Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Costa Rica 33

Here it is Friday, August 4 already! Today we were to leave La Fortuna and the incredible Volcano Arenal behind and head across the mountainous hills for Monteverde. Leaving the rain forests behind and climbing into an altitude where it changes to cloud forests.

We were to again leave early in the morning and take the much touted Jeep/Boat/Jeep transport to get there. I was looking forward to riding in a Jeep again. I sold mine over a year ago and miss it immensely. Of course, thanks to L once again, we had the needed reservations to ensure a place on this trip. Space was evidently limited. We were downstairs at the appointed hour, waiting for our ride to Lake Arenal where we would board the boat for the journey across. On the other side would be the final “Jeep” to take us on in to Monteverde.
Imagine my surprise when L informed us that it really wasn’t a Jeep that would be picking us up at all. (He has traveled this route many times before) In actuality, it was just another run of the mill mini-van. “What about on the other side?”, I asked, hope dripping from my voice. “Nope, another minivan” came the reply. I was greatly disappointed. I thought it would have been great fun to ride in a Jeep again, especially over the great hills I figured we would be going through. Evidently they used Jeeps years ago and have just never changed the brochure.

Our van pulled up to the hotel, actually a few minutes early. There were already people aboard so we waited as they loaded our luggage on top and then squeezed in. Around town we drove, from one hotel to the other, picking up more people that had booked this particular form of transportation. It was at one such stop, when nobody appeared, that the driver decided to check his manifesto. Sure enough, we were on the wrong minivan! I have no idea how that happened, but it did. So our first twenty minutes of the trip that day was just a wasted tour of the other hotels in the area. They drove us back to our hotel and off loaded our backpacks and told us to wait for the next minivan. I have no idea where the people on the minivan we were thrown out of ended up. We never saw them again.

A few minutes later another van pulled up. L insisted on seeing the manifesto to be sure that we were listed on this one before we got on. This time we were the last ones to board and there was hardly any space. We all crawled in and over the present occupants and were on our way. Thankfully, it was only about a 20 minute ride to the Lake, which is on the other side of the volcano from town.

Once our luggage was collected, we were directed to walk down a long cement causeway, much like a boat ramp, and get on the boat down there. Except there were about 15 boats moored down there. B and I just kind of looked at each other, then at L. He said not to worry, just walk down there and they would tell us what boat to get on. Sure enough, that is exactly what happened.

It was a nice boat. I had been worrying a little bit about this part of the trip. I was afraid they would try to cram us into some small fisherman type boat, which would of course tip over in the middle of the lake, sending us and all of our possessions into the water. I was overjoyed to see it was quite large and had ample room for everybody. You could even get up and walk around if you wanted to. I can’t imagine leaving the safety of your seat, but you could have. I took a “window” seat and B joined me in the “aisle” one. L sat across from us. I made careful note of where the life jackets were stored, since none were passed out!

Lake Arenal, named after the famous volcano that looms over it, is formed by the huge dam at the other end. So far away that we could not even see it. This lake provides a major percentage of electrical power for Costa Rica. Suffice it to say that it is huge. We were only crossing one small bay area of it in order to get to the mountainous, non-paved road that leads to Monteverde. The crossing was almost relaxing and certainly beautiful. The water was a nice shade of seafoam green and was surrounded by the verdant hills that ran right down to the shore of the lake. The crossing took 35 minutes.

We reached the safety of the dock and off loaded to stand around in the hot sun and wait for our van. Several vans came and went and they called out your name from a big list they had. Finally our names were called and we ran like a couple of dorks track and field stars to get a place on the small mini-van.

Except that the van was hot and crowded, it was an enjoyable ride. It was almost like being on a slow motion roller coaster. The gravel and stone road at times led us gently up the slopes and other times we seemed to be at 180 degree angle going up. Same with coming down, but with more speed! The hills here are gentle rolling things that all meet up at crazy angles to form beautiful, fertile valleys. This is the land the Quakers found in 1951 and purchased much of it for dairy farming and cheese production. Thus while traveling through this lush land, it is possible to see little villages that look like they have stopped the hand of time from touching them. And let’s not forget the cows. They are everywhere, both behind fences and grazing along the road.

We carried on like this for quite some time, stopping only long enough for the driver to have his lunch. After lunch, the road climbed noticeably higher and got worse. The dusty gravel road was behind us and we were now traveling on mostly clay, rock strewn roads. If not dodging the rocks, we were dodging the numerous potholes and wash outs. By the time we got to our hotel, 3.5 hours later, I felt like most of my internal organs had come loose from their moorings! My rib cage was sore the whole next day. I did read that there are no plans to improve this road from La Fortuna to Monteverde in the near future. The road is purposely kept in bad repair to try to cut down on the number of tourists flocking to the area. They don’t want to loose their eco-system to a bunch of inconsiderate tourists. They will, however, gladly take your dollars!

Our van pulled right up to our hotel door. We unloaded our stuff and checked into our rooms. We had a very nice room, a cabin actually, set into the side of a hill so that our private terrace was actually two floors above ground. The view was spectacular. We could see all the way across the valley below us to the Pacific Ocean! And that was quite some distance. Finally situated, we decided to walk downtown and take a look around.

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