I took a bus to Mt. Fuji after my delightful time in Kyoto and found myself in yet another awe inspiring part of Japan. I stayed at the Backpackers Hostel K’s House Mt. Fuji, near Lake Kawagughiko for I believe 5 days to a week and wasted no time wandering around the town (as I normally do) getting acquainted with my surroundings and occasionally lost.
View from the Top
View from the Top_2
My favorite memories of staying at Mt. Fuji, were of course the volcano itself, the day tour I engaged in, the surprise of meeting a celebrity (Jeannie Mai from the TV show ‘How Do I Look?’ and last but not least having an hour long conversation over dinner with an old Japanese man, who spoke not a single word of English, and I only a few phrases.
Mt. Haneko Trail
Mt. Haneko Trail_2
From the second I saw Mt. Fuji from my hostel room, I was simply in love. Tried as I did however, no matter how many hundreds of pictures I took of the volcano, I never felt satisfied that I was able to actual capture the true beauty of Mt. Fuji. Seriously, if you could see my original pictures, I had about 200! I do recall that being one of the frustrating points of being there… That I couldn’t quite capture how glorious it was (sigh).
Mt. Haneko Trail_3
Mt. Haneko Trail_4
Mt. Haneko Trail_5
The second highlight of my trip was opting to go on a day tour. The tour was simply called “Mt. Fuji Tour” and was operated through the hostel. We stopped at 5 destinations: Fuji Sengen Shrine, which was the original entrance to the trail to climb to the pinnacle of Mt. Fuji. If memory serves, devote Japanese people would annually use this trail to get to the top of Mt. Fuji, instead of simply starting at Station 5, like most tourists. This trail was obviously MUCH longer and harder than getting a leg up to 2305m…
Yoshidagushi Climbing Trail_2
Inside Trail Temple_2
Inside Trail Temple
Inside Trail Temple_3
Yoshidagushi Climbing Trail_3
Yoshidagushi Climbing Trail Entrance
Yoshidagushi Climbing Trail_5
Yoshidagushi Climbing Trail_4
Yoshidagushi Climbing Trail_6
Yoshidagushi Climbing Trail_7
Yoshidagushi Climbing Trail_8
Yoshidagushi Climbing Trail Main Entrance
The second and third destinations included the Aokigahara Lava Forest, and Shiraito Falls. Both places were such splendid displays of nature! The lava forest was so serene, while the falls were absolutely breathtaking! I recall the color of the water there. So clear with specks of purples, greens and blue… And the sound of all that water pouring into the lake below. It was incredible!
Inside the Grotto
Inside the Grotto_2
Grotto from Above
Grotto from Above_2
Evidence of Lava
Aokigahara Lava Forest
Aokigahara Lava Forest_2
Aokigahara Lava Forest_3
Lake Motosuko was a fourth destination of the tour. And while I believe in general this is the spot where the majority of photographs adequately capture how glorious Mt. Fuji is, again, I wasn’t able to:( Also the clouds didn’t help;) Our last stop was to the 5th Station of Mt. Fuji. I was there at a time where it was out of season to go beyond the 5th station, and even attempting to do so could lead to serious injury or death. Not to mention no one really wanting to come to your rescue if you were dumb enough to try and go further! However, it was still fun to be able to get closer to the top, without being too extreme.
Mt Fuji 5th Station
Mt Fuji 5th Station_2
Mt Fuji 5th Station_3
Mt Fuji 5th Station_4
Mt Fuji 5th Station_5
Mt Fuji 5th Station_6
Mt Fuji 5th Station_7
Mt Fuji 5th Station_8
Mt Fuji 5th Station_9
Mt Fuji 5th Station_10
En route to Station 5
En route to Station 5_2
My final two best memories of my time in Mt. Fuji was randomly meeting Jeannie Mai. So a little backstory here: When I was living in Koh Tao, Thailand, the place I rented for a couple months had a TV. That TV only had one channel where English was spoken. And on that channel, one of the daily shows that would air was “How Do I Look?” hosted by Jeannie Mai. It became a daily habit after attending my morning Muy Thai training and having 6 cups of coffee at my favorite coffee shop, Through the Looking Glass, to head home and chill for a little bit by watching TV.
Fast forward to Mt. Fuji, one evening I went back to a restaurant I had gone to a couple times before. It was a gringo restaurant, meaning the cuisine was American, burgers, fries, etc. while the sitting style was all Japanese (on the floor). Anyway, as was my usual habit in the evenings, I went there, got a little tipsy and had some dinner. While I was there, I don’t recall if Jeannie and her mom were there when I arrived, or if they arrived later, but the three of us were the only customers in the place. At a certain point we all got to talking. Sharing stories, learning little things about each other, etc.
I kept thinking while we were talking that there was something so familiar about her. Her mannerisms, her voice, her face… It never clicked with me at that point. I ended up finishing my meal and drinking and headed back to the hostel (just down the road). For whatever reason, I just couldn’t get out of my head how familiar she seemed. So I got online and typed in Jeannie… and there she popped up and it immediately clicked that I knew her from watching her in Thailand! So, silly me, I then proceeded to go back to the restaurant, apologized profusely for my next question and asked, “Are you Jeannie Mai from “How Do I Look?”? She laughed and said yes, and was tickled I had recognized her. She was so gracious and also tickled that I had seen her on TV while living in Thailand. Her and her mom were such sweethearts and were kind enough to let me snap a picture with them. I even exchanged emails with her mom (which reminds me I should touch base with her again!). It was such a fun and unexpected encounter! Interestingly enough, we were both at the bus station leaving at the same time! We again ran into each other on our respective ways out, and once again, Jeannie (I didn’t get to see her mom as she wasn’t with Jeannie at the time) was so gracious, kind and loving. Absolutely amazing!
View from Hostel
My final memory of Mt. Fuji was an evening I spent at a restaurant, 3 doors down from the “gringo” one. This one however was 100% Japanese and it was just one old man running the place and cooking. The food was absolutely delicious and because we were the only two in the entire place, we of course got to trying to communicate with each other. Miracle of miracles, he had a tablet with some sort of program with the most advanced translating capabilities I had ever seen. He would speak to it in Japanese and it would translate to English writing. I would read the question, answer in English, and he would read my response! It wasn’t Google… I honestly should have gotten the name of that program, but regardless, we literally spent the next hour or so talking about everything! Why/where I traveled, politics, religion, about his family, etc. It was one of the most unique and honoring experiences I had ever had. To sit with a stranger, neither of us knowing the others language, and yet to be able to have a conversation. It was a beautiful evening. My only regret was not having my camera in tow, so I wasn’t able to get a picture with him.
I have a song working in my head that once completed will be published about Santorini, but well, for now it’s plain text:)
What a beautifully unique place! Santorini as we know it today is a Greek island in the Aegean Sea that was formed by a large volcanic eruption that destroyed the previous civilization living there. Now, it is the largest island of a circular archipelago that has remnants of a volcanic caldera. The island isn’t your typical flat land island. It is a mountain jutting from the sea with what looks like snow on top. Upon closer inspection the “snow” are the little towns sprinkled along the top of the mountain.
Sunrise on Santorini
Santorini at Sunrise_2
Travel to Santorini
Because of it’s volcanic history (pun intended) the land of Santorini is rich and fertile and very diverse! Black lava rock, red clay and white pumice stone are visible around just about every corner etched into the land. Homes in fact used to be built out of cooled black lava rock, which made them somewhat invisible to travelers coming by sea. A clever way to be invisible to your enemy in my opinion. However, in the 1930’s the government made it law that each structure had to be painted white because it keeps the homes cooler and saves on energy.
View of the Land
Wealthy People’s Land
While the Island itself is not all THAT attractive, the towns are absolutely adorable!!! The rest of the island is rugged, rocky and not terribly interesting. However due to the fertile nature of the volcanic rock, a large variety of produce are grown there. The most popular of course, is wine:) Part of the tour we took included a winery tour where we were able to sample the various wines and even purchased several to take back with us. Growing grapes on Santorini is a bit trickier than one would think however. Due to the ferocious winds Santorini is plagued by quite often, vines are not able to grow upright as in a normal vineyard. Instead, people train the vines to grow in circular nests or baskets on the ground so they aren’t damaged by the winds!
Along with the hard winds, Santorini rarely gets any rain. Water is a HUGE commodity and isn’t to be wasted at all. The lack of rain is why their wines also have such a distinctive taste (the grapes are very concentrated due to lack of water). The lack of rain has even inspired how the buildings are built. One will notice 2 kinds of ceilings on buildings in Santorini: a flat roof and a circular or arched roof. The flat ones are designed to collect rainwater that then gets funneled to an underground cistern, while the arched/circular roofs are the best design for buildings to withstand earthquakes… Yes, they have earthquakes too on top of the lack of rain and violent winds and there is still that volcanic caldron to think about… Sounds like a rough life to me, what with having to battle nature in so many different ways!
Roof to Collect Water
Oia main “road”
Oia and the Sea
Looking into the Caldera
While wine, capers and olives are among the favorite products of Santorini, their favorite and most revered animal is the donkey. They love their donkeys!! Several statues of the honored donkey can be found in every town, and several times over. They are working donkeys of course but are well taken care of and once they are of retirement age, they even have a proper retirement home for them to live out their lives. Too cute, I love it!! One of the ways to get back down from the town to sea was via a donkey ride:) I was absolutely on board to do that, however our tour guide made a mention that the donkey’s aren’t really a fan of it, so I decided to spare the donkey a trip down the rugged terrain (sigh). Dogs are also very popular on the island and seem to run the place. It reminded me of dogs in Costa Rica- how they do what they want during the day, but have a place and home to go to at night.
We wandered around Thera after our tour of Oia and the winery and stopped for some lunch at Arcobaleno. The food was delicious and the view was unbeatable as it was overlooking the center of the archipelago where the volcano remnants remain. I had a beer filtered with volcanic rock called Volcan while my parents and sister had wine. And of course, since I was in Greece I had to have a teeny bottle to Ouzo to finish off the meal:) From there we did some more shopping for gifts and such, had a pedicure at the Dr. Fish Spa where they use cleaner fish to nibble off all the dead skin, then had one more drink and a wee dessert (baklava anyone?) before taking the tram back to the loading area for the small boats to take us back to the ship.
Oia and the Sea_2
Where does this go??
Oh, one last interesting story about Santorini: the poor houses. Wealth was signified not by the kind of house you had (large or small) but rather by how much land you owned. So those who weren’t wealthy, instead of having homes on land lived in homes carved out of the rock along the top edge of Santorini. Looking at the pictures of Oia and Thera, you can see how many of the homes are practically on top of each other and built right on the edge of the land. These were the homes for poor people. Today of course, these homes are worth millions of dollars… Go figure!
Oia “Poor” houses
Oia and the Sea_3
Oia Church and the Sea
Oia and the Sea_5
Oia Church and the Sea_2
Oia and the Sea_7
Oh, Greeks also love their churches. If memory serves, people in the town were allowed to build their own churches and name them in honor of a Saint (each church was in honor of a different Saint). While the churches weren’t used every day or week, when the day came around to honor whatever Saint was associated with their church, the church owner would give it a face life, clean it up and invite the town to the church to celebrate the Saint. Lovely:)
Volcano Caldera & Ship
Oia “Poor” houses_2
Remnants of Venetian Castle
Oia “Poor” Houses_3
Oia “Poor” Houses_4
Oia “Poor” Houses_5
Oia “Poor” Houses_6
Last, last thing… There are actually ruins that were discovered on Santorini from the previous civilization (the one wiped out by the volcano eruption) and it has been compared to Pompeii… We didn’t have time to look into that further but it’s certainly a reason to go back:)
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.
I arrived in La Fortuna the next afternoon and headed to the hostel I found on the internet called “Sleepers Sleep Cheap”. The word ‘cheap’ of course caught my eye immediately when searching for somewhere and the reviews seemed good enough.
About 100 meters south of the bus terminal, I arrived at the hostel which was set back a little from town than most of the others. For $10 a night, I got a private room with a private bath, hot water and breakfast! I paid for 2 nights and proceeded to get settled in. Honestly I don’t have any negative words for the hostel. It was a very basic set-up and nothing fancy by any means, but it was cheap, my room was clean, the staff were very friendly and accommodating, and the breakfast area had one of the best views in my opinion… I will later divulge what that view was;)
Now, I wanted to state my opinion about the hostel before writing about this bit: interestingly enough, weeks later when I was in Bocas Town (Bocas del Toro), Panama, I met a couple who just happened to stay at the hostel at the same time that I was staying there! But they had a very different opinion of the place… Though they did agree it was cheap, they said they believed they had bed bugs and that their door wouldn’t close all the way so all sorts of critters would come in during the day and night. Their room wasn’t clean and they weren’t that thrilled with what was served for breakfast (toast, eggs, fruit and coffee). So, I guess it just goes to show you that not everyone’s experiences are the same!
In any event, after getting settled in it was about time to eat something, so I found a local soda that was recommended and that was just down the street from my hostel and had a fantastic fillet de pollo casado! I absolutely love those casados!!!
Waiting for my meal to arrive, two guys whom I had met on the bus showed up so we dined together. I spent that evening wandering the streets of La Fortuna with them, drinking beer in the central park. Since we had all arrived in the late evening, there really wasn’t much time to get our barring of the area, so at this point none of us really knew where the famed volcano was. Sitting in the park drinking, it became a little bit of a game trying to figure out where the volcano actually was. If the volcano had been active, it would have been quite obvious, but alas the volcano was dormant while I was there. And mind you, it had been dark since before dinner, so there wasn’t any way to see around us…
The next morning I rose early determined to check several things off my list. First off, I wanted to do a tour of the volcano and perhaps the hot springs and second I wanted to go to the famed La Fortuna waterfall and finally, I wanted to get a plan in place on where my next destination would be. Even though the purpose of my trip to Costa Rica was not to be a tourist, one really can’t help but do a tour or two once here! They can be pricey, that’s for sure but I did a lot of tour “office hopping” prior to settling on the final place to book at. And since it was the off-season, there were more deals available than not.
Red Lava, a tour office located at the bus terminal offered the best prices and most unique tours. Through them I booked a tour of the Arenal volcano that was 5 hours long, including a nature hike to a waterfall (not the La Fortuna waterfall but another one), a history of the Arenal volcano and finishing off with a night dip in a natural hot spring. I also booked for a Jeep-Boat-Jeep package that would get me from La Fortuna to my next destination of Monteverde via, well you guessed it: a jeep, a boat and a jeep:)
It was mid-morning by the time I got all my bookings complete and since my volcano tour wasn’t going to start until 2pm, I opted to spend my time in between by going to the famous La Fortuna waterfall. Since my motto on spending money was “the less you spend now, the more you will have later” I decided to walk to the waterfall, located inside a National Park, instead of taking a bus directly to the entrance of the National Park… I really should have just paid the darn $8 for the bus!!!!! But oh no, I decided to keep that money and hike there myself instead! Afterall, it was a paved road to the park so I figured a little exercise would do me some good! I have no idea what the temperature was outside, but the sun was shining and it was definitely humid! I had my little personal bag with me so I could bring my camera for the trip and take plenty of pictures. And I was off for my hike…
About 8 kilometers (about 3 of which were straight uphill- the end 3 of course) later I arrived to the park entrance red-faced and completely dripping in sweat. In fact I was so saturated with sweat that both my t-shirt and breathable pants were completely soaked through!! My bag, supposedly waterproof, even began to soak in some of my sweat so that the inside contents became damp! The very first thing I did when I got to the park entrance was go to the bathroom and practically bathe myself in the sink with my clothes still on! Thankfully I did have along with me my vapur water bottle and therefore was hydrated the entire way, but I still had to refill it twice before ever leaving the bathroom because of my extreme thirst!! People were looking at me like I was crazy, but all I cared about at that point was that I had made it!!
But then, I glanced at my watch… it was noon… there was NO way I was going to be able to actually get to the waterfall and back down to town by 2:00 for my volcano tour:( You see, I had made it to the park ENTRANCE but the waterfall itself was still about a kilometer deep into the park. And tack on the fact that if I wanted to even try to see the waterfall I would have had to pay the $10 entrance fee, well, it just didn’t make much sense at that point to even try for it. So I decided to simply head back down to the town, perhaps get a bite to eat and make it in time for my tour.
The walk back to town was much nicer!! All downhill with a little breeze to boot! The little breeze did wonders to dry my clothing on the walk down and by the time I made it back (about 1) I had just enough time to grab a bite to eat at the soda where I had dinner and get ready to meet my tour.
Oh and I promised I would divulge the breakfast view from my hostel… It was indeed the volcano!!! I had been staring at it all morning during the first morning while enjoying breakfast yet never realized I what I was looking at, lol!!!
Volcan, as you may guess, means Volcano in Spanish. This particular volcano however was not a cone volcano, but rather a geyser. It is apparently the largest active geyser in the world! But I’m getting ahead…
I took a bus ride to the volcano with all my gear in tow thinking there was a town nearby where I could stay for the night, and not really fully understanding that the volcano was located in a National Park… Therefore NO sleeping facilities… In any event, the ride there was almost entirely uphill and quite cloudy. There literally were times when I had to stop watching the road and just trust that the driver knew what he was doing because it became so cloudy at times that it was hard to see more than a few feet ahead!!
We reached the National Park entrance and all tourists on the bus were asked to get off so we could pay. All National Parks in Costa Rica cost $10.00 for tourists to enter, but if you are local it’s cheaper. I’m not entirely sure how much cheaper, but none of the locals had to get off the bus to pay, but rather they were all counted up and paid for by the bus driver. It was standing in the line to pay for the park where I met two fellow Americans. One was teaching English to students in Alajuela, and the other was a retired gentleman who was going to head to Puerto Viejo after a short stay in Alajuela to potentially retire there.
Once all the payment business was over we loaded onto the bus and were dropped off in the bus parking lot… Perhaps now is the time to bring up again that since I was thinking that I could stay the night in or at least very near the park, I had brought my backpack with me… Well, when we were all getting off the bus, since I wasn’t sure whether we were going to have the same exact bus on the way back down, I thought it best to bring my backpack with me. But what this meant was that I was going to get a bit more exercise than I had signed up for originally, lol!! Basically I hiked all around the park with my dang backpack cinched on me and cursing every time I had to walk uphill, lol!!
In any event, after getting off the bus I simply followed the signs and my two new friends up the trail to the volcano. My oh my what a view…
Isn’t it just fantastic?!?!?! Ok, now I know it doesn’t look like much, but believe it or not you are actually looking at the volcano in this picture. Everyone looked and looked and looked around for some sign of where exactly this volcano was, but because of the low clouds, all you could see (as above) was mist. My two friends and I hung around for a little while longer and agreed that this (the dense fog) was probably the reason we were given 3 hours to hang around the park. Apparently dense fog is quite common at this volcano and one must be very patient if they want to actually see it.
Patience wasn’t very high on our list however, and since there were two other trails that led to a lake beside the geyser volcano, we decided to try our luck and see whether the lake was visible. Up and up and up we hiked through dense jungle forest on teeny concrete paths until again meeting our final destination. And can you believe it??? The lake looked exactly like the picture above!! Nothing but dense fog!!
Once again we resolved to simply hang out for a little bit and got to chatting. And then it happened… In mid-sentence one of my new friends gasped at the image that unfolded in front of us. The clouds suddenly lifted revealing a beautiful green lake!
This beautiful view literally only lasted about 10 minutes and then the fog once again swept in and obscured the lake from view. Thinking perhaps to try our luck at the geyser we immediately left (all downhill thankfully) and headed back to the geyser.
The rain started to pour down on us as we went down and I even had to stop to put on my poncho before getting too soaked! Once back to our original station at the geyser, the fog once again showed no signs of lifting. But about 10 minutes later, just as it had at the lake, the fog miraculously lifted and you could see the geyser!!
Just as the mist came and went within 10 minutes at the lake, the same was true for the geyser! We really lucked out on our timing for this trip!!
After waiting for the fog to close back over the geyser, we headed back for a snack at the cafe in the park and awaited our bus. It was on the bus ride back that I was offered a free couch for the night at the girls place. I accepted the generous offer and we were all dropped off in Alajuela. The rest of the night was spent hanging out with my two new friends and the girls boyfriend. We had a great dinner at a local soda then wandered the streets for some ice cream at a chain place called Pops. Personally I wasn’t impressed by the ice cream there, but many people seem to enjoy it, so to each their own!