stayed in cloud the whole time we were there. We also visited a little museum with interesting news clippings and photos from the 1968 erruption.

We had a lovely wander through the grounds of the hotel nestled right next to the volcano where scientist's from the Smithsonian Institute had stayed. Our guide pointed out the white Sobralia Orchid which only lasts for a day and is edible.

We also saw the striking Rostrana heliconia that's been appesring in a few of my photis so far. We fiund oug that when young the spikey, red and orange flower points upwards and is pollinated by humming birds. When the flower gets older it droops down and bats take over pollination. Clever plant.

I also loved seeing the tall Eucalyptus trees, their bark looking as if someone had climbed to the top and poured different coloured paint down the trunks.

After such a long and comprehensive tour I'm pretty knackered so decide to chill at the hotel for a bit then pop into town to have a little wander, pick up some new sun glasses (!) and eat my pastries in the landscaped park area in the centre of town.

We watch some Easter celebrations in the main square before another evening meal with the group and a packed day draws to a close.

Additional photos below
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