La (Un)Fortuna(te)

Trip Start May 23, 2010
Trip End Aug 31, 2010

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Where I stayed
Arenal Backpackers Resort

Flag of Costa Rica  , Alajuela,
Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Up early (again!) for our shuttle pick-up to take us from San Jose to La Fortuna, close to the famous Arenal volcano.

We were ready and waiting at 8am.  Our shuttle wasn't.  The receptionist at the hostel remarked that Gray Line, the company involved, were notoriously late.  Concerned that they may have lost our Internet booking of the night before, I called them at 8:15am.  The driver was "2 minutes away".  45 minutes later, he'd covered the 2 minutes distance.  Must be a very slow van.  "Que hora es?", our receptionist asked the driver sarcastically (there was a big clock above his desk).  "Las nueves", the driver replied dumbly.

The driver was accompanied by a sidekick: an unrequested and unnecessary 'guide'.  We quickly discovered that here was one of the most annoying people in Costa Rica, if not the world.  Perhaps the driver was forced by the rest of the office to take her along as punishment for getting to work late.  When she opened her mouth, it was like some kind of Latina version of Janice from Friends.  Poor Ems just wanted to sleep, but within seconds of closing her eyes, a
voice like a chicken on helium being throttled would shatter the silence. Undeterred by the extraneous nature of her job, the guide seemed to like the sound of her own warbling quite a lot, as she endlessly reeled out 'interesting' facts about Costa Rica and pointed out sights along the roadside, including every single type of plantation in a region full of them.  She pointed out exciting attractions such as a state school (I was bitterly disappointed we couldn't stop for pictures) and even...a shop selling fruit!  "Gosh!", I felt like saying "Fruit, you say? I think I've eaten some once.  In a shop?  How novel!".  My attention soon began to wander from her commentary and I gazed out of the minivan side window and began to think of other things.

Things like: is this what the audio torture at Camp X-Ray was like?  Could I fit through the van's window and escape? And if not, could I execute a quick defenestration of the guide instead?

Luckily, before my homicidal tendencies took over entirely, we arrived at our hostel in La Fortuna.  It was a hot day with blue skies overhead and in the distance we could see the majestic shape of Volcan Arenal, the only strombolian - cone-shaped - volcano of Costa Rica's 120 volcanic peaks (ok, so I was listening to the guide a little bit).  The very top was obscured by cloud, but otherwise the view was pretty clear.  When we checked in, we were offered a tour departing shortly to see the volcano, but tempted by the on site pool, we decided to book for the following day. 

The next day, it was solid grey cloud cover.  Then it started to rain.  By the time our 3pm hike rolled around, it was absolutely hammering down.  I definitely think we upset the god Vulcan somehow.  Volcan Pacaya in Guatemala erupted, so we couldn't visit that.  Volcan Pacoas was pure downpour and cloud and now Arenal was more of the same.  Still, our visit involved a very wet trek to see a pretty waterfall in the jungle at the base of the volcano, before we returned to a lookout point to watch for lava flows as night fell.  All we could see was cloud, so they showed us a DVD of eruptions and lava flow instead. 

Not to be put off, one Spanish member of the tour group whipped out her digital SLR and started taking photos of the images on the TV screen.  Mental.  Then it occurred to me that maybe she was halfway to solving the problem of rising airfares. Instead of spending lots of money flying to see the aurora borealis in Canada or creating a big carbon footprint jetting across the world to see the sunrise at Uluru, just nip down Blockbuster and hire the video. Take some snaps and Bob's your uncle, just as good as the real thing.  At least she seemed to think so!

After an hour of staring at pea soupers and trying to pass off thunder as 'eruption noises', our tour guide shepherded us back to the van.  On the drive home, the cloud cleared up.  But there was still no lava.

Volcanoes are rubbish.

The night was salvaged by a very enjoyable visit to the Baldi Hot Springs, where Em and I were able to warm up in nice 43C hot pools.  Treading through the grass between pools in the semi-dark, Ems stopped and said, "I think I've been bitten!".  There was a small red dot on her foot, strangely similar to a mozzie bite.  "What if it's a snake bite?", she asked anxiously.  No flesh-eating effects visible.  No paralysis or cardiac arrest.  No actual sign of a snake bite.  I decided she'd live. Glad I went to that Serpentarium the other day. 

I also went on a couple of very fast water slides, during which I had quite a few hairs pulled from the back of my legs by the plastic tubing.  Now I understand why it's called Baldi.  Talking of which,  we saw a local with a great t-shirt, which said "It's not a
bald's a solar panel for a SEX MACHINE".  We're keeping an
eye out for a red one for you, Tony.
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