Thursday, 13 April 2017

La Fortuna and Monteverde

On to country number eight: Costa Rica!

At the airport check in desk, the Aero Mexico staff member laughed when he looked at photo page of my passport – I asked him what was so funny (the picture isn’t THAT embarrassing!) and turns out the main character in a computer game called Starcraft is also called Sarah Kerrigan! She even looks a bit like me (maybe)!

Lead charater, Sarah Kerrigan, in computer game, 'Starcraft'
After a brief overnight stopover near the airport, we headed to our first destination, La Fortuna.

La Fortuna means ‘fortune’ and is so-called because when the Arenal volcano, which looms over the town, last erupted it erupted on opposite side of the mountain, sparing la Fortuna. I do hope this isn’t tempting fate when the still-active volcano next erupts (currently next predicted to do so in a few hundred years).

It is said that only one in two visitors to La Fortuna actually get to see the peak of Arenal volcano as Costa Rica’s tropical climate, frequent rain and the sheer height of the volcano means it is often shrouded by clouds and the view is not great.
The view of Arenal volcano from La Fortuna
We went on a ‘two volcano hike’, a five-hour trek up the steep side of a dormant volcano that sits next to Arenal. The clouds descended the day we went so the views weren’t great but the hot and humid conditions at the bottom soon turned into cooler temperatures and swirling mists when we entered the clouds.

Cloud forest hike
The dormant volcano is now what is known as a flat volcano – where it has collapsed into itself and formed a fifty-metre-deep by five-hundred-metre-wide lagoon in the crater, filled with rain water.

Posing by the crater lake
After hiking back down the other side of the volcano, we continued on trails that took us over hanging bridges and on to a waterfall.

The benefits of hiking with a guide meant he pointed out plants, birds and animals along the way – that would otherwise have been too well camouflaged for our untrained eyes to spot. We saw a toucan, hummingbirds, a tree climbing snake, an eyelash viper, a white-faced coati, funnel web spiders, the famous red-eyed green tree frogs (synonymous with Costa Rica) and heard the song of nightingales that sounded like a water harp.
There is certainly a lot of biodiversity here – apparently five percent of the world’s species can be found in Costa Rica.

A tree-climbing snake
After our hike, we were taken to a river to soak in its thermally heated (thirty-eight degrees Celsius) water. It was strange to be in a river as hot as a bath, but lovely to soak our legs and feel clean again after our long day of hiking.

The following day we fancied another soak in the thermal water so we went to one of the many nearby hot springs. The pools are arranged so that the higher up you go the hotter the water – the bottom pool being around thirty-seven degrees and the top pool around forty degrees. However in a hot climate, it was a bit too hot to spend too long in the hotter pools and I kept needing to cool off in the cold plunge pool.
Generally Costa Rica is a bit more expensive than its neighbouring countries and as a tourist you are more often than not charged in US dollars rather that in ‘colones,’ the local currency. It’s also the busiest time of the year – Easter week plus the last month of dry season so it’s busy with tourists and local holiday-makers alike.

To keep the cost down, we’ve been eating in the local cafes, called sodas. Our favourite local speciality is the ‘casado’ – chicken, fish or a pork chop with rice, black beans, plantain, salad and vegetables. Pretty balanced and healthy too!
Local speciality: casado
We had a much better view of the volcano on day two, though the peak was still in clouds. However, when we took our boat transfer to Monteverde, we were very lucky and had a wonderful clear view.

We spent our next few nights in Monteverde: hiking in the cloud forest (which due to the dry season and sunny weather, wasn’t in the clouds on the day we hiked, but made for lovely walking conditions)

We did an amazing zip-line canopy tour, high above the tree-tops and reaching top speeds of one hundred kilometres per hour and including a ‘Superman’ zip line, where you fly headfirst like Superman!


I also had the opportunity to do Central America’s highest bungee jump! A 143-metre cable car jump, where I went off backwards (for added fun!) There were stunning views from the top and I’d put the jump in my top three bungee jumps – just a shame it wasn’t a bit higher, with a bit longer freefall!

The bungee platform over the cloud forest
Lastly, we went on a coffee, chocolate and sugar cane tour – Costa Rica being a producer of all of the above. We got to see the process of each of the above from growing the plants, to harvesting them and producing them into the finished product – which we then got to sample.

Cocoa beans
A freshly picked coffee berry
Here are some interesting coffee facts for you:

-  The lighter the roast the more caffeine there is – so a stronger, richer tasting coffee has less caffeine than a weaker tasting blend!

-  There is more caffeine in a cup of tea than an espresso.

-  Milk reduces the effect of caffeine so a latte is not as strong as you might think…

'Caffeine per cup' chart
Next up we’re on our way to Montezuma for a week of relaxation and beach time. We’ve been warned it’s where all the Costa Ricans will be heading for Easter weekend too so it’s likely to be very busy – but also a nice chilled-out vibe. I’ll blog again from there next week.

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