Recap - we left Newark and flew to San Jose, toured the city, ate Wendy's, found the mercado and met most of our group.
I slept like a rock despite the less than fabulous beds at La Amistad, nevermind the noise. After a shower and a quick repack, Jam and I headed down to meet up with the rest of the group and have some breakfast. We were wondering if the incredibly loud people we had heard at the hotel were our group members. Breakfast was super-crowded with all kinds of people, and we couldn't pick out anyone we thought might be joining us. Three girls sat with a group of boys and I thought "hmm that looks like trouble." How wrong! The three girls turned out to be twin sisters, Andrea and Petra, and their friend Gudren, all from Austria, and the boys were just some random guys probably trying to pick them up. Their luggage had gotten lost and sorting that out had kept them from joining us earlier. Then there was a mother-daughter set from Wales, just lovely people, and a guy from the Boston area, who had planned the trip last minute. Luckily the group dynamic was only enhanced by the additions, something for which we were all grateful, because it was clear that the group was going to get along amazingly well!
After breakfast we put our stuff on the sidewalk and helped load it onto the roof of a bus. We paid for private transport most of the time if it hadn't been arranged already because it was cheap ($5-7 per person) and much faster than public. We arranged ourselves on the bus and went through introductions again. In my head I obnoxiously congratulated myself on knowing everyone's name, because usually I am incredibly bad at names. INCREDIBLY bad but I had somehow remembered: Dawna, Lois, Peter, Christina, Elizabeth, Shawna, Lisa, Shefali, Dave, Gudren, Andrea, Petra, Iona, Tina, Jamaal and Allison. *Pats self on back* As we were about to leave La Amistad, Dawna, our guide, got some great news. The Austrians' luggage had been found! I was glad of this because the three girls were moving on after our trip to the eastern side of Costa Rica and 3- 4 weeks without luggage sounded grim.
I liked the ride to the airport because it gave us a chance to see San Jose suburbs a bit. We saw some small village-esque settlements that were pretty basic, but nicer than the corrugated tin village slums I remember from Kenya. The billboards around the city weren't unlike the ones we have around here, only in Spanish. There were a lot for car dealerships, Ford, Honda, Chevy, BMW, Mercedes, Toyota, and a lot for food, from fast food like McDonalds, to familiar brands, like Coke, which is really a worldwide phenomenon I suppose. I liked this Coca Cola billboard because it was so colorful - it was animated too!
After a quick stop at the airport our journey to La Fortuna continued. We had to climb the rolling hills outside of San Jose, and quickly found ourselves on a dirt-paved and rocky mountain road. It was narrow and a bit daunting when the fog rolled in so thick you could barely see 3 feet in front of you, but given my experience on shady Kenyan roads I figured 1. the driver knew what he was doing and where he was going and 2. if you get nervous other people will think there's something to be nervous about and before you know it you'll have a bus full of neurotic people freaking out. Therefore, I relaxed. Pretty soon the fog cleared and we found ourselves high above farm country. It was just beautiful. There were coffee farms as far as the eye could see. I realize that the landscape of a coffee farm tends to be unnatural, and coffee isn't always the most environmentally sensitive crop, but it is a lovely crop to look at, deep green, shiny leaves, with plants planted in neat rows. I suppose it appeals to my type A personality rather than my conservation biology conscience! Don't worry, I bought fair-trade shade-grown organic for souvenirs ;)
We trucked along for quite a while. We drove along cliff-edges, up small mountainsides and through dense jungle-like foliage. I saw impatiens and lantana growing wild by the side of the road in large heaping bushes, nothing like the stunted annuals we try to grow at home. We saw lots of beautiful things just by the side of the road - this waterfall is one such thing. We pulled over abruptly and there we were. We enjoyed this waterfall only for a few minutes; we had a deadline to meet as 12 of our group were going white water rafting before moving on to La Fortuna. We piled back into the bus, and as we crossed the river this waterfall feeds, we saw someone being baptized. Cool.
We dropped everyone off for white water rafting, and, after Jamaal, Christina and I answered endless questions about why we were choosing not to go white water rafting (there are a billion reasons, the most important being that we simply didn't want to and it was our vacation to do with it what we wanted!!) Dawna decided it was time for a lunch break. We pulled over at a little place by the side of the road that had birds and iguanas hanging out in the back and ordered some food. I wanted a drink more than anything, I was hot and a bit dehydrated, but then Jam convinced me to go for some pollo, and it was delicious. Christina let me try some of her ceviche. I hate fish as a rule, but this was A-MA-ZING. The restaurateur explained that the fish was white marlin, and I know that's found in Costa Rican waters, so it was probably pretty fresh. Yum.
After our break Dawna took a rest in the back of the bus (she had an ailment she caught in Mexico and was still ill. Use your imagination) and the three of us sat in the front and chatted. I looked for birds and looked out at the beautiful landscape. We decided that we'd hear about some sidetrips once we got to La Fortuna, and then do some exploring before the group got back. Once we arrived in town we took a few minutes to get settled. Jam and I had a lovely room on the second floor of Hotel Tropicale Paraiso. The room was pretty basic, but the view was nice - we could see the tip of the volcano peaking out over the building next door.
We met up with Christina and decided that we should bike or hike to La Fortuna waterfall, which is midway up the side of a volcano. Um ok, I thought, even though as a rule I hate hiking! We bought some water and snacks at the local supermarket and set out following the signs to the waterfall. Down the road we intercepted a taxi to confirm directions. "Ah yes, waterfall, 6km that way" he pointed in the direction we were heading. "You want a ride?" he asked, and stares doubtfully when we heartily refuse. Ha. We set out and encounter a hill. "Oh, this must be one of the two hills the lady at the bike shop told us about" I say - we decided on hiking against biking because the bikeshop lady said that biking up there might be too hard because of the hills. So we hike it. I get winded and need to stop for water. And we hike more. And there are more hills. And more hills. And it never seems to stop. There are some nice things on the way though. We pass small farms with dogs and horses and cows, a woodworker's shop that has beautiful large carvings in the front yard, tiny ecotourism lodges, things of that nature. When it's not too cloudy, there's was a nice view from the hillside. We continued our tireless trek to the top, lapped several times by cars, taxis, and people on horseback.
We finally reach the top and learn you have to pay to get in. We agree to pay, and then we're informed that it will take 45 minutes to make it to the waterfall and back. We have 1 hour before we're supposed to meet the group and leave for another hike. Damn. We decide we don't have the time and turn around, trying not to feel defeated. We enjoy the view on the way down, which is quite lovely. We run into a couple from Spain who spotted an amazing toucan. We see birds everywhere, and I spot parrotlets and aracaris in a lot of the trees. As we're making our way down the mountain, the skies open and it starts to rain. Not too badly at first, but then, it's pounding. Every inch of me is soaked. I start to pick up the pace, something which I think surprised Jam and Christina because I had literally lumbered up the mountain, and now I was skipping down it at a high rate of speed. I didn't want to be too wet though, plus we had to meet the group!!! My wet clothes were weighing me down, but luckily I had chacos on so I had good traction through the water. Though a man stopped and offered us a ride, we were determined to make it on our own. We made it to the town area and slogged our way through flooded streets and sidewalks, only to see our tour bus pulling away. NOOO! We ran to the tour office and caught them and someone said "wanna come with us to the volcano." Though I did, I was so wet and cold that I agreed with Jam and Christina, that we'd take a taxi and meet them at our next destination. I think the rest of the group thought we were being antisocial, but seriously, we weren't, we just wanted to dry off!
As luck would have it though, Dawna rearranged our plans. Instead of going up to Arenal, we went to its base to look for some lava, and bought pizza to eat at the side of the road. Though we didn't see any lava the pizza was delicious and the night was filled with hundreds of fireflies. It was a lovely end to a busy day. But it wasn't really the end, because after dinner, it as party time. We went to Baldi Hot Springs to warm up our bones and drink some liquor. I donned my bikini (which is skimpy to me, but I was trying to be BOLD!!) and soaked with Jamaal. We danced in the hot springs, had a photo shoot trying to get a daily picture, and then enjoyed ourselves at the swim up bar where the specialty drink was a concoction of alcohol called the Pura Vida. I had 2! TASTY. To top off the night, our driver came in with a bug he had found in his back yard. He declared that he was going to make it his pet and take it everywhere with him, and he had even named it, but after he let everyone who wanted to hold it, he told us he'd take it home and let it go in his backyard. Though I'm not sure I'd WANT that thing in my back yard. But that's Costa Rica for you - same stuff as home but bigger and better and more colorful. It was another great end to a wonderfully busy day.