A Sunburnt Sunday

Sunday, February 19.

It’s our last day in town, and in the country.

And it will be the first day for one of our other friends from back home – incidentally named Jen – who’s due in town later to start her one-week vacation in this beautiful country.

She somehow scores a hotel room at the same hotel we’re staying at, and arrives while we’re out for the day at the beach.

We start at another location – Playa del Coco. There’s not as much shade as the spot we found at Playa Hermosa, and the tide starts out much farther than at the other beach. The weather is very nice, and as the sun moves along, it gets hotter.

There is a rather large group of pelicans floating on the water. They alternate between drifting, taking off into the air, then divebombing the water – presumably for fish.

Every so often, I heave myself up from the indent my butt has left in the sand dune we’re inhabiting, to walk out and dip my feet in the water as it rushes in.

The water is murkier than over at Playa Hermosa, but it’s nice and cool on the toes anyway.

From time to time, I see a white bird – tall,  with slender legs (maybe it’s an egret?) that seems to have the same idea, as it stands on the shore, looking out, before taking off across the water.

By the time we leave the beach to get lunch, Jenn’s gotten a bit redder, and I’m sweating profusely. As I’m eating my shrimp-and-vegetable meal, I’m wiping my forehead with the back of my hand, every couple of minutes, coming away with a film of perspiration.

We return to the hotel to look for Jen. She’s left a note wedged in her hotel room door, saying that she would be by the pool, and would maybe go to the beach if she didn’t see us.

We scan the pool, but don’t see any sign of Jen.

So off we go to Playa Hermosa – this time, heading in the opposite direction from the day before. The area we find is not as sandy, but it’s got a nice, big, shady tree.

The ladies and I read for a bit, before they take to the water for a dip, while I delve into the Nick Hornby novel I’ve brought on vacation.

We return to the hotel around 5 p.m. We’ve missed Jen again – she’s left another note, saying she’s gone to the beach.

We stake out both pools to see if we’ll spot her. Eventually, Zoe and I spot her strolling through reception around 5:30 p.m.

The three of us join Jenn at the larger pool, where we sit around and catch up for a while. Then we all freshen up, then meet up for dinner down the street.

I order a hamburger with cheese, ham and bacon – my last Tico burger of the trip.

It actually ends up being more than I can handle, because of all the additional meat piled on top of the beef patty. But there’s no way I’m going to let it go to waste!

We spend the remainder of the night in our hotel room, chatting and playing games.

Then just like that, the night – and our vacation – is over.

One more sleep, and it’s back to the airport to begin our trip home.

Hellooooo, Hermosa!

Saturday, February 18.

Some ill-timed lady business has thwarted my hopes for a daylight dip.

While Jenn and Zoe go swimming at the nearby pool, I jump in the shower.

Partway through, I hear a knock on a door somewhere nearby.

I figure it’s probably someone knocking on the room next door, so I ignore it.

Then I hear a woman’s voice yell, “Hellooo!?”

I scramble out of the shower, thinking it’s maybe Jenn or Zoe wanting to enter the room.

Blind as a bat, I exit the bathroom, sopping wet, with a towel around me … and make out a blurry blob at the door that is neither Jenn nor Zoe.

It’s housekeeping.

I ask them to wait so I can get my glasses and see who exactly I’m dealing with.

(At this hotel, all the rooms have signs stuck to the doors with velcro strips with one message on either side: “Do Not Disturb” and “Please Clean”. Most people who have been to hotels have seen these signs hanging from their hotel room doorknobs, and know how to use these signs. One would also believe that hotel workers would trust that hotel patrons have an idea of how to use these signs. In our case, the sign is not hanging on the outer doorknob, because I’m still inside the room.)

I re-emerge, still sopping wet (and probably visibly annoyed).

“Limpiar?” she asks.

I don’t understand right away – plus I’m mildly frustrated – so I say that I don’t understand.

“Cleaning?!” she asks.

“No,” I say tersely (and probably louder than I should). “Tomorrow. Mañana.”

Not my best moment.

After the other two return, we set our agenda for the day: Hang out on Playa Hermosa.

The beach is a short walk away. And when we get there, it’s teeming with people.

Jenn and I grab a couple of chairs in the shade amongst other tourists and hotel guests, while Zoe goes in search of a patch of sand in the son, to get a little colour.

We alternate between staring out at the water, people-watching, and reading, as trinket-peddlars and guys hawking ceviche-in-a-cup, pass by.

I get up and join Zoe for a walk along the beach, picking up pieces of shell and letting the water rush over my toes.

By the time we return to the hotel, I’m overheated, and I take a couple of minutes to myself, while sweating uncontrollably, in our room.

We venture out again and spend some time at the other smaller pool on the hotel premises, for the remainder for the afternoon – reading, and watching neighbourhood cats pass through.

By the time early evening hits, Zoe’s feeling a bit off and tired, so she opts to combat it with sleep, in hopes of avoiding the same fate she’s suffered in La Fortuna.

Jenn and I go down the street to eat dinner and get some food for Zoe. By the time we return, she’s feeling much better – and ready for pizza with anchovies!

We spend the rest of the night drinking supermarket booze, and amusing ourselves with games, until drowsiness overtakes us.

Only one day in the hot, tropical sun remains.

Beachy Life, Bitchy Locals?

We reach Playa Hermosa close to 5 p.m., while there’s still daylight.

Our hotel room is like a mini-villa. Shelves! A huge cupboard! A kitchenette! Air-con AND a ceiling fan! AND – most importantly – it’s close to one of the hotel’s TWO pools. THIS is the life.

I am finally ready for my much-missed shower, and am mere moments away from cleanliness and doing something about my hair, which has gotten increasingly poofy from the dryness.

But it has to wait. Zoe and Jenn want to go eat and buy groceries.

(The small challenges – and temporary frustrations – of travelling with other people.)

Jenn expertly drives us in the dark to “downtown” Playa Hermosa for our second proper meal of the day.

I tackle a chalupa – which, it turns out, is MUCH too much food for me to handle.

After, we hit the supermarket across the street from where Jenn parks our vehicle.

The checkout counter is … for lack of a better word, an experience. But not nnecessarily for the best reasons.

The cashier – who knows no English – is chatting with the bag “boy” (actually a middle-aged man). And it seems almost conspiratorial. As if they’re talking about the tourists in front of them. I, of course, have a very minimal knowledge of Spanish, so I can’t say for sure.

Two boys – pre-teen, perhaps – are carrying on in the lineup behind us. One is my complexion; the other is lighter.

I don’t pay them much mind at first. But then I notice the cashier lean towards the bag “boy”, then shush the boys, as if they’re saying something inappropriate or rude, much louder than they should.

And then I heard one of the boys say:

“Monotiti!”

Accompanied by giggles.

Jenn and I look at each other at the same time, with precisely the same quizzical look.

This is a monotiti (or at least, one type).

It’s an endangered species of squirrel monkey found in Costa Rica and Panama.

It’s also one of the few words we recognize, in our limited knowledge of Spanish.

So when we’re looking at each other, we’re having similar thoughts about where – or to whom – that word is being directed.

Are they calling someone a monkey?

Are they calling … ME … a monkey?

To this day, neither of us knows for sure. And perhaps in actual fact, the people at the supermarket were speaking about something else.

But even on the drive back home, I can’t shake the vibe of unfriendliness I think I’ve just experienced. It’s as if all the fun I’ve had on our trip thus far, as come to a screeching halt – like the needle yanked across and off a vinyl record.

Even on the drive back, I’m quiet and temporarily sullen, with a bad taste in my mouth. And all I want to do is go back to our hotel and have the longest shower imaginable. And just wash, and wash, and wash my hair.

I also want to head home and immediately enroll in a Spanish-language class – not only because of my desire to learn a beautiful language, but to use said language to cuss out locals who think they can get away with making fun of foreigners.

A drink (deserved, I think), and an evening dip in the pool with Jenn and Zoe, helps to dissolve those ill feelings.

When one is in a beautiful country, in a warm pool under a sky full of stars, eventually, one has to shrug and look to the day ahead.

Crouching Scorpion, Missing Camera

Friday, February 17.

It’s early. I’m sitting on my bed, bleary-eyed, waiting for Jenn to finish showering.

We’ve all got to be dressed and filled with food by 7:30 a.m., so we can high-tail it back across the lake to La Fortuna, jump in our vehicle and motor west to the coast.

I hear Jenn make yelping noises. I sleepily smile to myself, assuming that it’s probably due to cold – instead of hot – water streaming from the shower head.

That’s so NOT the case.

Prior to our trip, we were advised to check our shoes in the mornings, for frogs and scorpions. Turns out they forgot to warn us to check our shower stalls, too.

Jenn manages to trap her barb-tailed shower buddy under her soap dish until after breakfast, so she can tell the hotel owner about it.

I decide not to shower in anything except a proper hotel bathroom, until we reach Playa Hermosa.

We gulp down our tasty breakfasts, coffee and tea, grab our things and then do our final room check …

But not before Jenn yanks her soap dish off the tile floor and snaps a picture of The Scorpion She Saw That One Time While Showering in Costa Rica.

I peer over her shoulder to take a look. Yuck! I’m out of the bathroom within seconds.

We load our things into the awaiting taxi and begin our long, winding descent down to the boat pick-up at Lake Arenal.

It’s extremely misty this morning. The clouds and fog seem to come out of nowhere, literally engulfing everything that appears to our naked eyes.

About 20 minutes into this visually fascinating drive, Jenn searches her handbag to pull out her camera. She can’t find it. Anywhere.

It takes another moment to realize that she’s left it at the hotel.

We surmise that she left it on the ledge of the porch, just outside our cabin, while we were carrying our things out of the room.

The best thing to do is to ask the folks at the hotel back in La Fortuna for help, when we return to La Fortuna.

It rains on the boat ride back across Lake Arenal. It’s the only rain we’ll see during the entire trip.

We reach La Fortuna sometime after noon. At the hotel, Jenn sees Menrique at the front desk and explains the situation with her camera.

The first difficulty is trying to find an phone number and an address for the hotel, since – from trying to find online maps of Santa Elena – it appears to sit in the middle of nowhere. It takes a few minutes, but we locate a number, and Menrique calls the hotel.

The next obstacle is trying to figure out how Jenn will get her camera back. She considers getting the hotel owner to send the camera back to Canada by courier. But the obvious question arises: how long will it take to get from Costa Rica to Barrie? That’s no good.

Then she wonders aloud if perhaps she should attempt to drive back to Santa Elena and back to the hotel. Or drive to Santa Elena, leave us in town, and and hire a taxi to drive up there.

Trying to do the math of how long this round-trip will take, Zoe voices her reservations with this option. SIX HOURS?! NO. WAY.

In the end, Menrique uses his personal resources to locate a friend of his, who owns a hotel in Santa Elena proper, and arrange to have him meet us at a gas station on the outskirts of Tilaran. It’s a two-hour drive away, en route to Playa Hermosa, and the detour is minimal.

We all agree to this option.

Zoe and I grab some pastries from the nearby bakery (for the drive), while Jenn firms up the arrangements.

We leave La Fortuna just after 1 p.m. And by 3 p.m., our meeting with Menrique’s friend is a success.

With all our belongings now in our possession, we continue on, towards the sun and pebble beaches in our near future.

Photo of El Scorpion, courtesy of Jenn Hadfield.

Up the Mountain, Down the Cloud Forest

Thursday, February 16.

Zoe gets up. And she’s ooookay!

So we pack up, have a decent breakfast, and board the tourist taxi to Lake Arenal.

The taxi – which is more like a mini-bus – is packed. The three of us wedge ourselves amongst folks with an adventure tour. There are a few older couples, and it’s fun listening to them tease each other. There is at least one couple from Vancouver. Unfortunately we don’t speak to them. But I do chat briefly with a man from Atlanta.

We transfer to a boat that will take us across Lake Arenal. We’re there for a while, as the boat operator has to make sure the boat is entirely filled with tourists before it can depart.

Jenn and Zoe sit in the seat behind me. And for a while, it seems, no one wants to sit beside me. One woman boards with her two young sons – and they don’t want to sit near me, at all. They end up sharing remaining space with two older folks just adjacent to me.

At one point, I make contact with the young woman in front of me and (half) jokingly say, “What? Do I smell?”

In the end, an older gentleman takes a seat next to me … which (for the moment) allays that one insecurity I carry as a traveller of colour.

Then, we’re off. The scenery during the approximately 40-minute ride is lush, green and lovely.

During the trip, Jenn, Zoe and I get to talking with the woman with the two aloof sons. Turns out she’s from New Westminster – a teacher who’s on a four-month sabbatical, and managed to pull her kids out of school for a two-week trip before she continues with her travels.

On the other side of Arenal, we leave the boat in an orderly fashion, with our bags intact.

Jenn, Zoe and I grab another (much smaller) tourist taxi … and the lady from New Westminster and her two sons are amongst the passengers in our cramped vehicle … along with an older couple (whom, Zoe later deduces, are from Israel).

The two kids seem to have loosened up at this point. Perhaps seeing their mom talk to us, is the green light they need to be a bit more friendly. One of them offers chocolate-covered peanuts, and even shows us how to fasten the seatbelts (proof they’ve been in the country longer than we have).

The trip to Santa Elena – the actual town located in the area known as Monteverde – is a slow, very bumpy ascent upwards into the Tilaran mountain range. At one point, it’s actually so bumpy, the rocking motion of the taxi rocks me to sleep.*

We finally arrive at our hotel, and take a look at the scenery it overlooks. It’s nice and comfortably cool. The view is breaktaking.

Our hotel complex is small – with six cabins in all. After checking in with the Spanish-speaking lady who runs the place (in very broken English; her German/English-speaking husband is in town), we set down our things, and meet our temporary next-door neighbours … two couples from Ottawa!

They give us suggestions on where to eat dinner, explain why the beef tastes so good in Costa Rica (apparently, it’s the type of cow they use for eating), and provide the low-down on the ziplining we’re about to experience.

We’ve been at the hotel barely 20 minutes, when another tourist taxi comes to whisk us away to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

Upon arrival and check-in, we’re invited to have a complimentary glass of juice and a cookie.

We then make our way outside the information centre, where we meet our tour guide, Daniel, for the walk around the cloud forest.

He’s really informative and entertaining, showing us all sorts of trees, plants and flowers – including the smallest species of orchids we’ve ever seen.

We even have a (very brief) hummingbird sighting, thanks to Zoe’s eagle eyes.

We also cross several suspension bridges during the course of our walk in the cloud forest – each one seems higher above the ground than the next.

While on one of these bridges, I look out across the forest and catch a glimpse of one of the zipline platforms.

It’s far away, but close enough for me to notice that it’s much higher than the bridge our group is crossing. This is when my nerve almost completely evaporates.**

By this point, though, it is already too late to back out.

Daniel concludes the walk, depositing us back to the starting point at the centre, where we kill 30 minutes before our Big Canopy Experience, a.k.a. the Sky Walk.

There are five of us doing the Sky Walk – all of us, women. We’re fitted with helmets, harnesses, and the metal parts that will attach us to the wire cables above.

We waddle outside, where our two guides – Leonardo and Antony – introduce themselves … and us, to the practice zipline. They explain the basics of what to do (and not do), when zipping along the cables.

As soon as I complete my turn on the practice line, my initial panic back on the suspension bridges, subsides. Temporarily.

The next leg involves riding the Sky Tram (big metal cages with seats), UP over the canopy of trees …

Then getting off the tram, and climbing a tower – I’d guess 20, maybe 30 feet high – for our first real run.

My throat literally goes completely dry as we ascend.

Hoo, boy. This ziplining thing was my suggestion. And Zoe never wanted to do this from the outset.

What have I gotten us into?

The first couple of runs, I am still suffering from nerve-inducing dry-mouth. It’s also getting increasingly windy, which doesn’t help.

But then, on the next run, we get to do a tandem run – two of us to a line. Zoe and I decide to partner up, while Jenn partners up with one of the guides.

As the two other women on the ziplining trek – Spaniards – whirr off into the distance, I suddenly get a bit of inspiration on how to conquer my nerves and allay Zoe’s.

Then, we’re up. We get into position – Zoe in front, me behind her – and as we leave the platform, I open my mouth and start singing:

“I BELIEVE I CAN FLYYYYYYYY …” ***

Despite the wind in my ears, I can hear Zoe laughing. That’s when my nerves completely disappear. We get to the platform on the other side with no problem.

The subsequent lines become easier to navigate, and the whirrrrrrrrr! of the cable as we each zip across no longer makes me nervous. By the end, I feel the adrenaline – or endorphins – in my system. But I’m also pretty happy to finish.

After we’re freed of our helmets and harnesses, we take a stroll nearby, looking for hummingbirds, but we don’t see any. It’s probably too late in the day.

We get a ride back to the hotel, with a number of the staff who have finished work for the day.

That evening, we go into town for dinner at a place our fellow Canadians hotel had recommended, called Morpho’s. The food is fantastic, but filling.

We walk around Santa Elena for a bit, but the wind picks up, and the cold temperature forces us to call it a night and grab a taxi back to the hotel.

None of us stay up late that night. We’re exhausted. And in any case, we have to leave early the next morning for La Fortuna.

The wind knocks at the windows and door throughout the night. But all of us are too tired to care.

*Fun fact # 1: Fun fact: Given enough time, I can fall asleep in almost any motor vehicle.
** Fun fact # 2: I am uneasy with heights. I’m even more uneasy on bridges that swing.
** Fun fact # 3: Singing the chorus to this song lasts as long as a zipline across 1300 feet of rope.

Ziplining picture, courtesy Jenn Hadfield.

Hiking and Hot Springs Galore …

Wednesday, February 15.

We’re up bright and early.

After sorting out our excursion for the day, we take a walk down to a local watering hole  – not in the traditional sense, like a bar – but an actual place where the locals go swimming.

The guy at the hotel reception, Menrique (who’s kindly helped us out with booking activities so far), gives us instructions on how to get there, mentioning that it should only take about 10 minutes.

The walk – with the hot sun beating down on us – seems way longer than we are told. Luckily, there is a tour/information centre on the way there, where the man inside informs us that we aren’t actually that far away.

We reach the side of the road, near a bridge, and angle our way down to the water. Jenn and Zoe dip their toes in the water and take pictures while I – sweating profusely from the sun – keep watch over our belongings.

On the way back, we stop off at the neighbourhood supermarket for a few things.

After lunch, it’s time for our tour. The tour company’s bus picks us up, along with another woman staying at our hotel – a woman named Eva – and makes its milk run until it reaches the starting point of our hike. We’re surrounded by green hills and trees, and have a clear view of the volcano. It’s the closest we’ll get to the molten beast.

Unlike the view from our hotel room, this side of the volcano is completely devoid of greenery. It’s just barren and dirt-coloured.

Our guide is a man named Ramon, who starts off with a good old icebreaker game – inviting us to share our names, where we’re from, and what we do back home. Besides Eva from Germany, others in the group include two young travellers from Israel; two women from New York (not “America”, but “New York”), and another Canadian woman from Saskatchewan.

The tour begins. Ramon starts by telling us a bit about the volcano, showing us “before” and “after” pictures of the area in the late 1960s. Apparently, he used to live in the town that was destroyed during Arenal’s eruption in 1968 … and, as he tells us when the tour is underway, he narrowly escaped with his own life.

It turns out the volcano – which we had hoped would be active – actually became dormant about 18 months before our trip. In fact, it’s believed that it may not be active again. Or, if it is, it will be a long time. That said, people are still forbidden from climbing up the volcano, as avalanches can still be triggered.

We begin our walk along the trail. Ramon stops every so often to show us local plants, explain how folks might use it for home remedies (one was a leaf that was EXTREMELY bitter), and even sample the odd fruit or edible flower.

We also keep our eyes peeled for any animals. No such luck. We just miss a small family of monkeys overhead by mere minutes.

We see a few birds – including some wild turkeys (pictured at left). Ramon tells us we might be lucky enough to spot a toucan. No such luck.

We do spot a little brown robin, which apparently is Costa Rica’s national bird. I ask Ramon why. He offers two widely-known theories (in that country, anyway):

(1) This robin apparently have seven types of songs … which is representative of Costa Rica’s seven regions.

(2) There’s an old tale about a farmer tilling his fields, who notices the robins all around him, eating insects and other pests … which proves helpful in the farmer’s work. And it’s said that, if you see a farmer, chances are you’ll find these robins.

The hike ends. We make our way back to the bus, which then transports us to the various resorts – located at the foot of the Arenal volcano – that offer access to the hot spring pools in the area.

We’re dropped off at the Baldi hot springs, the cheapest of the lot. (The Tabacon Hot Springs are the most expensive of the lot, situated at a five-star resort.)

The springs are fantastic. And some of the pools are super hot. Literally. Instead of starting in a cooler pool and working our way up, my two friends decide to make a beeline for the pool that’s a “toasty” 47 degrees Celsius.

FORTY. SEVEN. DEGREES.

In my mind, I’m seriously concerned that my skin will either burn or melt off my body. I’m also glad that we’re visiting at night, and not in the middle of the day.

Sweet Fancy Moses.

Even when we get out of there unscathed and enter a slightly cooler pool – at 40 degrees Celsius – it is STILL hot. I am relieved (in all senses of the word) when we end up in a cooler pool later on – at 34 degrees Celsius, which is much more comfortable.

It’s a really good thing the pool complex is so enjoyable. Because frankly, the service leaves much to be desired.

The “boys” at the locker room counter barely stop chatting when Jenn is standing before them, waiting for assistance. One of them gives her improper information when she inquires about buying drinks. (He gives her the impression she can start a tab with the number on her wristband; she actually finds out later that she needs to leave her credit card at one of the bars to do this.) And the server at the swim-up bar is less than friendly.

(I suppose they conserve their courteous behaviour during the week, so they have enough energy to smile at the hordes that swarm the complex on the weekends?)

Still, we make the most of a mediocre situation and have a blast.

It’s at the end of our outing, while waiting for the bus to pick us up, that Zoe develops a horrible migrane. Luckily for her, it’s not a long ride back to the hotel, but she promptly went to lie down upon our return.

While she lies down to recover for the next day’s travels, Jenn and I go in search of dinner. We end up at this fast food place down the street, called Taco’s.

Jenn gets a quesadilla; I order a burger combo, with some of the crispiest fries I’ve ever had.

And this is when I bite into The Burger That Ruins Me For All Burgers. (Sadly, I didn’t have the presence of mind to take a photo – sorry, guys.)

I truly have no clue what’s in this thing, how it’s been prepared, or whether it’s the oil in which it’s been cooked. But honestly, TRULY, the burger is like nothing I’ve ever tasted before. In. MY. LIFE. The super-expensive, antibiotic-free, organic burgers I’ve eaten in my neighbourhood back in Toronto doesn’t even come CLOSE to holding a candle to the beef mush presently having a party in my mouth.

I secretly promise myself (1) never to eat beef in Toronto again* and (2) re-double my efforts to visit South America sometime in the next few years – particularly Argentina, where I hear the beef is reknowned.

We return to the hotel for the night. Tomorrow is our big day trip to Monteverde. We hope poor Zoe is well enough to make the trip … or else we will have to think up a Plan B – and fast.

* I, of course, have lied to myself, and have since consumed a number of Canadian burgers. Meh.

Tico Road Trip!

Tuesday, February 14.

The ladies and I rise and shine at 7 a.m., scarf down a decent-sized buffet breakfast and gather our things for the trip ahead.

We hope to be on the road by around 9 a.m. Our rental vehicle – a nice-and-clean Toyota RAV 4 – arrives at the hotel at 9:30.

After checking out the vehicle and figuring it – and the GPS – out, we’re on the road to fun by about 9:50 a.m.

The day is absolutely gorgeous: very warm, and not a single dark cloud in sight.

Between the surprisingly smooth roads, Zoe’s excellent tune choices, and entertaining each other, the three-and-a-half hour drive is anything but dull.

I’m appointed navigator for this leg of trip – a job I feel hesitant about, considering I don’t drive AND am directionally-challenged at times in my day-to-day life. Plus, I don’t drive.

Luckily for Zoe’s printed maps and the GPS (which doesn’t conk out ONCE!), the first leg of the trip is a success.

We also get our first taste of Costa Rican driving. The street we’re on is one lane in each direction. But that doesn’t stop folks from passing in the oncoming late to get ahead. And it doesn’t matter what kind of vehicle they’re in. If they can pass, they WILL. It’s thankfully a good thing that our route is on a major road and is relatively straightforward.

The scenery around Lake Arenal and the glimpses of the volcano en route to La Fortuna is simply breaktaking. We even come across some wildlife – a group of pizotes (known commonly as coatis, long-snouted members of the raccoon family) congregating in the room.

We arrive in the town of La Fortuna at 1 p.m. Checking in our hotel, we are greeted at the reception desk by a young woman who isn’t entirely friendly to us – at first. Within a couple of minutes, she does manage to open up a little, asking us our names, where we’re from, and such.

Our hotel room is pretty no-frills, but has hot water …

And an AMAZING view of the Arenal Volcano, towering with a little bit of a majesty and a dash of menace – over the town. One thing I was surprised by : how much greenery is covering the volcano, from the base upwards. Given its reputation for being an active volcano, I expect it to be completely barren. (This is actually explained to us, on our upcoming hike.)

We unload our things and decide to take a stroll around the town.

I can’t speak for Zoe and Jenn, but my body has definitely forgotten what tropical heat feels like. Despite changing clothes at the hotel, it’s only a matter of minutes before I feel hot and clammy.

We turn onto a street, and we’re discussing about activities to book for the next day, when we’re called over by a local who calls himself Steve (real name: Esteban). He’s running adventure tours, which include a hike, a trip to the hot springs and a meal for $30 U.S.

It’s fine … we suppose. But once we get a look at his slightly over-the-top video – featuring “Steve” in a number of the shots, and a soundtrack which included the song “Higher” by Creed – which, our young salesman says, is included in his super, one-of-a-kind adventure package – we decide amongst ourselves that we surely can find something worthwhile through the hotel.

We stop at a local restaurant for a bite to eat (very filling!) and drop by the nearby supermarket to get some bottled water.

Back at the hotel, we speak to the guy at the reception desk, about booking activities for the following day. Menrique, gives us some more “normal” options with the hotel discount, and we decide to book our activities first thing the following morning – depending on weather.

The afternoon heat has sapped my strength, so I get to do what I rarely do at home in Toronto – I go to the hotel room and NAP.

Afternoon gives way to evening, and the clouds descend – first hovering over Arenal’s cone, then slowly enveloping the volcano in a heavenly blanket. By 6 p.m., it is completely dark outside, and the volcano is invisible.

We go out wandering a second time; this round is much cooler (and more comfortable for my liking). We walk past restaurants, and into shops. We finally stop at an ice cream place, sat down for a bit and chatted about our lives over waffle cones.

At the risk of sounding trite, it is refreshing. It’s not everyday you get to sit down with friends and get to know each other better. Hopefully more talks like these will follow.

I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my Valentine’s Day.