Tag Archives: history

The Death Railway

Taking the advice of the owner of the Baan Are Gong Homestay, I headed to Kanchanaburi after several lovely days in Ayutthaya.  I opted to take the mini-bus there, which cost considerably more than the local bus, but it got us all there (other travelers included) in a fraction of the time.  By “considerably more” I mean it cost $12, which is only about $8 more than what the local bus would have cost, so really it was a teeny investment to save potentially an entire day of being on the road.

Along the way I couldn’t help but see so many similarities in the terrain that reminded me of Florida.  Were it not for passing the occasional Wat (Temple) here and there, and of course stores with names written in Thai, I would have seriously thought I was back in the Sunshine State.

Sunshine State???
Sunshine State???

After about 3 hours (with a 10 minute break half-way) we arrived in Kanchanaburi.  Kanchanaburi (among other things) is home to the Bridge on the River Kwai (part of the “Death Railway”), a war museum, and several war cemeteries.  Most people have heard of The Bridge on the River Kwai because of the novel “The Bridge over the River Kwai” by Pierre Boulle published over 60 years ago now.  Though I have read the book a LONG time ago, the significance and history never really hit me until I was standing on the ground where it all happened.  You read in school about the World Wars and all the countries involved, but it just doesn’t make quite the same impact on paper.

The Railway (which the bridge is part of) runs from Bangkok to Burma (now Myanmar) and was built by the Empire of Japan in 1943 using slaves for its construction.  Slaves consisted of civilian Asians and Prisoners of War (POWs) from the Netherlands, England, Australia, America, New Zealand and Canada.  Over 100,000 slaves, just shy of 50% of the original population working on the railway, died during the project, hence it came to be known as “The Death Railway”.

Today the railway still exists and it even still runs.  Additions to Kanchanaburi due to the railway construction includes a War Cemetery dedicated to the almost 7,000 Allied prisoners who lost their lives during the project and a separate monument erected by the Japanese Army in February 1944 in honor of those who died.  Once a year in March, voluntary members of the Japanese community in Thailand assemble there for a memorial ceremony to honor those who perished.  So many lives lost again in cruel and unnecessary ways for the advancement and power of others.

There are two “main” roads in Kanchanaburi, one runs right through the center of the city providing easy in and out access and is lined with every possible business imaginable.  The second meets with the first, but veers off toward the River and runs parallel to it.  It’s the second road that dead ends at the Bridge and along this long road is where the majority of hostels, bars, Thai massage shops, and restaurants can be found.  Or in other words, it’s the main tourist strip.  Bars are a dime a dozen with several hanging signs that boast they will get you drunk for only 10 baht (about $.30).  Though I was actually smart and DIDN’T wander in myself to see if that claim was legit, I have heard from several others that yes, yes the advertisement is NOT false, lol!!

I stayed in a little hostel called the Green View Hostel right in the center of tourist-ville, but it was tucked back just enough off the road to drown out all the street noise.  For 200 baht a night I got a very large and clean private room with a private bathroom (SCORE!!!) surrounded by lush beautiful foliage.  I was practically the only one staying there during the 4 nights I was there and honestly it’s beyond me as to why because the place was absolutely lovely!!  I wouldn’t recommed any other place unless one was looking to spend at least twice what I paid so they could be on the River.

In general the feeling I got from Kanchanaburi is that it’s a “good ol’ boy’s” place.  There were so many older men from Australia or England staying year round because of their various Thai girlfriends.  I found it to be such a cliché really.  Mostly they stayed steadily drunk all day and shared personal stories about their lives and their girlfriends that I really never cared to hear about.  Unfortunately they were also somewhat unavoidable because every time I’d go to eat somewhere one or two would inevitably come to chat… whatever sign I had on my forehead that made them think I somehow cared to hear about their sob stories, I promise I tried multiple times to scrub OFF!

Luckily there were several others around who were pleasant (not from England or Australia interestingly enough) to be around and chat with.  But I will come back to that in a second…

I lingered in Kanchanaburi for 5 days, and honestly the only reason I stayed so long was because I just couldn’t decide what my next move/place to visit would actually be.  I had heard of the Erawan National Park where the famous 7 tier waterfall is and really wanted to go there, but I didn’t want to do a day trip because the earliest bus would get there at 10am and then we would have to leave again at 4pm.  It was possible to camp out there but reserving a spot was harder than doing my taxes!

The woman at Baan Are Gong recommended going to Sangkhlaburi to see the famous Mon bridge, but it was over 200 kilometers from where I was near the border with Myanmar (Burma) and the only way to get back to other places in Thailand like Chiang Mai would be to go back through Kanchanaburi (since the Myanmar border is closed currently) and that just seemed like a waste of time to me.

I just couldn’t decide.  I debated literally in my sleep and would wake nightly to conjur a new plan of where to go/what to do.  The logistics of it was killing me.  The only way to get to the Erawan National Park was from Kanchanaburi.  The only way to get to Sangkhlaburi was also from Kanchanaburi, even though the National Park is ON THE WAY TO Sangkhlaburi…. Grrr….. I was close to just saying “screw it”, I’ll skip going all the way up to Sangkhlaburi and will just show up at the Park and hope there is a place to camp available…

Then at lunch, the day before I planned to leave I met a lovely man from Germany.  We got to chatting and he told me he had just gotten back from Sangkhlaburi.  Excellent!  I can ask him if it’s worth it!  I posed the question and out came his IPad.  For the next 20 minutes he showed me picture after picture and mini-movie after, well, you get the idea.  Ok, ok.  I have to go there.  New plan (number 192): make the long haul to Sangkhlaburi first, then go to the Park (via another stop in Kanchanaburi).

For some reason, even though all the other plans just didn’t feel right, suddenly this one did.  And now I know why…

On To Sangkhlaburi New Year’s: Human Version

Back to Thailand

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Potential Controversy

Before parting from writing on Berlin, I did want to bring up a potentially controversial opinion of mine… During the tour the guide spoke about some history back in the 1910’s and 20’s when Berlin was The PLACE to be in Europe.  Rock Stars, politicians, celebrities and generally anyone who wanted to live to party flocked to Berlin.

Germany at one point in the 1910’s and 20’s was having financial troubles however , even though the party went on in Berlin!  To help the country out of trouble Germany borrowed or was given money from the U.S. and then it really became good times in Berlin.   But then the Stock market crashed in the U.S. beginning the depression and it also directly affected life in Berlin.  Times got really tough and hard there as well.  No one knew where to look or what to do.  The life that people had become accustomed to was in grave danger.

Then along came a young man who made promises that he could fix the economy and get  Berlin and Germany back to greatness once again.  And with that promise in hand everyone followed.  And Hitler came to power.

Now all of that is history.  What I wonder is whether we have really learned anything from that to prevent it from happening again.  Or are we still trapped by ourselves, in a way, of being so used to life being great that the minute it goes sideways we look to someone to fix things for us, then end up giving our power and lives away to the hands of those whose intentions are not right or good ones?

Some of my German friends have mentioned before that in their opinion Germans in general aren’t proud of their history involving one Adolf Hitler, and I feel the same in that I’m ashamed of parts of the history in the U.S… What I guess I’m getting at is that even though hindsight is 20/20 so much of the World’s negative history was preventable.  And as we are currently living in the present, creating history for the years to come, I just hope that we can look to empower ourselves or others based on what is good or right and not on what is “good enough” and “right now”.

The wrongs in our histories are there to teach us lessons.  I hope we learn from them.  And I’m not speaking here just about the history in Germany.  I’m using it as an example of things going on right now especially in the States with the “powers that be” allowing so many disgusting events to occur (GMO’s in food, scare tactics in the media, vaccinations becoming more mandatory, drones, the governments right to search and seize or even kill without just cause).  How much have we really learned from history and how much of our freedom and the freedom of others are we willing to give away to feel “warm and safe” in our own little lives?

I know the above is very off topic from my regular posts on just traveling and good times, but since it was something I thought of a lot after visiting Berlin and taking the tour, I just had to share it- whether for better or worse.

On to Amsterdam!!!!!

Back to Europe

Berlin

Ah, Berlin!!  So many things to say about Berlin!!  What an awesome energy!!  Hip, cool, a strange mix of modern and older history.  This city is just busting at the seams with a young vibe.  Of course, while it does have a history that extends hundreds of years, in a way (due to being completely destroyed during WWII) it is a new city.  Graffiti can be found on just about every surface throughout the city and there’s a wildness in the air that speaks to a freedom of “come as you are and you will be accepted”.  Such a paradox given the very recent history of the city basically being imprisoned- either during the War or the Wall.  Maybe it is only due to all the turbulence in its recent history, but Berlin also seems confused as to which direction it wants to go.  There has been so much upheaval there relatively recently and I’m curious how it will continue to grow.

I stayed in a super sketchy looking section of town in a hostel called Jetpak Alternative.  To their credit, they advertised that they are in a sketchy area complete with dog sh*t and lots and lots of graffiti.  Across the street is a park that anyone who isn’t looking for trouble or drugs should just stay out of.  The hostel itself was wonderful!  It was a little nerve-wracking walking around the neighborhood after dark at times since people would often come up to you asking if you wanted drugs.  But I felt safe enough and would stay in that hostel again.  The people were nice and informative and it once again had that fun and inviting vibe that I had recalled of hostels while traveling in Central America yet didn’t encounter at all at the hostel in England.  I really wanted to stay another night but wasn’t able to since they were fully booked.  So I took that as a sign to keep on moving!

In the time I did spend there I joined in for a “free” walking tour:)  The morning before the tour walked from the hostel to the meeting point (Parizer Platz) just taking in the sights and stopping along the way for pictures.  I took a quick tour of the Checkpoint Charlie Museum (quick because I didn’t realize I was running out of time before the tour!) which was very impressive and quite moving!  The ways in which people came up with to escape Berlin while the Wall was up was amazing!

We started (as mentioned above) at Parizer Platz, then headed to the Holocaust museum, the Berlin Wall, the now parking lot where Hitler’s underground bunker was located, the real Checkpoint Charlie location, to some churches, a theater and ended in the square where Hitler ordered all books be burned (across from the University).  As I’ve done before I will share my favorite stories of the tour but not all the information below:)

At the end of the tour I took the train back with a guy that was also staying in my hostel (he was also in the tour) since I had been walking about 7 hours at this point! This does remind me though of the train situation in Germany… It really is on the honor system as to whether or not you buy tickets!!  They don’t have any gates stopping you from getting onto the train without a ticket, so while technically one could gamble by hopping on a train for free to get to their destination, I wouldn’t recommend it simply because plain-clothed cops are apparently always present and randomly checking for people aboard without tickets.  And there is a hefty fine for those who do try to ride for free…  Just sayin’ 🙂

Highlights of the tour:

Hotel Adlon: this hotel is THE MOST expensive hotel to stay in Berlin.  It is famous for 2 reasons… the first and most recent event, it is the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his baby over the balcony railing.  The second (and more historical) is that it is only one of two buildings that was not bombed and was still standing after the war!!  Everything else was destroyed!!  However, years later a group of Russians (as part of an army if memory serves) stayed in the hotel and proceeded to engage in a pastime that is quite popular among many: drink!!  They drank and drank and drank and at some point someone, somehow started a fire that caught and burned down part of the hotel!!  So there is a joke now where the hotel was able to survive a war, but NOT a Russian party, lol!!!! 😉

Hotel Adlon
Hotel Adlon

Holocaust Memorial: it was just so moving.  There is a museum that is part of the memorial that I unfortunately was not able to make it to but certainly plan to when I make it back there!  The artist who designed the memorial did a fabulous job with it for sure!  It was thought-provoking, moving, inspiring and emotional!!  A must see for anyone who visits!  And I may add that it was probably one of the few areas that did not have any graffiti on it at all:)

Hitler’s Underground Bunker: Interesting information here that I’d never heard before about Hitler.  First that he had Parkinson’s Disease and was taking numerous drugs (LSD, liquid cocaine eye drops, etc) to try to keep even keel, so to speak.  It really shouldn’t have surprised me that he was on drugs given how absolutely loony tunes he was, but it did.  The second thing was that he got married!  Eva, his bride married him and agreed to a suicide pact with him.  She ended up killing herself before he did himself in.  Good riddance!  Oh and the underground bunker isn’t marked in any way because the government doesn’t want the crazies out there setting up some sort of memorial in his honor on the site.  Good idea!!

Standing on Hitler's Underground Bunker
Standing on Hitler’s Underground Bunker

Berlin Wall:  this whole idea just fascinated me… Why would a government build a wall then FORCE people to stay on one side or the other in order to build a “stronger” government????  I just don’t get it!!  Anyway, my favorite bit about this part was the clever escape one family succeeded in fleeing East Berlin.  The father worked in a building nearby and managed to smuggle his family in the building before it closed.  They hid in the building until everyone left for the night then changed in all black clothing and went to the roof.  They flung a line from the roof over the wall to the other side where a friend of theirs was waiting and basically zip-lined from the roof to the other side of the wall!!  What’s even funnier is that a guard of the wall saw this activity taking place but didn’t sound any alarm because he thought for sure it was an undercover op going on, lol!!!

Prophecy from 1820:  the below plaque basically translates to “wherever they burn books they burn only people at the end”.  That isn’t an exact translation but I did find it interesting that it was a statement made in 1820 by Heinrich Heine, a German poet, and it was justly posted at the site where Hitler had ordered all books to be burned, just before he really started to come into his power.  And as we all know his reign sadly and very unfortunately did end with the burning of people.

Prolific Wise Words from 1820
Prolific Wise Words from 1820

 

More Pictures from Berlin

On to Potential Controversy

Back to Europe

Munich

Munich is absolutely lovely!!!  I was very shocked on how green the city is!!  Seriously they have so many parks in the heart of the city!!  I figured it would be much like every other city: drowning in nothing but buildings with a token park here and there.  But not so with Munich!  It is individual, full of history, character and very friendly and welcoming people!  There’s the synopsis, now here are the details;)

Before going to Munich, on a whim and on a promise, I shot off an email to Nikki whom I met and traveled with through the San Blas Islands in Panama.  In fact, she was the clever woman who coined “modern day pirates” to describe our sailboat crew:)

I say on a whim because though we had exchanged a few emails, we really hadn’t kept in touch a whole lot (I don’t Facebook) and since it had been so long since I’d emailed her, I wasn’t sure first whether she even had the same email, and second whether she would respond.  I had made her a promise long ago when we parted in Colombia however that if I ever made it to Munich, I would look her up!  So, about a week or so before going to Munich I wrote her an email to let her know I would be in town for the day.

I was humbled to hear back from her and even more tickled that she too had the day off and was able to meet me!!  The good in people never ceases to amaze me and it’s a blessing to know people who, even after years of no contact, extend a hand of friendship!!

I made it to Munich early in the morning and after calling Nikki agreed to meet her at a coffee shop near the Odeonsplatz underground station.  As I made my way out from the underground I could hear the joyous music of Oktoberfest celebrations and once out on the street was greeted by a lovely parade!!  I made my way along the road trying to get somewhere to take some pictures when a very nice group of people offered me a stool to stand on so I could get above the crowd:)  Thankfully one of them spoke a little broken English and I asked where the coffee shop was (all I could see was Starbucks and we weren’t meeting there!!).  Once directed and all the pictures were taken, I headed to meet Nikki.


Seriously it was as if no time at all had ever passed between us!  She looked just the same as she did before: fabulous!  And we had a great time catching up in each other’s lives and reminiscing on the good times we had during the San Blas trip:)  We hung out for a little catching up, then she proceeded to give me the VIP walking tour of Munich!!

First stop was just nearby, a place called Feldherrnhalle, which is where Hitler began the plotting of his Nazi regime before setting up in Berlin.  What is amazing is that as he began to take on more popularity and power, it was mandatory that people walking in front of this building had to salute to the soldiers standing in front to show that they were with Hitler.  If you walked in front without saluting you would get in serious trouble!!  So, for those who opposed Hitler, they would bypass walking in front of the Feldherrnhalle by walking down the street just behind called Viscardigasse.  Down this street today you will find a golden path laid out in bronze bricks symbolizing the path of freedom.  This path was walked by all who opposed Hitler.  It was their way of rebelling Hitler and what he stood for.

Across from this building is the Residence of Munich (Residenz Munchen) where the Royal Family lives and the lions statues guarding the entrance are rubbed by passersby for good luck!

The Residence of Munich leads onto the Hofgarten where there is a lovely little building topped off with a little monument.  Here they have many musicians who come to practice their skills and even monthly they put on a formal waltz dance event!!

From there we headed past the Art Museum and headed to probably the most interesting or at least shocking part of Munich… Surfers!!!  Yes, I typed correctly: surfers!  Apparently some very clever surfers wanted a way to continue to practice their skills and keep in shape year round without “chasing the waves” so they made their own!!  In the Eisbach river, just at the start of it where it flows under a bridge, several stones were dropped to the river bottom and eventually enough were planted in to create a wave!!  And due to the natural fast current through the river, the wave is large enough to basically simulate an ocean wave!  So darn clever!!!

This little surf spot is in a way the beginning of the English Garden (Englischen Garten).  The English Garden is the largest garden in Munich and it is even LARGER than Central Park in New York City!!

We made our way past the Japanese Teahouse (Japanisches Teehaus Kanshoan)

to an area where if you choose you could sit out nude

English Garden Nude Area
English Garden Nude Area

finally to the Monopteros.  This monument was once overrun by drug addicts but thanks to an increased presence of cops wandering the streets, the momument was abandoned by the addicts and spruced up for locals and tourists to enjoy:)

From the Monopteros it was on to the Chinese Temple (Chinesischer Turm) where a little beer garden was conveniently located, so of course we had to stop for a BEER!!!!!  It was here during a bit of a passing thunderstorm where I learned the history of beer gardens… Long ago when there weren’t any refrigerators, companies cleverly decided to put kegs of produced beer under trees that provided lots of shade (hence natural refrigeration).  So much beer was being made that companies would invite people out to these “gardens “with kegs of beer under each tree to drink the beer while it was fresh and cold!  All they asked was people paid for the beer, but otherwise you could bring your own food, etc.  So these beer gardens began to gain popularity as almost a social or fun day in the park so to speak with cheap, delicious beer, your own picnic and tons of other people to socialize with:)

After a few pints we walked our way to the Siegestor, a triumphal arch that has a statue of Bavaria on top leading 4 lions!  It was originally dedicated to the glory of the Bavarian army but today it is a monument and reminder for peace.  Absolutely love it!!

On we went past the University to perhaps my favorite building of all I had seen that day: St. Peter’s Church (Peterskirche)!!  Just absolutely stunning in my opinion and so playful!!  Notice the dragon climbing up the church and the timekeeper…

I could have spent hours looking at the church just discovering new things about it but alas we were getting a bit hungry, so we headed to a great restaurant, had some delicious local food then headed to Nikki’s where she graciously allowed me to crash for the night:)  However, NOT before helping her to fix her anklet!!  We had both purchased one in the San Blas Islands from the Kuna Indigenous tribe but sadly hers had fallen off.  She kept the beads and the strand however so I helped to affix it back on:)  Good times!!!

Repaired San Blas Anklet, yay!!
Repaired San Blas Anklet, yay!!

 

On to Berlin

Back to Europe

Volcan Arenal Tour

Arriving at the Red Lava tour office at 2:00 (they did offer to pick me up from my hostel at no extra charge but I declined) I was quickly accompanied by 3 girls from Holland, and 2 spanish speaking gentlemen.  We were told by the tour group that the last part of the tour would include a dip in natural hot springs so if we wanted to have an alcoholic beverage during that time, then we should go around the corner to the grocery store to pick some up.  They provided a cooler for our purchases and within a half hour we were all in the van and on our way to the Arenal volcano.

It only took about 15 minutes (including a stop for some afar pictures of the volcano and a stop to see some toucans which promptly flew away as everyone readied their cameras) to get to our destination.  Now, I really wish I could recall the name of the hotel that we were taken to, but sadly cannot.  The view from the hotel was amazing!  We were quite literally up close and personal with the volcano!  And to boot, the hotel was quite well landscaped so the views in the near vicinity were also quite spectacular.  We were given a little time to wander our new surroundings and take all the views in.  The hotel had a deck on the back-end of it that looked onto the volcano and a beautiful lake below.  The scenery really was breathtaking!  After some time spent on the deck (and several pictures later) we returned to the parking lot to officially start our tour and spotted a family of baby raccoons playing and hanging out in the trees just feet from us!!  Needless to say, the next 10 minutes or so were spent cooing over the baby raccoons and taking a gazillion pictures of their every adorable move!!  It was hard to tear ourselves away from them, but we were forced to leave the parking lot area soon after that… not because of the tour, but because of the storm that erupted above us raining down buckets of water on us!

Right about now is when the sensible traveler would say “Storm?  No worries, I have my poncho or umbrella or rain coat with me!”  I however, was not one of the sensible travelers on this day.  And even though I did contemplate bringing it with me, I didn’t because the sky looked clear and showed no signs of raining at all!  Lesson learned: no matter what the sky may or may not look like at the time, always bring your poncho as at any given moment the weather can shift and go from sun to pouring buckets.

It is for this next reason as well that you don’t want to be caught without a poncho when needed: none of the other travelers had a poncho with them either (except one) and as we all stood huddled under the porch shelter of the hotel, our guide suggested that we purchase a poncho so we could still walk in the rain.  Reluctantly one by one we lined up at the hotel desk and purchased a poncho for $2.40 a piece.  What we received in return was the thinnest, cheapest and lightest piece of plastic.  Seriously it was so darn thin that a couple of people split theirs just trying to get theirs on!  Once we were finally all “ponchoed” the guide said “ok, let’s go!”… Where did the guide take us first??  To an indoor room on the second floor of the hotel for a chat about the history of the volcano!  By the time we were done with that discussion, the rain had stopped and none of us had any use for the ponchos at all, therefore making the purchase of them completely unnecessary!  Hysterical, right??  Or perhaps ironic…

Well, ok I really shouldn’t say that the poncho purchase was completely useless as I have used it since to wrap wet or damp clothing in prior to shoving them in my bag when traveling from one destination to another… But it was useless for the specific intention it was purchased for.  But I digress.

Anyway, the chat about the volcano really was quite fascinating.  Apparently long ago when people were first settling in La Fortuna, they had no idea that the volcano was indeed a volcano.  They lived beside the volcano lake and swam in the waters and climbed the volcano.  There never was any issue with this lifestyle until, of course, the volcano erupted and wiped out a good portion of the people there.  Those who settled further (and on the ¨correct¨ side of it) from the volcano survived but the majority of the town was completely wiped out.  Also, there are actually 4 volcanos all in the same area.  The one that is and has been active most recently actually began at the base of the original volcano.  As the lava cooled from this ¨base¨ volcano it piled higher and higher until reaching and even surpassing the height of the original cone volcano structure!  You can see evidence of this when viewing the volcano from some of the angles, for there seems to be a cone peak that levels off and then it climbs higher to a higher point.  The lower cone is the original one, and the higher peak is actually the volcano that is erupting from the base!  Pretty cool stuff!!  The guide also mentioned how several people have tried to climb up to the top of the volcano since the first eruption that wiped out the original town (1968 if I recall correctly).  None were successful and one even died trying.

Once the history lesson was over (and rain) we headed off on foot to our next tour destination: a waterfall!  Now it was not the La Fortuna waterfall that is in the National Park, but another smaller one not too far a hike from the hotel we were driven to.  Along the way we learned about indigenous plants of Costa Rica such as the citronella (which we all plucked a fruit from and rubbed all over our bodies to naturally prevent mosquitos from dining on us), a cacao plant, banana trees and the Cecropia tree that indigenous tribes used to get high!  They would wait for the leaves to fall and dry them out, then smoke them to produce a high.  Interestingly enough, it is the leaves of this tree that sloths prefer the most to snack on and it is somewhat of a joke that it’s because they eat these leaves that they are so slow:)  Whether the leaves actually produce a high or not, I do not know but it’s certainly interesting information!  We were also pointed out a banana spider, which due to my arachnophobia I steered clearly away from and couldn’t even bring myself to take a picture of it for fear it would jump on my camera even from the 10 foot radius of space I gave it.

Finally we arrived at our waterfall destination and my, oh my what a sight!!  It wasn’t spectacularly tall, but the sound of the rushing water just made your spirits lift and got me very energized!!  They are such simple constructions of nature, and yet the force and power of the water rushing off the edge is still awe-inspiring!  Our guide promptly upon arriving stripped down to his bathing shorts and decorated his body with mud from the edges of the river, capping his head with a dead Cecropia leaf.  The other two men on the tour immediately followed suit while the rest of us (all ladies) one by one surrendered to the idea of getting wet in the chilly waterfall waters.  By the end of our time there (about an hour or so) we had all taken our fill of jumping into the waterfall off of nearby logs that had fallen and that now served as great jumping boards, and of taking pictures and generally wading in the river beyond the waterfall.  Dark was upon us (which by the way it is pitch dark by 6pm in Costa Rica year round) as we all packed our things up and headed back up the trail to our van.  But before leaving the nature hike trail entirely, our guide had one more piece of interesting information for us…

First he asked whether any of us could guess how many spiders and insects were currently in the grassy area directly in front of us.  At this question, I immediately froze… My thought was ¨wait a minute, you mean to tell me that you see spiders directly in front of us?!?!?!?!  WHERE???  And which way can I go to avoid them?!?!?!?!¨.  My first thought was to back up very slowly away from the grass that lay ahead of us, until I realized that there was a ton of grass behind us too so surely there must be spiders in there too!!  Now I know of course that there are spiders around us everyday (statistically we are no more than 5 feet from a spider at any given moment in our lives) but I would rather just not know about it!  Ignorance to me in this instance is absolutely blissful!!  I once again froze and decided, well, perhaps if I knew where they were I could avoid those areas specifically.  As people guessed randomly how many critters we were surrounded by, our guide showed us a little trick to find out.  We all had headlights with us and we were instructed to place them on our nose and look around our areas with the lights on.  This positioning of the light allowed us to look directly onto the beam of light projected from our headlamps and suddenly dozens upon dozens of multiple pairs of little shiny spots all along the grass appeared… What we were in fact seeing was the eyes (sets of 8 for spiders) of insects hidden within the shelter of the grass.  It had just rained though so some of those shines were due to water droplets, but I did test out several shiny objects by moving in closer to see what they were and yes, in fact they were bugs or spiders (to my stress mainly spiders!).  Quite a useful trick I thought and interesting to boot, even though I again would rather just not know about a spiders presence to begin with.

Moving along, we got back to the van and headed out at breakneck speed along the dirt and stone road from which we had traveled before back to town.  Speeding and seemingly reckless driving is definitely prevalent in Costa Rica (in fact they are #1 for fatal accidents involving motor vehicles) but you get somewhat accustomed and trusting of tour guides and bus drivers whose job it is to drive tourists around.  In any event, at one point on our way back our driver sharply swerved and slammed on the brakes, put the van in reverse and proceeded driving backward for a little ways.  When he threw the gear back into drive mode he inched slowly along the road again finally coming to a stop in the middle of the road, just in front of something.  He instructed all of us to stay in the van as he got out and looked at a creature ahead of the van lit up only by the lights of the van.  After several minutes he returned and stated that there was a real fer-de-lance snake on the road.

I use the word ¨real¨ not to mean that it was alive (though it was) but to mean that it was an authentic one.  Apparently there is another snake species that looks very much like the fer-de-lance except that it does not have the triangular head of the real fer-de-lance, but it mimics the authentic one by triangulating its head when it feels threatened to make its predator think it’s more dangerous than it really is.  Unlike it’s imposter however, the real (authentic) fer-de-lance is considered to be the most poisonous snake in Costa Rica.  As told by several guides, if bitten you have 45 minutes to get anti-venom, and sadly as most hospitals take way more than 45 minutes to get to, chances are if bitten by one it will be fatal.  However, upon Google searching info on these snakes myself, I have come across varying information.  All do seem to say that it is considered the most dangerous snake in Costa Rica, and that this snake bite is the leading cause of death (among snake bites) but other sources (Wikipedia) state that the fatality rate is almost 0% due to the Clodomiro Picado Research Institute that is responsible for the production of snake antiphidic serums.  Hmmmm….

In any event, slowly we all crept out of the van one-by-one to see the fer-de-lance and to snap a few photos (zoom was of course used as I wasn’t going to get THAT close!).  Once we all got our picts it was back in the van we went and a little further down the road we once again pulled over to see the next critter spotted by our guide.

Now perhaps is a good time to say that the tour guides have the most amazing eye sight!!!  They are able to spot the tiniest of creatures from the most impressive distances!!  This was no exception either as the creature we stopped to see was a pair of mating Red-Eyed leaf frogs!!  Chances are you have definitely at least seen a picture of these frogs as they are the most photographed of all the Costa Rica frogs.  I know of people who have been here for months and still have not seen one of these frogs in person!  The aren’t poisonous at all and are absolutely adorable!!  We of course spent probably more time than we needed to photographing them to death (not literally folks, calm down) until resigning back to the van and heading to our final destination: a natural hot spring!

Known only to local ticans (or tourists who are clever enough to ask the locals about whether there are any free hot springs around), the natural (and free!!) hot spring we were taken to was actually a river that prior to the 1968 eruption ran cold, but after ran nice and toasting hot!  Just under a bridge where the river ran also naturally formed areas where the water pooled creating a wonderfully perfect jacuzzi!  Because the bridge was nearby, you could use the concrete slabs below the bridge as a hot slip and slide dunking off the edge and into the pool at the end.  Or if you chose, you could duck under the small waterfall created by the edge of the concrete and the hot pool to a space under the bridge that felt like a sauna!!  It did get a little claustrophobic in there for me, so I really just spent the majority of the time lounging in the pool and slip and sliding in from the bridge.  We busted out our beers and toasted a wonderful evening out, finally relaxing in the massaging waters.

One funny story here, if you recall we had brought a cooler of beers and all had purchased about 3-4 beers a piece.  When we arrived at the hot spring there were two tico (i.e. local) teenage boys playing in the springs already.  They hung around as we enjoyed our time there drinking our beers.  At one point all of us had ducked under the bridge to the sauna area and when we emerged and decided it was time for another beer, the cooler was still there, but the remaining beer was not… And the boys were gone!  Lol!!  The guide immediately ran up the river and searched surrounding areas to see if he could find them to no avail and some of my companions were a bit offended, but I just thought it was funny.  Typical teenage boy antics- just having some fun!  They really didn’t make off with that many beers, so really I didn’t consider it to be too harmful.

In any event, we left the hot spring and were dropped off around 9pm at our relative hotels/hostels.  Needless to say I slept quite well that night with my body having been treated so well by the heat and motion of the spring!!  Good thing too, as the next day I would once again be departing for my Jeep-Boat-Jeep tour to take me to Monteverde.

On to Monteverde

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