Day 26-The Volcano

Trip Start Jan 14, 2013
Trip End Apr 11, 2013

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Where I stayed
What I did
Butterfly Conservatory
Howlers (Restaurant)
Toad Hall
Sky Tram
Restaurante Loma Linda (in Hotel Linda Vista del Norte)
Pizza John's Jardin Escondido
Altamira Restaurant (at Nayara Resport)
Arenal Eco Zoo
El Castillo Fusion Restaurant
Maleku Tribe
The Springs Resort & Spa
La Mesa de Mama (restaurant)

Flag of Costa Rica  , Alajuela,
Friday, February 8, 2013

Vivian: Mom.  This isn't the Costa Rica of my dreams.
Me: Really?  What was the Costa Rica of your dreams?
Vivian:   I was expecting more dirt on the roads.

This little revelation was made as we hurtled down yet another dirt road, my intestines jiggling with every bump.  More than 50% of our driving has been spent on very rugged dirt roads.  I hope to never visit the Costa Rica of Vivian's dreams.

Our current address:  El Castillo, Penas Blancas, San Ramon.  1 km al sur de la escuela.  Casa grande a mano derecha de ventanas de vidrio.  (Translation: The names of the town/district.  1 km south of the school.  Big house on the right hand side with the glass windows).  Suffice it to say, we are really off the beaten track here in El Castillo!  

El Castillo is located just a few miles from the base of the famous Arenal volcano (which has been dormant since 2010, but in its heyday, it was kind of a big deal).  The volcano had long been thought to be extinct until a deadly massive eruption in 1968, followed by the occasional lava flows and lesser eruptions.  It still puffs out clouds of toxic smoke and steam occasionally.  Tour operators ominously (and a bit optimistically) hint that Arenal may explode again any day.  Until that day, beautiful vistas of the volcano, Lake Arenal, and lush jungle abound; every morning the volcano is the first thing we see when we walk into the main room of our house.   

The weather has been mercurial and utterly unpredictable.  It is significantly cooler than the Nicoya Peninsula, which is a welcome change.  Not too surprisingly seeing how it is a rain forest, it rains daily, but moments after a downpour, it will be sunny and clear.  Or it may remain overcast and misty.  The weather forecasts are completely unreliable, so we've learned to just go about our business regardless of what is projected.  Several nights in the evenings it has become notably windy.  Since our house is perched on a ridge, more than once Paul and I exchanged nervous glances wondering if it can withstand the prevailing winds.

Speaking of our house: we find ourself in a quirky octagonally shaped house with an addition in the rear for the master bedroom.  While technically a three bedroom home, two of the bedrooms are merely separated from the living room and kitchen by wooden partitions that don't go all the way to the ceiling (thus they are subjected to all the light and sounds from the rest of the house).  This is a little less than ideal for Paul and me who are accustomed to putting the girls to bed before dining ourselves, but we have managed to make it work.  Otherwise, it is a clean, modern place with modern amenities and we have enjoyed relaxing in the large teak adirondack chairs that face the volcano.  Daily we watch a stream of cows parade up and down the street as the farmers rotate them from one pasture to another.   Millepedes patrol our tile floor, geckos speckle the walls, and there are "singing" mice in the rafters.  Last night, some creature raided our garbage.  As we cleaned up the mess in the middle of the night, a three inch long cricket-like insect crept along the outside wall eyeing us. We are still one with nature. 

We have enjoyed two wonderful afternoons at The Springs Resort and Spa (their website proudly boasts this is where they filmed THE BACHELOR).  This area is renowned for its hot springs (fed by the volcano), and while you can access many springs for free, we found a great package that granted us two days admission to the resort's private hot springs plus a visit to the animal conservatory.  Click here to see a video of the girls enjoying the hot springs.  We also visited a gratis thermal river where the local folks relax in the various pools.  Ivy ensconced herself in a spot where the cold water from a non-thermal river mixed with the hot water from the thermal river.  She and Vivian loved playing with the other kids and could have stayed forever.

Beautiful birds are everywhere.  I've witnessed two tiny hummingbirds fighting (don't underestimate their diminutive size--they can be fierce!)  There is a bird frequently in our yard that sounds exactly like R2D2 (we think it is the Montezuma Oropendola).  Yesterday, Paul and I captured a photo of a beautiful colorful bird that we can't identify from any of the books.  It is definitely a birder's paradise here in Costa Rica. 

One of our favorite activities was to take an open gondola ride through the rainforest canopy to an observation platform overlooking the volcano and Lake Arenal.  It was a great opportunity to see the different layers of virgin rainforest.  From the platform we watched several folks embark on a zip line tour.  It looked fun, but kids have to be 8 and up, so we passed.  Even Vivian had her reservations on participating in this activity, although she became quite eager to try the the bunny cable.  

Back at the parking lot, after buckling Vivian into her carseat, I stepped back and suddenly felt myself falling.  I landed on my bum with my leg caught inside a metal grate.  The grate missing one rail, creating just enough of a gap for my foot to pass through.  Fortunately, the furrow beneath was only 6 inches deep and I suffered nothing more than some scratches and bruises, but I shudder to think how much worse it could have been both for my leg, and for Ivy, who was in a baby carrier on my back--her head was only inches from hitting the neighboring car.      
Sadly, we only have a few days left in this beautiful region, although we do plan on returning to the nearby Monteverde Cloud Forest later in our trip.

Click here to see a video of a roadside encounter with a coati.
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