14 January 2007

Rolling Ash, Steaming Rock

Woke up at 6:13AM, glanced out the huge windows and got my first clear view of one of the 10 most active volcanos in the world – Arenal. You could see some thick clouds of ash intermingling with fogs and clouds. Very cool. I sat outside for the first bit planning the day – the weather is so much cooler and by the time we had breakkie, paid for the room ($17 each) – I’m so happy we decided to drive the 30 extra minutes to the middle of nowhere – the wake up view was well worth it.

La Fortuna, the town closest to the volcano, was just swarming with gringos – if you like that scene you’ll love Fortuna. We skipped it and ended up in El Castillo - a small mountain town that is just past - okay 6 or 10 Km past the entrance to Arenal Volcano park. And this is where we ended up - Cabanitas El Castill Dorado - rate was $17 US per person - rooms were frilly (i.e. window treatments, bedspreads and even toilet seat covers) with great large windows that gave an excellent expansive view of Arenal Volcano. Very basic (i.e. just beds and view - no phone, no TV, a ceiling fan) - but clean with high beautiful wooden ceilings).

Once we enjoyed breakfast we headed off. It was a bumpy crazy ride from Fortuna to Monde Verde/ Saint Elena. We started off on a smooth stretch put as the scenery continued to improve the road conditions continued to go to pot. First the pot holes started to appear – then a natural rock cobblestone road that continued for the 24 kilometers that we needed to travel. No wonder people preferred to say "it will take 3 hours" versus it is just 24K.

First stop – some funky place called Toad Hall – great macadamian brownies (1000 colones or Cdn $2.17 approx)! No room for the handmade ice-cream. Paintings, pottery, jewellery, masks, and much more - plus the prices were not marked up in any crazy way.

Along the road - soaring vistas of Lake Arenal, a rainbow and glorious countryside. No wild animal spotting though we did the "slouth chant" several times. Lyra took over the handing of the jeep - one slight skid out in some mud, a close encounter with a bus and a gully, several cow herds including a 2 day calf and her mom.

Took one small detour to see an eco-coffee organization with 450 members including 40 organic growers. It was a great two hour tour. Thank goodness the coffee tour guide came out and showed us how to kick our jeep into the 4x4 mode – otherwise it would have been a much more painful drive! And really what is the point of booking a jeep if you don't know how to drive it - and in this case you really did need to know how to use the 4x4 gears!

Finally we reached St. Elena though we did wonder if we would ever reach the town - we went up and down hills and corners and valleys and honestly the town is just a street or two.

Our first choice, recommended by Lonely Planet, had a room available. We took it – at $35 dollars or $13 each US it was worth it. Ran, the transplanted young Austin, Texas guy is just so very passionate and sat down for a good 20 minutes giving us the lay of the land. By now I’m sure he must have done this bit thousands of times but he still seemed excited sharing his knowledge and opinions.

Dinner: stopped in at Morphs – heavy duty log chairs, decent menu – not brilliant but completely acceptable. I had the casada (the daily meal that normally includes rice, beans, veggies, salad and then your choice of meat or vegetarian) and a glass of red wine.

Checked out the supermercardo - photos to follow.

This place is windy, wild and willy chilly! It is approaching 9 PM and it is time to sleep – we are up at 6 AM as we’ve got the zip lines and hanging bridges at 7:30 AM.

Oh yes - what is better yet – not a single McDonalds or Kentucky Fried Chicken or Pizza Hut in sight!

Dogs - oh my gosh they are so cute. They love you. They follow you. They look at you with those big mournful eyes. Thank goodness there is a neuturing campaign in place!

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