I am aboard the flight to Bocas del Toro, it’s 6am, and I’ve had two Smirnoffs. Brandon has had tres. It’s one of the more terrifying experiences we’ve both had: tiny propeller plane filled with literally 8 people total. I guess this is how the celebrities travel. I’m not sure whether it’s the extra alcohol or the unbridled heroism, but Brandon has been comforting me. Pequeno aeroplane, he says jokingly, offering me the camera. No bueno. There’s safety information in the seatback pocket that none of the passengers have read. I think there’s a silent understanding that if this thing goes down, we all go with it. Ah, perfect: over the mountains we go.
The last few days have been harried but incredible. We visited Sergio uno mas time before we departed Monteverde (the night prior we went to Sabor Tico, the most authentic restaurant we could find, and then stopped by a bar for tequila on the way back–I was asked to dance by a local and declined, something I actually regret). Sergio recommended that we travel to Arenal, where he not only drew us three detailed maps of places to try, he checked availiability at a hotel where he had connections and ensured we’d be taken care of.
The journey to Arenal took about 4 hours, although if we’d been able to drive through the Cloud Forest, it would have been about 15km. Arenal was breathtaking: an active but not erupting volcano towering over the town of La Fortuna. We arrived at Luigi’s Hotel at about 2pm and checked in at a rate of only $30 for the evening – a great price for a place with such a beautiful view, a pool, and moderately comfortable accommodations. We took a quick nap and before the rain and dark hit, we decided to hit up one of Sergio’s recommended spots: a local Hot Springs.
We followed the cars to park near the Springs and clambored down rough terrain in flip flops until we hit the Springs. We were “greeted” by about 20 Ticos who were open to us being there, but slightly suspicious. I’d asked Sergio earlier, jokingly, if I could pass for a local to get better rates on attractions, and he said that of the two of us, I’d have the best chance… until I opened my mouth.
The Springs were breathtaking – there’s not even a better word for it, but if there was one, that’s what they’d be. Naturally warm, of course, but set in the middle of the jungle under a beautiful canopy. We enjoyed the Springs for a good half hour before the rain started, which made the experience even more magical. The rain lightly christened us while we rested in nature’s hot tub – the trees providing a gentle protectant from the worst of it, but the Spring keeping us warm. As the locals did, we enjoyed the rain droplets and the experience that much more, given the inclement weather. Sure beats napping at the hotel.
We got pizza that night (it seems to be everywhere, oddly, so we thought we’d give it a shot and take a break from arroz y frijoles), which was decent. The next morning, on the way to Sergio’s recommended lava trail, we stopped by the Springs again for some pictures (we didn’t feel right taking them while the locals were there), which was fun. It was only us, clamboring up and down the rocks for photos – Brandon and I both agreed, “It’s like rock climbing without the harness: don’t look down!”
We hit the 1968 lava flow trail by 8:30am and paid $20 total to enter – a total bargain. We saw a Coati wandering up as we paid, something we’d seen on the drive over and assumed, stupidly, was a rare occurrence.
“What the hell is that thing?” Brandon had asked.
“It looks like a cross between a monkey and a raccoon,” I said.
All of the coatis we saw were people-friendly, at least for wild animals. One even stood up and begged for food from passing cars. The guy who greeted us at the entrance of the trail wandered a couple of feet away from us, gave us a stare, and decided we didn’t have any lunch to steal.
The trail was challenging, at least for us Atlanta folk. It began on grass and quickly transitioned into rocky terrain that would be deadly if we fell in any given direction. I stupidly wore a sweater attached to a tank top, as I knew I couldn’t wear it in Panama. After about 2 miles of hiking and 4 buckets of sweat, I stripped it clean and stood on the trail in my bra.
“Not the best idea in the jungle,” Brandon said. “But I’m okay with it.”
I re-positioned my clothes so the sleeves were tied around my back and we continued our journey another mile or so to the summit. Totally worth it: Arenal was closer than ever, and an unbelievable view of the lake was waiting to greet us. We desceneded the mountain in record time, keeping an eye out for the snakes Sergio had warned us about. On the ascent, we had seen another tribe of monkeys, this time howlers (last time white-faced capuchins), which was a fun treat as well. We were glad we’d taken the longer trail, as hot as it was.
We headed back to San Jose after checking out of the hotel and, forgetting to fuel up before leaving town, had a long trek through jungle-y mountains hoping we wouldn’t run out of gasoilina.
“8.5km, 8.4km, 8.3km,” I recited, watching the GPS for the next time we’d reach civilization. Brandon would be putting the car in neutral many times before we reached the gas station, but we somehow made it by the skin of our teeth.
We dropped the rental car off and were deposited at the Courtyard near Juan Santamaria airport, which was a nice refresher from the norm of hotels. We felt for a moment like we were back in America: comfy beds, air conditioning, and $12 sandwiches. We also discovered they had free laundry facilities: HURRAY!!!
We were hungry but tired, so we walked to the Wal Mart next door, bought a couple t-shirts, and ate at the cafe there. Clearly, no English was spoken, so there was a lot of miming happening, but it was relatively tasty food, and about an $8 lunch for both of us. No complaints. The Wal Mart was spectaular…ly similar to American Wal Marts: it’s like we’d hit the epicenter of Americana near San Jose. Appropriate, being near the airport.
I fell asleep at about 6:30pm and awoke at 3am for our 6:30 flight. Not a bad night’s sleep for such an early flight, so we had a nice chance to rest up before this terrifying experience. More to come, hopefully, in Bocas. Buenos dias!