Tuesday, August 9, 2011

{Costa Rica 2011} - Day 4 -- Arenal Volcano

The trip back to San Jose from Monteverde usually takes about 6 hours by car but instead of heading back we went to check out Arenal Volcano instead. This was always part of the plan, but I assumed we'd have to go most of the way back to San Jose and then back over to Arenal making for a long drive. Nope, the nice folks at our hotel in Monteverde gave us a back route which afforded us some great views and a much shorter drive.

We didn't all the way to Arenal itself since there wasn't a ton to do once you were on the volcano itself besides hiking and zip lining and stuff and I've done that. :) So, we headed for my request which was hot springs! I've always heard of the benefits of hot springs but haven't had the chance to try them before.

Arenal has a variety of hot springs location, each offering varying amenities but based on recommendation from some of Tony's family we went to the new The Springs Resort and Spa. This place is gorgeous. And at about $420 per night it should be! Fortunately we were able to just pay the $40 daily rate to use the springs and didn't have to shell out the nightly fee. However, we did wish we could stay because it was truly lovely. That and the drive back to San Jose that night would take a while. I didn't know it would also be scary as hell. More on that later in the post!

The resort had limitless excellent views of Arenal Volcano. In fact, CNN has declared it to have one of the seven resorts with the most spectacular views in the world! Hmm, the website says it was also the location for an episode of The Bachelor. Meh, I won't hold that against the resort. :)

The swim-up bar at the pool was just begging for photos to be taken with a tasty beverage and the volcano in the background.

Apparently the volcano had been covered with clouds for about four days but started to clear as we arrived at the resort. I like to think it's because the volcano tweeted me on Twitter asking if I was going to come visit it during my trip. I told it what day I'd be there so I'm thinking it cleared up just for me. ;) Of course, it hadn't erupted in the last few months so I didn't get that show, but there's always next time (hopefully), right? You can see it smoking in the first picture below. By mid afternoon it had totally cleared and I got to see Arenal in all of its glory...sans eruption.

Anyway, the resort had 18 different hot springs of varying temperatures. The hottest one we found was in the Perdido Springs (Lost Springs) portion which is away from the busier hot springs and the pool with the swim up bar. Unfortunately, the pool bar isn't in the hot springs but really, you don't want people passing out and they serve food so a chlorinated pool is a much better idea!

After soaking in the springs a bit I ended up falling asleep on a pool chair. That hot water takes it out of you! Luckily it was in the shade or I'd have been fried. Tony found me as they were getting ready to clean up and go to the tour that was included in our daily admission fee. We weren't sure what the tour was but thought it'd have more hot springs. Nope! Turns out the owner, who's from Florida, has a soft spot for animals. There's a problem in Costa Rica of people taking exotic animals like cats and monkeys from the wild and raising them as pets when they're babies. Then they grow up or they get in trouble and they have to get rid of them. Instead of putting the animals down or trying to send them out into the wild where they'll be killed or die on their own he takes in many of these animals and cares for them. Some he's been able to release but many are so unaccustomed to how to live in the wild that they just don't have the survival skills to be released.

He's got a couple different kinds of monkeys (one of them likes toes and he had us stick our feet by the cage and let the little guy grab them!), and lots of big (and some little) cats.

Beautiful creatures. The caretaker giving the tour was very good with the animals and many of the behaved like house cats around him. They have a pretty great set up there. It's just too bad people ruined the animals for the wild.

After the tour we went back to the hotel and got cleaned up and decided to stay for dinner at one of the hotel restaurants. Of course, another awesome view of the volcano.

The clouds started to form again and kind of looked like the volcano was poking into a pillow of them, making a dent. And the sun started to set and it was lovely. We didn't get a full on sunset because we were facing the wrong direction, but it was still super nice and relaxing to have a nice meal and just stare out at the volcano. It's strangely hypnotic. You can just watch it for hours.

Yes, it's a non-erupting volcano but it's presence is so awesome that you're captivated by it. I told the gift shop worker she had a helluva view at her job and she told me that when she's having a bad day she'll just go sit on one of the balcony chairs that looks out at the Volcano and in minutes she'll be relaxed and in a better mood. I can see how that would happen. :)

Eventually we got on the road. It was about a 3.5 hour drive back and it was already dark when we left. I had no idea what I was in for. We had two SUVs caravanning back to San Jose and at times it was hard to see anything but fuzzy taillights right in front of you on the road. The fog is INTENSE. I couldn't even get a picture because all that came out was dashboard and fuzz. Totally creepy since you couldn't even see the sides of the road in some cases and you knew for a fact there was nothing but the valley of a mountain just a few feet from that at certain points. We probably went 15mph if that most of the way through the fog. And I guess it's that way EVERY NIGHT. So you should just not plan on driving that horrible stretch of road in the dark. Period. There's actually one stretch of road that crosses the Cerro de la Muerte, or Death Hill, and Tony mentioned this while we were driving. We didn't cross that, but it sure felt like it. And the locals are crazy drivers there. We're creeping along and they're passing us when you can barely see one car length ahead on a curve. Nuts. But we made it home safe and sound!

The next day we were finally heading to a beach! I couldn't wait!

No comments: