In the Shadow of the Volcano

Published: April 21st 2016
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There we stood on the balcony overlooking the mist-shrouded peak of the volcano. To our left through the mist we could see the distant shores of the huge man made lake that shared the volcano’s name - Arenal. The thick mist filled my mind with mystery and set my imagination running wild. I knew there was a volcano there and I knew what it should look like, but the only hint I got was a small piece of steep, rocky slope on the mountain’s western flank and a bunch of misty whiteness. We decided to return to the lodge later for lunch and we turned our backs to the misty mountain and set off on our first walk in Costa Rica.

The paths we started on were well paved and beautifully landscaped with lush flowering plants and tropical greenery. Despite their tame nature, humming birds abounded along the paved trail and a few minutes into our walk we had our first exotic animal sighting in the country – A coati, the pointy-nosed raccoon-like creature of the American tropics, crossed the trail just behind us. A few minutes later we left the path through the lodge’s manicured grounds and entered the rainforest proper on the Waterfall Trail. The forest was instantly amazing. A thick tangle of vines draped down from the tall, buttressed trees and palms and thick, leafy underbrush filled in the gaps. Green moss blanketed everything in sight and amazing bromeliads sprouted from every place they could find. The path’s surface was paved with thick concrete pavers in the shape of tick-tack-toe boards and it made the going considerably easier than it would have been in the mud.

We followed the trail until we reached a smaller path that led down into a sheer-walled ravine. The roar of the water and the billowing mist hinted at what we would find at the other end of the path. The going was slow due to the slime that covered the concrete path, but before long we were staring across a small, rocky pond to the powerful cascade. The mist made it difficult to take pictures and the roar made it impossible to talk, so after the requisite photos we sat and contemplated the falls and the amazing wilderness we were a part of in silence. We continued our walk with damp clothing and up-lifted spirits. The path through the forest continued for a while longer. Occasionally a crashing in the underbrush revealed the location of a fleeing animal, but they stayed hidden. Eventually we reached a small clearing at the edge of a wide, tree-filled ravine. A hanging bridge spanned the gorge and beaconed us to cross. We paused at the center of the bridge and took in the creek below. A brightly colored bird streaked across our field of vision, but it was too quick to identify. At the other end of the bridge we found rolling pastureland bound by forested hills, and a small, open shelter. We took a seat on a bench in the shelter just as the rain started falling.

We snacked on a wonderful coconut treat and some nuts while the storm raged. We decided to continue walking despite the rain, so we donned our ponchos and hats and set off into the wet tropical downpour. The rain came and went in occasionally strong waves as we walked through picturesque, tree-lined pastures. We crossed over a small bridge surrounded by farm buildings and then reached a crossroad. A couple of people approached us there and asked for directions in Spanish. They were soaked and clearly lost, so we took out our map and helped them on their way, destroying our map in the process. We continued walking, having memorized the rout we wanted, and eventually reached a second forested trail. We immediately found a large group of monkeys in a tall tree beside the path and we watched them for a while – It was Maria’s first sighting of monkeys in the Americas, so we were both excited. After a while we left the monkeys and continued into the dense forest. The rain stopped and the sunlight trickled through the canopy in shafts of light. A blue morpho butterfly fluttered along the trail in flashes of bright blue; a large animal started, crashing away through the forest; ants munched on my feet – It was a wonderful jungle trail!

We had been hiking for hours and our stomachs were growling, so we set our sights on the Arenal Observatory Lodge and a luxurious lunch. The path back was on partially developed farm roads, so the going was quick and easy. We passed several large cows and some trees with brightly colored bark and after about twenty minutes we were back on the manicured grounds of the lodge. We paused in the rain to watch a colorful humming bird and then we crossed over a second hanging bridge and reached the lodge. The volcano was even more obstructed than before and the misty view of the lake seemed to glow in the distant sunlight. We took a seat at a lake-view table and ordered an amazing meal of ceviche and a fish casado – A typical Costa Rican meal of rice and beans, called gallo-pinto, fried plantains and a veggie-rich salad. We marveled at our amazing first hike and we relaxed for the first time on our vacation. The rain and the mist had washed away our frustrations from the long journey to Arenal and a sleepless night of karaoke torture in a party hostel in La Fortuna. We were on vacation and we were having fun!

After lunch we ordered some coffee and sat on a couch overlooking the lake and some rainy jungle vistas and we planned our route for the rest of the day. We were bound for the Rio Celeste, but we decided to take the scenic route along Lago Arenal. We retraced our path back down the bouncy, stone road to the main paved road and turned west. As we crossed over the earthen dam that formed the huge lake we finally got our volcano view. Arenal’s huge, conical peak rose up beyond the sweeping jungle, capped with a lenticular cloud hat – It was a beautiful sight!

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