Yen's Blog

Lens, Wheels, Skates, Keyboard

Costa Rica Day 2 (Wednesday) - San Jose to Arenal

Breakfast brought us on another trip to Denny’s.  You must think we love it.  In reality, the hotel was right next to the very busy Highway 1, the Pan-American Highway.  The only other place within reasonable walking distance would have been Subway’s.  We had a free breakfast voucher, so Denny’s it was.

We managed to get some local currency from the ATM.  Strangely, it also dispensed USD.  We had thought that it allowed you to specify the amount in USD, not actually giving you USD.  We found out the hard way, but on the other hand we were all set for cab fare when we get back.  I had in my hands a wad of 200000 colonnes.  Note to self, next time bring a bigger wallet.  Even with the ATM fee and the bank fee, the rate still turned out to be better than what we could have gotten from the exchange kiosk.

Having eaten our fill of oatmeal at Denny’s, we couldn’t wait to get out of town.  Next stop was Volcán Poás, one in a chain of volcanoes running along the country’s mountainous spine.  The road was in decent condition, but winding.  Of course, we found ourselves stuck behind a big truck but were unable to pass because we couldn’t see past the next bend in the road. Once we entered the national park, the road suddenly became very smooth.  They should put up a sign, “Your entrance fee at work”.   The restrooms were nice, but this was the norm practically everywhere we went in Costa Rica.

Poor man's umbrellas, Volcán Poás National Park

We had expected more strenuous hiking, but the way to the volcano was a gently sloped paved path lined with plants bearing gigantic leaves, appropriated nicknamed “Poor man’s umbrellas”.  The volcano itself is basically a big, smoking crater.  It was strange seeing something resembling the lunar surface amid a lush tropical landscape.  Having seen Mauna Kea, Haleakala, Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Lassen Peak and Crater Lake, I wasn’t overwhelmed, but it was nice nonetheless.

Lake Botos

On the way down, we took a steep but well-maintained trail to another crater lake, one that is more peaceful and not quite so steamy.  The trail was alive with the sounds of birds. In fact, according to the guidebook, it is teeming with no fewer than 26 species of hummingbirds.  Unfortunately from our vantage point, we saw only the few birds that made it down to about 5-10 feel above ground, including some that actually hopped along on the ground.

We were duly famished after the long hike. My last experience told me that the best place to sample some regional cuisine was the “soda”, which is something of a small eatery.  It’s the Costa Rican version of a fast-food place, although there are bona fide fast-food joints (ahem, Denny’s) in big towns and even a local flavor of KFC, Pollo Rey, whose mascot is a dead ringer for Foghorn Leghorn.  We got some delicious home-cooked food, drinks, and coffee for around $16.  Meanwhile, it started raining like a moonsoon and didn’t let up for about 45 minutes.  This, I assure you, was typical.

Toucan, La Paz Waterfalls Garden (north of Vara Blanca)

Next destination was down the a cratered, half-paved road.  Believe me, any paving was better than no paving at all.  La Paz Waterfalls Garden seemed like a tourist trap, and the entrance price was steep at $35/person.  We pulled the trigger and was not disappointed.  You could spend hours in there (or, I should say, I could).  No need to climb trees to see birds, they were all there in a gigantic enclosure.  We started off with a regal-looking hawk, a menacing caracara and a turkey-like bird.  Then I wandered into the toucan cage.  I spent so much time in there even the toucans got annoyed and started making strafing runs at my head.  Other stars included butterflies, monkeys, a pair of sloths, ocelots and a couple of jaguars.  Then I caught glimpse of flittering, iridescent shapes.  Hummingbirds!  Who knew that after slogging through a 2-mile hike to see exactly 1 hummingbird, there they were, dozens of them, buzzing around the red feeders. Unfortunately, it was too dark to get good photos of them in the air.

Cascada Templo, La Paz Waterfalls Garden

The biggest attractions were still to come.  Not one, not two, but three majestic waterfalls occur in quick succession.  The trail takes you close to the front of, and behind, the waterfalls.

Since it was getting dark and we still had to get to the Arenal area, we reluctantly left the park.  In hindsight, we should have continued on the road past La Paz, from which we could have seen the last and lowest falls.  But the GPS, in its brilliance, took us back down close to Highway 1 then back up again.  However, this way, we got quick glimpses of Grecia (the “cleanest” town in Latin America) and the famous topiary garden of Zarcero.  We also got stuck behind trucks, pedestrians, bikers, a cat, and some cows.  And the torrential rain returned throughout the drive.  Even the fastest windshield wiper setting wasn’t nearly enough.  If I were to start a business in Costa Rica, it would not be a car wash.  Maybe something like a suspension and tire shop.

From Volcán Poás to Arenal

The estimable GPS put us at a warehouse.  Clearly not the delightful and luxurious resort we were promised.  We tried, in succession: using the payphone, stopping by another hotel to ask direction and chatting up the gas station attendant in broken Spanish.  Only the last one worked, and he pointed us in the direction of Tilajari Resort.  It was on an entirely different road, Garmin.  The rest is history. Salvation came in the form of dinner and a shower.  This was the second time in two nights we arrived close to 22:00.  Fortunately, Denny’s hadn’t yet expanded to this area.  Dinner was beyond delicious. Did I mention the beef in Costa Rica are all free-range?