Monteverde to La Fortuna – Costa Rica
After a week of lounging on beaches, we eagerly arrived in Monteverde up in the central mountains for several days of hiking through cloud forest, horse trekking, zip lining and bungy jumping. We left having done none of it. Instead, I spent the entire time crapping through the eye of a needle, cowering in bed with stomach cramp and getting eaten alive by a colossal army of bed bugs that I failed/refused to realise during the first two nights of my initial agony. Apparently, the little blood stains on the bed that had appeared overnight, were in fact bed bugs that I had lay on and squashed! So onwards and surely upwards, our final destination, La Fortuna.
As the crow flies, only about 40km separate La Fortuna and Monteverde, but a lake, volcanoes and forest get in the way, and whether you choose to go around by road or across by lake, both take around three hours. With this in mind I took an Imodium for safety and thankfully arrived at our luxury resort in time for lunch which for me, consisted of a plate of fries; my first food (other than two bowls of soup) for three days. Our change of location was profound having spent the previous three nights in a hostel for the simple fact that it looked nice in the pictures and I’m adamant I’m still in my early twenties. Now, we had arrived at our final stop and I had planned months before that it was going to be somewhere super nice to finish off a great month in Costa Rica, and a final treat for the good lady who had recently graduated from med school. La Fortuna is probably the most visited tourist destination in Costa Rica. Dominated by the Arenal volcano that erupted with devastating consequences (as volcanoes have a habit of doing) in living memory, and with a caldera that could still light up the night sky up until a only a few years ago, the sight of the volcano alongside the hot springs that it provides is more than enough to attract people to the area. We were treated to the lot from our room. Walking out the bedroom door we were met with a stone hot pool that was filled with deliciously warm natural spring water, all heated by the volcano that dominated our view from the very same spot. With the joy of humming birds flying from flower to flower in the bushes that surrounded us, and the complementary bottle of Malbec, we decided it was money well spent. There was one thing that struck me though. That is how much money people will pay in order to spend some time at a place that has been designed to feel like you are in nature without really being in it.
Disappointingly, my first night in La Fortuna was a disaster as the Imodium left my body and my guts awoke to a plate of fries sitting inside it. The response was quite cruel, feeling pain I haven’t felt since my appendix exploded however, I woke the following morning feeling the best I’d felt all week; a little like the end of a good movie when the bad guy goes out in spectacular style. Think The Eye of Sauron at the end of Lord of the Rings. It was time to get active again and the following day we headed off horse riding where we sat upon horses that were pre-programmed to take us up the hill, wait for us to go for a walk, and then return us back to the stables. All we had to do was sit and from time to time bounce depending on how fast they wanted to get from A to B, no steering was required which made the whole experience a little dull. The horse riding that is, the surroundings were as beautiful as ever and the aforementioned walk took us to the base of one of Costa Rica’s most famous waterfalls, the 70 metre high, La Fortuna waterfall. The falls are worth a look and if we had paid attention we would have packed swimwear and swam at the base of the falls with everyone else but to be fair, we thought we had paid for three hours of horse riding, not a donkey ride and a swim. Nonetheless, it was great to be out and doing something. By 1.20pm, after a quick lunch, we were heading out to the lake for a three hour guided kayak in the gaze of Arenal. Now, we knew this would be risky because every afternoon the skies would come alive with energetic thunderstorms and endless rain. Of course the day before when we had nothing planned, it stayed sunny and dry until 5pm but not this day. After a cloudy and damp hour out on the lake, happily exploring river channels, the afternoon storm arrived to cut our time on the water in half. In fact it rained so much, we had to wait for 20 minutes on our way back to the hotel for a flooded road to become passable and once that obstacle had been passed we had to wait 30 minutes longer for an accident to be cleared a little further on. The rain continued late into the afternoon and so we did what anyone else would do; grab some cold beers and jump into the hot tub in the back garden.
PCR testing gets in the way of everything but such is life and with our morning and $300 gone we simply had to hope that the weather would hold for our afternoon activity. It did. We had booked onto a multiple adventure thing that involved getting into a harness and making our way through the forest on a series of zip lines, rope bridges, ladders and ropes of varying degrees of excitement. We had hit the jackpot with this activity as the weather had become wet and moody but the heavy rain, thunder and lightening stayed away. This provided some wonderful scenery with the low cloud hugging the tree tops and we could watch each other fly down a zip-line and disappear into the clouds from time to time. We were also the only ones to be doing the activity and accompanied with two jolly instructors, there was plenty of time for photos and no time hanging around waiting for others. The Tarzan swing was particularly good fun, jumping off a platform on top of a small waterfall and then you would find yourself swinging over a much higher, second waterfall, one that we would be rappelling down once the swing was over. There were no speed or free-fall records to be had here but there was just the right amount of adrenaline for a Sunday afternoon where one could have great fun without going through the terror that usually accompanies a huge adrenaline rush.
It’s strange, Costa Rica is held in high esteem for its eco-tourism but what does that actually mean? Yes, the country originally had a good go at chopping down all its trees for agriculture until the government changed tact and offered incentives to plant trees and protect the forest and yes, as a result, Costa Rica’s trees and abundant wildlife is the core to it’s tourism sector, but…. plastic straws and single use bags were still easily available, rich tourists cruised around on ATV’s, and I failed to see a single solar panel during the whole month. Strange for a country that sells itself as an eco-destination. And it’s not strictly a poor country, with both the cost of living and that charged to tourists high. Maybe I’m just grumpy because of the constant screeching of motorbike engines, but surely a country that preaches environment sustainability can insist on electric motorbike engines these days, especially when the cost can be immediately transferred to high paying western tourists? Aside from this technicality, Costa Rica is a wonderful country and is able to offer something for everyone from honey mooners to backpackers to families young and old. My personal recommendation is to go to the most remote areas you can find, away from the tourists and immerse yourself in what truly remains of the natural world. It looks difficult on paper, but the country is tiny and besides you can easily get a scheduled domestic flight. Alas, when it comes to the environment, it’s impossible not to contradict yourself. Top marks to Costa Rica for actually trying though. One of my most memorable moments was on a night walk in Drake Bay coming across an eyelash viper curled around a branch just above our heads, eyeing up a frog. This was a snake that can make your eyes bleed if it bites you, but we (including the guide) were no less excited to see such a creature. I think I may have come across as a little negative about Costa Rica over the course of the blogs, but don’t let my battle with becoming a grumpy old bastard fool you. Costa Rica is rammed full of unique experiences like that of the viper sighting, and unlike most other countries around the world, this one has a conscious. A safe and stable country that has created a purpose for itself in the world, a Noah’s Arc where people can genuinely experience more wildlife than they thought possible. I may not be one for tacky labels such as ‘eco-tourism’ but whatever you want to call it, Costa Rica surely leads the world.