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  Рnot in the traditional sense, like a bar Рbut 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 Рincluding 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.

Turning Lemons into Lemonade

“Bizarre last minute question,” began the message on my Blackberry, “but ru (sic) busy tonight? I have an invite to a spa launch + wondered if u would like to join me?”

I gazed bleary-eyed at the screen, reading and re-reading the note, and groaning inwardly.

I’d just awoken from a long nap¬†about three minutes earlier.¬†So processing the impromptu invite from my friend (author of Play Anon) – and the personal logistics to make this happen –¬†took a bit longer than usual.

I asked her about the time and dress code. She responded … and¬†asked me if I’d be ready for 6 p.m.

That’s less than 45 minutes from now, I thought. Knowing how slow I move, especially after sleeping, I didn’t think I could get ready that fast. Plus, I didn’t think¬†I was in the right frame of mind to¬†be around other people.

I wrote her back, asking if I could I pass on the invite.

She was persistent –¬†offering to pick me up at 6:30 p.m. instead. And,¬†I relented.

Reflecting upon it today, I’m glad she was. Besides¬†getting out of the house, I spent¬†some time catching up with my friend. And, that wasn’t all!

The spa we went to was launching a new service: foot massages on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. On the way home from work with tired feet? Or, getting ready for a night on the town? Get a foot massage.

Besides meeting some people, sipping a little prosecco and nibbling on some very tasty appetizers, each person who attended the event got a free, 20-minute foot massage … which was absolutely fantastic!

I returned home later that evening with relaxed¬†feet, thank-you cookie in hand (see above) and in a happier state than when I left.¬†I inwardly¬†chided myself for initially resisting the invitation. I honestly¬†can’t imagine what¬†my evening¬†would have been like, had I stubbornly dug in my heels and refused my friend’s invitation.

Oh, but wait –¬†I can.

And that has me thinking about how I should make the most of my summer.

Unlike previous years, I’m not taking a vacation anywhere. Not out of town, province or country. I’m not even really taking any vacation days – I can actually count the number on one hand (minus fractions).¬†I’ll¬†probably be working every weekend the entire¬†summer.

With the weather well into double digits,¬†the¬†battle to¬†balance my social life has already become more of a challenge. Because of my upside-down schedule, I’m socializing on “school nights”, when I should be sleeping, because when will I see my friends?¬†And I don’t fully enjoy myself because I’m constantly watching the time.

Conversely, on my days off, I live almost hermit-like, because I know very few people who also have weekdays off. So most of it ends up being spent indoors, looking at other friends’ Facebook pictures of that awesome deck party they went to the weekend I was working. And then it makes me resentful, so by the time I return to work, I’ve already worked up a sulky mood¬†to last the¬†next four days.

So this month, my goal is to rectify this. I need¬†to make an effort to be a¬†little less of a sucky baby¬†and find those friends in¬† similar work situations –¬†and make the most of my “weekend”.

Go for brunch more often. Go shopping. Take a long walk somewhere. Do something I¬†don’t normally do. Hopefully find friends who have dinner parties and deck hangouts on Monday or Tuesday nights. And just do fun summer stuff when people are stuck in their office cubicles, whining on their Facebook statuses about how¬†they wished it was Friday.

And, while I’m at it, I need to get out of town at least once this season.

If I can do any Рor all Рof this, then perhaps I can successfully cling to my sanity for the long Рand hopefully hot Рwork days of summer that lie ahead.