A four-hour bus ride through the beautiful Costa Rican countryside finally leads us to La Fortuna. I actually enjoyed the bus ride, gazing out the window as we passed through many towns and small farms. We saw gorgeous canyons, farmlands with grazing cattle, and brightly colored fruit stands spotted along the road.
The town of La Fortuna sits at the base of the active volcano, Mount Arenal. From here there are seemingly endless adventures to be had. After quickly getting settled, the group was back together making our way though the small main street to an “Adventure Company” to sign up for activities the next day. We gather on the large open air balcony at the Desafio Adventure company facing out over the town, with Mount Arenal looming just beyond in the distance, partly covered in the steady clouds that rarely depart along with the smoke streaming out of the crater.
We’re served a 46 proof drink of cinnamon sugar cane and alcohol. It has a strong taste and takes my breath away for a moment… and I suddenly understand why it’s called fire water. Bellies warmed, we watch a short video and consider our many choices including white water rafting, rappelling, horseback riding, bicycling, zip-lining, volunteering at a wild animal shelter, and many, many more. I chose a combo day that allows a full 8 hours of canyoneering (river trailing and rappelling down waterfalls), lunch, and then white water rafting. Nikki and Tim chose the same.
With plans to visit one of the hot springs resorts at the base of the volcano later we all had a few hours to spend in town. Some chose to take a short nature hike and the rest of us wandered the town. Nikki and I popped in and out of shops looking for the various items she was lacking since she came horribly unprepared for this trip! It turns out she literally booked the trip a couple of days before departure and packed her NYC friendly clothing instead of outdoor gear. Along the way to a store we managed to SOMEHOW get lost in this tiny town… (despite Christian’s instructions… twice). We had fun laughing at ourselves as we walked back and forth along the street multiple times, while continually missing the side street we were supposed to be on.
Later in the evening, we’re dropped at the very pretty Baldi Hot Springs resort, and are soon plummeting down a water slide that dumps us a large pool with a wet bar! I momentarily forget it’s the “hot” springs and am shocked at the bath warm water. Dumping in at the bottom, we swim up to the bar and order pina coladas… served in an actual full pineapple! After hanging out at the social wet bar area, many of us head up a dark path further along to spend a good amount of time soaking in the hot springs pools. They are of varying temperatures that get hotter the further along you go. I feel a bit like I’m in a fancy Vegas casino and not a natural hot spring in Costa Rica, but I’m definitely down for any relaxing to be had! (though in hindsight it would have been smart to do this AFTER a long day of rafting and rappelling) After soaking for a long while, we head to another large water slide, none of us were prepared for the 4 foot drop at the end and swallowed quite a bit of water. It was much more fun on the other end, watching those that come after you spin, and twist, and flop off the unexpected edge into the water. The guys and Nikki dared to do it twice; the guys crazily doing it head first! We spent a bit of time looking for Nikki’s lost colones that slipped from her bathing suit top during one of the dumps into the water, but to no avail. All and all… it was a blast! We wrapped up the night at the wet bar, followed by a buffet dinner before heading back to our rooms to prepare for our exciting days ahead out in the wilderness.
Canyoneering & Rafting
Our day starts early at 7am. I’m with two other people from my group that chose the same activities, Tim & Nikki. After a 45-minute drive far out of the town we transfer into the “Jungle Limo” that’s better equipped for driving in well… the jungle! We sit on wooden benches in the bed of the safari truck, as it takes us on a very bumpy ride. Since there is no door on the bed of the truck, falling out is a very, real concern we experience! As we see the place ahead and comment on our luck of not falling out, one of the guides, amusingly reminds us that this is why we signed a waiver! Funny guy… I must say, that all the guides and other Ticos we’ve met so far have been incredibly fun and friendly!
After a brief safety and instructional demonstration, it’s no time before we’re geared up, jumping a fence and walking deeper into the jungle. I can’t get over all the amazingly stunning views in this Costa Rica has to offer. Everywhere! At the first small waterfall the guides hook up some equipment and one of them heads below to catch us if we fall?? Ha! More like help direct us as we get the idea of how this rappelling thing works. I immediately take to the bouncing down, as I let the rope slip between my gloved hands. Our morning continues as we hike though rivers and over rocks between lush forest. I slip on smooth stones (already completely wet by this time anyway). We rappel down waterfalls that get increasingly steeper and at one point we have to hop into a chest-deep pool in the river to get on our way. Around us there are monkey howls in the distance, unrecognizable birds are calling, and the continuous sound of the slow river, with sporadic conversation and hoots of laughter from a few people ahead of us.. unseen, but heard. After a few shorter cliffs we come to a steep waterfall and are told to hang over the ledge. When my turn comes, I grab the rope… and start make my way down the cliff… 125 feet down! As I continue to make my way along after that exciting drop, I take time to enjoy how peaceful it is this deep in the jungle. There are short moments of hiking alone… following the group, that I remember that I could be in the middle of nowhere… well, I kind of am! Finally, the last and steepest rappel is over 200 feet! Halfway down, I’m told to release into a free-fall as the guide below slows the rope at the end to make sure we don’t crash into the ground! Wow! What a rush!
Around a few more bends, we unfortunately come to end and have to “earn our lunch” with 300 steep wooden stairs that will lead us back up to the Desafio building. It practically killed me! Along the steep hike up, one of the guides “entertained” me by telling me more about the jungle and the howler monkeys we could hear around us.
At the top, we rinse off… soaking wet by this point.. and enjoy a typical Costa Rican meal. Casado, with guava juice, rice/beans, a tasty cucumber, cilantro salad eggs and more. I enjoy the view from the upstairs patio as we relax and enjoy breakfast before heading back out for rafting. It’s only 10:30am at this point and I’ve already had a hell of a day!
Back in the jungle limo, then into a van we take our journey to the river for white water rafting. We have a couple new guides that point out sites on the road and animals while we drive. The weather has been a bit grey all morning and it rains a bit along the way. Typical weather in Central America. Quick rainfalls, that stop as fast as they started. Weather changes back and forth quickly. Once at the river, we opt not to don sunscreen since it’s so cloudy… a decision we soon regret because the moment we put on our gear (helmets and life vests) and jump in the boat… the sun comes shining down! Completely perfect weather for rafting though… almost as though we had planned it.
Following a quick instructional demonstration, we’re off and I quickly learn why all the river guides have such great bodies. Being a guide is tough work! They maneuver and control the boat the entire time. I’ve been nervous to raft this entire time, because I’m certain I will fall out of the boat, which I ultimately don’t… but I come awfully close! We paddle, dodge rocks… and nearly tip out of the boat on many occasions. On one occasion, our new friend Jim actually DOES tip out of the boat. Tim catches him in the nick of time, as we all laugh for quite a while reenacting Jim hanging out of the boat, his back dragging along the rapids, as Tim clutches his vest! During one of the level 3 rapids, we all tip and a few of us fly onto the floor on the other side of the raft! Luckily, not into the river though. During the mellow parts, when our guide Diego directs us to a stop rowing, we see many animals in the trees surrounding us. White heron, turkey vultures, bright blue butterflies, kingfisher and even some sloths! One of the lazy creatures was actually awake, wide eyes staring down. Considering they sleep 20 hours a day, that’s a lucky site in my book! Halfway along the river we stop at a calm spot along the river bank to enjoy a snack of fresh pineapple, bananas and watermelon. BEST pineapple I have ever had. For sure. There is a chance to swim along the route later, but I opt to lay back and sunbathe instead, enjoying the quiet of the river, while the guys splash around outside the boat. It is such a beautifully perfect day.
As we come to the end of our rafting,we’re taken to an outdoor restaurant to enjoy lunch and a couple of beers. No joke, the second we’re back in the van… it starts raining again. I’m so thankful the sun came out for the entirety of our rafting adventure. During the drive back to La Fortuna, Diego tells me about a couple of good spots to go out tonight… it is Friday after all.
What a day! No questions… I am absolutely smitten with Costa Rica and can’t wait for every day that follows.