54. La Fortuna
The bus to La Fortuna followed Lake Arenal, with occasional glimpses of Volcan Arenal when the clouds cleared. It made a pleasant change from the nothingness we often saw on our bus trips.
La Fortuna was not the most exciting town we had visited. Other than a meagre central park and church, there were zero sights to see. Tour offices abounded, and we spoke to a few about walks in the area. Maps did not seem to exist (I guess because everyone signed up for a tour). If we could avoid a tour, we would.
Danny wasn't feeling the best on our first night, so he settled for a cheese sandwich for dinner. As I was a tad more peckish, I decided to cook for myself. I use the term "cook" loosely. Into a saucepan went a tin of mixed vegetables (including mushroom, a gourmet ingredient in this part of the world), a tin of tomato paste, a tin of refried beans, plus the addition of soy sauce and chili sauce from our traveling stocks, and my dinner was done. You would think I would have learned more being married to a chef. Nope.
Heavy rain fell all night, but that didn't stop us catching a bus out to Volcan Arenal the next morning. We spoke to two different tour offices at the base of the mountain about walks in the area, and chose to go with neither. Instead we continued down the road towards the Observatory, catching sight of some toucans and a tiny yellow pit viper on the way. Three kilometres later an elderly Costa Rican couple with almost no English stopped to give us a lift for the remaining six kilometres. They even negotiated the cheaper "Costa Rican resident" entrance fee to the park for us.
The Observatory itself was just a fancy hotel and restaurant, with beautiful gardens and great views towards the volcano. Here we caught glimpses of an agouti and a coati, identifying these animals without referring to a picture board. We presumed our increasing knowledge would have us ready to start leading tour groups soon. The Observatory was also the starting point for a trek to Cerro Chato, Arenal's smaller, dormant cousin.
The first hour was relatively easy, initially through lush, green forest, walking alongside a river with a waterfall, before opening up into pastureland. The next 45 minutes were the complete opposite. Wet, humid rainforest, with inclines that I swore were approaching 90 degrees. It was relentless. When we finally reached the crater rim we thought it was over. It wasn't. To hike down to the lagoon in the middle of the crater we first had to walk around the rim, which was one massive pit of mud. Next we basically slid down the hill to the lagoon, covering ourselves head to toe in dirt. The clouds hovering over the water made the views almost non-existent for much of the time, and we were advised not to swim in the water. It seemed like a lot of effort for little reward.
... to this. Straight up.
After scrambling our way back up to the rim, we chose to hike down the other side of the volcano. This side wasn't as muddy, but it was equally steep with dozens of giant stairs to climb down (a lot of jumping was involved). It then started raining, so ponchos were donned but that didn't stop our feet from getting soaked. At least it washed away some of the dirt. It continued to rain for the one hour trek back into town. To make matters slightly worse, Danny slipped over on a rock and landed on his backpack, which held my sunglasses. Danny survived. My sunglasses did not.
As a treat to ourselves we booked into Baldi hot springs for a night, one of the numerous resorts around town all offering pretty much the same thing: endless hot springs and endless relaxation. We decided we had been roughing it for long enough and we craved an escape from the cheapness that our lives had become. Everyone needs a holiday from their holiday, right?
Baldi was amazing. 25 hot springs, six cold pools, four water slides, several swim up bars, waterfalls that felt like massages, sunbeds inside the pools - we had died and gone to heaven. Even though it was cold outside and rain fell most of the time, we hopped from pool to pool all afternoon. I couldn't get enough of the water slides, especially one that shot me out into a funnel, sent me spinning around the edge before dumping me out the bottom. I might have overdone it though, as I came away with huge red welts on my back. Completely worth it.
I couldn't believe the bar wasn't open at 9am.
Our room was also incredible, with the biggest and most comfortable bed I had ever slept in. Carpet, minibar, TV, cleanliness, private bathroom, large shower, balcony - screw the rest of the holiday, I was staying here. We had cleverly brought a bottle of red wine with us, knowing it was much cheaper in the supermarket than at the hotel. We jumped into bed, watched a movie, ate junk food and devoured the Spanish red wine, completely forgetting the backpacking life we had been living over the last few months.
After gorging on the buffet dinner we hit the pools again, which were much nicer at night when all the day visitors had left. It was still raining, but it only added to the experience. I couldn't imagine being anywhere else.
Breakfast the next morning was another buffet, where we once again stuffed ourselves stupid. We weren't used to seeing this much food, or such a wide variety, so we took full advantage of it. After a little more time for TV/comfy bed/digestion, a quick swim and some water slide action, we regretfully bid farewell to Baldi. Back to basics...