Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Hot Time At The Volcano!!

Today we head for the Arenal Volcano.  I don't know about you, but when they told me this hotel was at the base of an active volcano, I became a little bit nervous!!  Apparently there are seven or more active volcanos in Costa Rica ... it's where most of their power comes from ... thermal energy.  I just wasn't up for throwing the dice and betting on eruption or NO eruption!!  
I tried to take my mind off the impending doom by photographing a few flowers.  The orchids here just grab onto any old tree and bloom beautifully!!  I was soooo envious of how they flourished.
Early morning wakeup call came from these guys ... you know, the early bird gets the worm??  Well they were early enough for us to get ready, have breakfast and a coffee break before we caught the bus!!
The previous night we attended a presentation on the Bell Bird, pictured below.  It was kind of a sneaky way to get people to reforest the land.  Although the logging companies were not allowed to clearcut here, the farmers cut down everything in site.  Costa Rica is now trying to reclaim some of that land, plant lots of new trees and save some of the rare species of animals, including the Three Wattle Bell Bird.  
So today, as part of the Collette Vacations sponsorship, our group planted a tree ... well actually Patty and I planted a tree.  How appropriate was that ... Miss Patty the professional gardener and Nancy the ranch hand with the shovel ... planted an avocado tree.  In the end, only one out of a thousand(?) trees survive and provide the small fruit for the Bell Bird to eat.  It's rather a fascinating project, and anyone interested in donating (which Patty and I did) can purchase trees to have planted.  You can even schedule a trip for your girl or boy scout group (or church group) and help plant trees and save the birds.
 This is actually a huge nursery for the new trees soon to be planted.
The locals watched the touristas pass by!!!
A stop at our favorite "banos" spot for snacks.  The bakery here had lots of sweet rolls ... so sweet they were surrounded by honey bees both inside the case and out.  I tried a couple different pastries ... definitely not as sweet as ours, but yummy none the less.
As we pulled in, this big guy was sunning himself on the roof.  As we got closer, he ducked under the tin into the ceiling below.  
The parrot boys were all in their places waiting for the breakfast morsels the tourists provided.
And we are off on another terribly rough, narrow, NOT bus-worthy road to Lake Arenal for an up-close meet with a volcano.
Any creatures spotted along the way became fodder for pictures.  Many predatory birds migrate to Costa Rica every year, including this peregrine falcon.  He hung out patiently as the bus slowly passed by, all of us glued to the windows trying to get pictures!!
Pretty spectacular country, yes???  Everything is so green and beautiful ... of course the photographer in me LOVES the clouds ... they make for great images.  The bad news is that winter is soon to come to Costa Rica and everything turns brown, at least in the lower elevations.  I think the highest we got was around 5,000 feet when crossing over the Continental Divide, which cuts the country in half.
I was holding my breath on this one ... seriously, this truck missed us by about 4 inches.  Had we not stopped, the roll of the bus over a pebble would have launched us into this truck.  Just an everyday occurrence to them!!
Yup ... 45 foot monster bus and THIS is the road we are driving on.  You just had to be there!!  When this tour was advertised as a Costa Rican "Adventure", we had no idea that the word "adventure" meant barely hanging on to the cliff with a few inches of tire, on grades that caused the hot brakes to smell constantly!!!  
Along the way our guide decided to take a quick short cut so we could see their wind farm.  Unlike the ones in the U.S., these were actually all turning and providing electricity for the grid.
My favorite image ... actually taken out the bus window!!
And then we came to the bad spot in the road,  on a 90 degree turn.   Eeeeeeeekk!!!  You can't see the depth here, but that dark spot in the middle is about 18" deep with a couple chunks of concrete in it.  The driver stopped ... put on the brakes ... opened the door and took a closer look, all the while speaking Spanish to our guide, Greivin.  You could tell one was hesitant, and I'm sure the other said "oh what the he## .. they are only Americans ... let's go for it!!"  Amazingly, 22 seat belt buckets clicked simultaneously!!!  If he hit that hole wrong, the bus was going over.  Turns out, the bus is so long, the front went to the left of the hole and the back straddled it.  With a rousing round of applause, the bus driver Jason took a bow!!!  and we unclicked our seat belts!!
I'm in the bus here, looking over the cliff that we are on the edge of, at the horses below.  So if you go to Costa Rica on an "adventure", wear your big boy pants and don't snivel because it's just everyday to them!!
Lunch at the roadside LaJas Restaurant was pretty good.  Roadside because the bus, when parked, stuck out into the road a couple of feet.  I had the Fillet Mignon wrapped in bacon, just to see what the meat tasted like.  Having been a cattle rancher, I know meat tastes differently based on what the beef eat.  When I saw all the brahma here, I expected it would not taste like beef back home.  I was pleasantly surprised that the taste was good, but my fillet was more like a tough sirloin.  Their bacon, which I think must be imported, was very fatty and not fully cooked.  We didn't see any pigs around the country and I know they don't do well in the heat.  Regardless, the price was right!!
 Flowers flowers everywhere.  Across from the restaurant were these amazing gladiolas!!
We finally arrived safely, at Arenal Lake for a short cruise up to the dam.  This lake was man-made to supply water to the power plant ... again using nature to provide electricity to the masses.  Thank goodness we are going on the covered boat ... look at those skies!
On the way down the steps, I noticed pieces of grass moving.  A closer look revealed leaf cutter ants carrying huge loads to somewhere unseen.  Unfortunately, many didn't make it under the footsteps of 22 people going down the steps.
The further we went, the blacker the clouds got.  
As we rounded the corner at the East end of the lake, the clouds lifted and Arenal Volcano came into view.  There are very few times that the cloud cover lifts enough to see the cone, but we were blessed today with time enough to snap a couple of pictures.
We headed further on, the clouds parted and we found the locals enjoying the afternoon.

Our hotel was a very fancy resort/spa with the all important air conditioning.  A walk-in shower even provided hot water!!  Of course I would expect that, being next to the volcano.  
Our neighbors Marielle and Jack took advantage, as we did, of the nice rockers in front of each room.  About this time it started pouring ... I mean more rain than I have ever seen come from the sky.  The lightning was spectacular, followed immediately by rolling thunder.  It was nice to be under cover ... but wait!  We have to walk the quarter mile to the restaurant!!!  With umbrellas in our hands!!  With lightning!!!   We chose to call the desk for a taxi, but they never showed.  We survived the lighting strikes, but were soaked in time for dinner!!
We never did make it to the pool, but it was pretty spectacular!!
Breakfast, lunch and dinner included "typical" rice and beans.  Our 51 year old Bell Bird speaker did note that after 51 years, he was pretty sick and tired of rice and beans!!
And plantains! There were plantains at almost every meal.  Not being a banana person, I passed these by MANY times!!
Did I mention the currency here is Colones ..  I hit the banco for some American money, which the sign said it had ... but three ATM's later the only available cash was colones.  The problem is in figuring out how many colones equal $100.00.  I made some bad calculations and ended up with $240 worth of colones.  Not good when you figure I probably needed only $50.  This is a picture of a $40 bill.  I traded some with Patty and paid for everything I could with colones ... luckily I came up even and didn't have to pay exchange rates.
Time for a good nights sleep ... tomorrow we go up the river!!!

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