We are currently in the highlands of Costa Rica, located in the central interior. The remainder of our stay in La Fortuna was rainy, precluding any good views of the famous volcano Arenal. We took a guided hike anyway and enjoyed the guide's description of local plants and other wildlife while trying to imagine the volcano through the clouds. The tour package we bought also included admission to one of the local hot springs resorts known as Baldi. It was ridiculous. The sprawling grounds have been cultivated into a tropical garden with 25 pools of differing temperatures and depths that branch off a maze of slippery trails. There was definitely a hedonistic atmosphere to the place despite the many feral children screaming and splashing about. Overall, I think it was worth going, especially after the volcano hike. It was nice to lounge about and gave us a reason to be grateful for the cool, rainy weather. We also enjoyed watching a couple struggle to capture the perfect photograph of themselves embracing rather provocatively in one of the hot pools. I'm not sure they actually found time to enjoy the warm waters but hopefully they got at least one pic that will make it look like they did!
In general, we found La Fortuna to be pretty relaxing and a nice way to start out our holiday in Costa Rica. Learned a minor lesson about making sure you get a receipt when you pay for a tour through your hotel.... their book-keeping consisted of a coil notebook with dates, names, reservations, etc and evidently the front desk clerk neglected to note that we'd paid the $120 for our volcano tour and hot springs visit. Made for an awkward few moments at checkout where we had to argue with another clerk about whether we'd paid. Next time we will remember to get proof of payment!
The trip from La Fortuna to here was rather unique - we took a jeep-boat-jeep journey, which is really moreso van-boat-van. The water portion involved crossing Lake Arenal and was by far the most efficient in terms of covering distance towards our destination. As with most of this region, it takes about 3 times as long to get anywhere as it would by Canadian hiway... The roads are "gravel" with a plethora of potholes and ditches to dodge along the way, winding through the mountainous terrain in a seemingly endless chain of switchbacks, up and down and along precarious slopes devoid of guard rails or even enough room for two vehicles to pass eachother. Makes for a slow and bumpy ride but it's the best way to do it!
Santa Elena/Monteverde has been our home for the past 3 days. We arrived at dusk and checked into our hostel. The building is adjacent to a babbling brook just down a sort of back alley from town. Kinda divey, but clean and 2/3 nights have been very quiet. The town itself is reminiscent of somewhere like Banff. Souvenir shops, tour companies, and hotels occupy the majority of the infrastructure here. Everything costs money including access to the nearby waterfall and entrance to either of the two cloud forest reserves. We spent the better part of our first day here wandering the trails of Santa Elena, the less popular of the two reserves. It was beautiful. We didn't see much fauna but the flora was spectacular. And we finally managed a glimpse of the elusive volcano Arenal from one of the viewpoints along the trail. Chris snapped a few shots that we'll post soon.
The big tourist attraction in these parts isn't simply the reserves but the zip-lining and tram and sky-walk tours. We decided we didn't need to do the zip lines, as we recently indulged in some in Newfoundland. We opted for the marginally cheaper walk-ways (suspension bridges). Pretty much a waste of money. The views were amazing but I hardly think the cost ($30 US per person) was justified. And the companies nickel-and-dime you for everything. Admission to the walkways is ONLY for the walkways - it's an extra $15 per person if you want to go into the butterfly garden, serpentarium, or hummingbird garden. EACH, not for all three. Ridiculous. Oh well. Lesson learned.
Thinking yesterday would be our last night here (/foreshadowing) we booked a night walk: a guided tour into the forest at dusk when more of the creepy crawlies and larger mammals come out to play or hunt. Or pee, apparently. This was the highlight of our time in Santa Elena/Monteverde. During the the few hours spent hiking in the dark with our guide, Alejandra, we encountered 4 sloths, a poisonous viper, an enormous walking-stick bug, an astonishingly massive leaf-cutter ant colony, possibly an armadillo, several bird species, lots of other bugs, and a huge tarantula. My personal favorites were the mom and baby sloths. So cute! Photos soon....
Our time in Santa Elena was supposed to end early this morning with a bus ride to Puntaneras and on to meet up with Jill, Modest, and Lauren (Chris's sister, bro-in-law, and niece). Unfortunately, Chris awoke feeling sick not long after midnight and has continued to suffer with food poisoning-like symptoms since then. We skipped our bus ride and have decided to stay an extra night here until he is feeling better. Not sure what got him... could've been the nasty huevos revueltos he had for breakfast (free at the hostel; I did not partake) or maybe the fish tacos at Trios restaurant after our night walk. The fish did taste a little gross. Not off, but maybe. Regardless, he's having a rough morning. Hopefully the worst is over and we'll be able to enjoy at least part of our unexpected extra day here. Then on to the beach tomorrow! Or manana... as the case may be.