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.
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.