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Monday, October 26, 2009

Like Here, Only Different - Part 3

Saying Good-bye to Monteverde and our sweet little hotel was difficult. I would have loved a few more days to take in this lovely environment.

The road north out of Monteverde was unmarked, unpaved and slightly different from the one coming in. We went over the Continental Divide and you could see a slight change in the landscape. The hills had less trees, the valleys were not as deep, the hills rolling. But everywhere still green and flowers grow in abundance. Clearly this is still cattle and milk country. There were also a lot of coffee plantations.

We met the little boat at Lake Arenal for a transfer south and across to the foot of Volcan Arenal.

The lake is dam created and forms the largest lake in Costa Rica. Here was yet another diverse environment to take in. The first thing I noted was this extraordinary water flower.

There were some beautiful homes on the hills above the lake. I cannot imagine what it would be like to have the year round vantage of seeing the erupting north face of Arenal. We met another van on the south shore of the lake and drove only a little way when he pulled over to show us an often missed site. The river here runs steaming hot. It is the hot springs that feeds the world famous Tabacon Hot Springs resort. Here the locals come take the water for no charge. All over the rocks there is candle wax from those who come at night. I dipped my hands in and it was easily 110+ degrees.

Our hotel in Fortuna was right on the main street downtown. This was truly a tourist town with tour shops and souvenir stands everywhere. The hotel had a bit of a view of Arenal and at any moment the clouds might break and you can see the summit. Unfortunately the view came with telephone wires, but I did manage this one semi clear shot. It is possible to see the glow of rocks and lava from the north face and night visits to a hot springs with a view are a popular activity.

Most of the time the summit was shrouded in clouds and steam.

We checked in with the tour company and I eagerly booked a visit to Cano Negro reserve on the Nicaragua border. Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge would be a unique environment for my visit and I had it on my "must do" since I booked my trip. The Rio Frio runs into Lake Nicaragua and serves as a taxi course for people crossing the border. We took a boat and slowly toured the rivers edge. There were many birds and animals to enjoy. Kingfisher were a tricky sighting and I am luck to have caught this Amazon Kingfisher. They are much shyer and faster than our familiar Belted Kingfisher.

There were a lot of Caiman, Iguana and Basilisks. This Basilisk showed us why they are nicknamed the Jesus Christ Lizard. When young and small, they can run across the water surface. The event was too fast to capture on camera.

We journeyed downriver to the border and went ashore to get a closer look at a field containing a mixed flock of birds. I would have wished to get closer but between the loose horses and cattle, the mucky ground and the nearness of the border we had to hang back. It was a thrill to see Wood Storks , Roseate Spoonbills and Little Blue Herons... all new species for me. As with so many other venues I would have liked far more time here.

Early the next morning my co-traveler Peter and I ventured off on a hike at Cerro Chato. This extinct volcano just south of Arenal is also known as The Sleeping Indian. We were warned that it was a challenging climb and indeed it was. It was an unrelenting 1 hour(+)climb to the top. The trail was not like those we are use to. Narrow twisting and free-form, it pretty much was a continuous up. Much of the climb was made stair-step wise, using tree roots and foot print steps. There was a fair amount of pull-yourself-up and hugging trees while you swung around their trunks to get a firm foothold on the next step. The ground, while moist, was good and honest footing. I am use to wet ground being slippery ground and this soil acts very different.

To my dismay my camera batteries gave out quickly and I discovered that I had failed to transfer my spares from my fanny pack to my back pack. I kick myself, even more so in the end when I realised that the rain jacket and pants that I brought were never needed. I could have made do with the fanny pack after all. I am hoping Peter will provide a link to the pictures he took on this lovely hike.

It was tough going as it was hot, as usual. I wore a red sweat band and it pulled in more than one hummingbird for close inspection. There were great bugs and butterflies too. We discovered a nest of peeping birds inside a trunk, though the species is unknown and the parents never arrived to scold us.

At the top we were dismayed to see that the caldera was clouded over. The plan was to hike around the rim to the other side and descend "the easy way" into the caldera lake. By the time we got to the other side we could see a bit of the lake. We could also hear the eruptions on Arenal not more than a mile or so away. The "easy" hike down had its moments. It was more or less using roots as steps. At the bottom the area had cleared and we could see sky above us and the jade green water. The inside of the caldera is covered in trees and plants. After almost two weeks in Costa Rica we found our first frogs! So many of the famous, colorful frogs of the tropics live out their lives high in the trees. Here several frogs appeared to be sparing right on the lake shore. They were basic small brownish tree frogs, but it was fun to watch their scuffle and throat pouch blowing.

We hiked down the other side of the volcano and emerged onto a private farm. The open ground was slightly rocky and I (and my toes) was glad for the slightly easier down slope. There were a lot of plants to notice. By now the clouds had cleared and the sun was pretty intense. We ended up at La Fortuna Falls. After a quick lunch, we hiked down to the foot of the falls since it was "only 500" steps. This time real stair steps! The force of the water coming over the falls produced quite a bit of water turbulence. I cannot imagine what it would be like during a regular rainy season.

By the time we got back to the top we were ready to return home. Peter and I feel we both accomplished quite a good hike and were very energised. Near the parking lot I saw a cluster of people looking through bins and heard the word "motmot". What can I say, it was a lucky hit. I watched, thrilled at seeing this iconic tropical bird. I pulled out my camera. I knew that sometimes the batteries can juice up after turning the camera off... enough to get a few pictures. I managed three shots, two did not turn out

This one did. Broad-billed Motmot.

Since it was our last day in town we went for dinner and a special event. Salsa lessons. Even though Peter and I had clocked the hefty hike, I don't think you could have kept us off the floor. I admit to pretty much having two left feet but by gosh I wasn't going to let that stop me. As much as I would love to take dancing lessons I have always been reluctant. The young man who instructed us was excellent and he got me moving pretty well, I must admit. You can turn into Ginger Rodgers when you have a partner who makes you feel confident.

The trip back to San Jose via Poas Volcano was long and interesting. Our driver, whom we had met before, had never driven this route. There were some diversions and stops for directions, given the usual lack of road signs. We made safely back to San Jose during the Saturday afternoon gridlock. It was interesting to see the change of lifestyle as we neared the bigger population center. The crowds and traffic were a bit jarring after two weeks of an easy paced life.

I admit to being ready to come home. The journey had been long and filled with a lot of activity and a little less sleep. While I am sure I could have kept going, there is a certain stress that comes from not being in your familiar home. The taxi arrived promptly as booked Sunday morning, and he drove us to the airport in record time.
I know I have many adventures ahead. Some on this trip were a chance of a lifetime and I would not trade all the heat, sweat and sleepless nights for the experiences, sights, sounds and flavors of Costa Rica. I am sure I will return.

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