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.

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.

The Road Less Travelled

Last month, my blog buddy Thrill recently posted about an online piece he came across about random daytrips … and how cool the idea actually is.

That got me to thinking about how many places I HAVEN’T been in my own province … some of them only a couple of hours away. Others, a bit longer.

I guess I’d been so busy in recent years exploring the world on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the need to explore my own backyard’s been sorely neglected.

For example, I’ve yet to go to places like Elora, Kitchener-Waterloo, St. Jacob’s or Stratford. I only recently made it down to Windsor, but for the main purpose of attending a friend’s wedding.

But I wouldn’t mind doing something like that this fall … making plans to jump in a car with friends and drive somewhere … taking in the scenery and landscape as it changes from skyscrapers to crops and trees giving me the annual autumn show as they change their leaves. 

Another thing I’ve recently wanted to do more of is hopping state-side and visiting a couple of American cities. Last fall was New York. I’d love to check out places like Chicago or Vegas. Or Washington. Or Portland, Oregon. Or San Francisco …

Oh, I could go on. But I think I’ll stop here. It’ll only make my inner vagabond whimper with longing.

But she’s overdue for an adventure – even if it’s only a tiny one.

The Road To Todra

morocco-march-2009-398Saturday, March 21.

We’re woken up eeearly from our tents.

I’m chilly, and groggy from insufficient sleep. But right now, that doesn’t even matter.

The sun is beginning to rise.

I’m slower than everyone else in getting to the lookout point. I’m incoherent and still trying to wake up.  

So I bring up the rear, walking over with Will, who didn’t get much sleep in the tent and isn’t looking all that hot. His head cold definitely has a grip on him.

Probably about 100 metres away, I decide to make a run for it before I miss the sun rise completely.

And, panting, I see it, just as it’s peeking over the distant dune. It’s perfectly round and not yet blinding, but that soft yellow hue. It’s picking up its pace, quickly rising.

We all stand there for a few more minutes, watching the view, before we turn and head back to camp.

morocco-march-2009-405We switch camels for the ride back. And although I get a dromedary with a nicer hump, I can feel I know the damage has been done.

My lady bits are destroyed

No part of the trip is better than the other. It hurts THE ENTIRE TIME.

We grab our typical breakfast – bread and Berber pancakes (now cold), with a choice of butter, jam, or mini Babybel cheese – and then it’s back in the minibus for our next destination …

A day and a half in a place called the Todra Gorge, located on the eastern side of the High Atlas Mountains. I can only characterize it as Morocco’s answer to the Grand Canyon.

As I’ll find out, it’s a place of great natural beauty. But as the minibus bumps along towards a paved surface, all that Todra means to me for the moment is the promise of a hot shower, laundry, and a great night’s sleep.

We stop in a small town so people can stock up on things – especially booze. While we wait next to the van, across the road, we see these three little boys of varying ages, sitting outside what looks like a little construction job next door. They look to me like they’re brothers, probably as dark-skinned as myself.

(Looking back, I regret not taking a picture of them now, because they were SO cute.)

Cathy and I wave. One of them – perhaps the middle child – shyly looks away, then back at us, smiling. We wave again – the tiniest one waves back. We play “the waving game” for a couple moments more, until everyone returns. It just warms my heart.

morocco-march-2009-423It’s not long – or doesn’t seem like it – before we hit the Todra Gorge and reach our hotel. The building – which is the terracotta colour of the rock face surrounding us – is nestled amid some of the lushest palms and vegetation I’ve seen.

It almost seems as if the whole place is a mirage.

We grab our backpacks and make our way across the road and to the hotel,  passing by an older man painting a metal railing and crossing over a bridge which is fairly solid (despite earlier accounts that it’ll be rickety).

We drop our bags in the main sitting room and plunk our weary bodies down into the cushiony seating as we wait for tea. After catching our collective breaths, we get our room assignments.

And this time, I get my OWN. ROOM.

I love this place.

Seconds after I enter my lodging, I’m looking for clean clothes and soap. I check out the bathroom. The wall is completely covered in tile on two sides. The sink and toilet are closest to the “door”, which is basically a shower curtain. The shower is in the corner. Literally.

Sure, it sounds weird. But that hot shower is heaven.

Some time later, we assemble for a short tour of the aremorocco-march-2009-421a surrounding the hotel. We’re led by Aziz, one of the guys that works there.

He shows us the different kinds of vegetables grown in the small gardens by families in the area – maize, beans, dates, figs, and so on.

He even makes a few of the group members little camel “necklaces” woven from palm leaves. It was his first job as a kid, making and selling them by the side of the road to tourists who would stop.

After returning to the hotel, we relax, sitting around drinking wine or playing card games.

We go to another room for dinner. And it’s fantastic. I have a Berber 0melette. It’s nothing like I’ve ever tasted. And I finish it all.

We were told earlier that there would be drumming. But perhaps another night – all the travelling and food has made us tired.

But that’s okay. Perhaps tomorrow – we’ll have a full day ahead of us to explore what the area has to offer.