Montana de Fuego Spa Resort – Costa Rica, Arenal Volcano
When El Cap asked, “Where do you want to go on vacation this year?” and I said, “I don’t know; last year I spent a month dragging you down every backroad in the state, why don’t you pick a place you want to go?” I thought maybe we’d end up in the Caribbean or maybe a week at the beach.
I did not expect five days in Costa Rica, staying at a small spa with hot springs, surrounded by rainforest and the Arenal volcano. After a long day of flying and driving (the “Super Shuttle” picked us up shortly before 4 this morning, then we flew from TPA to FLL at 6:30, had a three hour layover before a flight to San Jose, then an unbelievable drive from San Jose to Fortuna, the town surrounding the volcano), we are filling our jacuzzi with hot water and looking forward to a long night’s sleep between the sheets.
A few notes about this beautiful, amazing, heartbreaking country: there are dogs everywhere. They appear, for the most part, taken care of and not feral, but they appear to live outside. We saw a red puppy racing along the roadside, as though trying to catch up with someone. He was aware of us and took care not to run out in the road, but the roads are narrow, the drivers are insane, and I cannot imagine that pup will live as long and healthy a life as one not allowed to frolic alongside traffic. We did see one dead dog on one of the few sidewalks on this portion of the Pan-American Highway, a white, curly–haired, smallish dog, left to the happy vultures, every one of which dwarfed the pup. It made me ache for Calypso (as well as every other dog we saw today.) I am amazed the drivers don’t kill more dogs.
Because make no mistake, Tica drivers are fucking nuts. If the speed limit allows 40 kilometers per hour and we were traveling at, say, 58, they wanted to pass us. That’s no big deal until you factor in mountain roads with no guard rails. Mountain roads, I feel compelled to add, that wash away in parts with a cheerful alacrity. Our GPS warned us of speedbumps (not a big deal) and “dangerous bridges”, although about 90 minutes into the drive I started referring to them as just plain “bridges” because really, in this country, “dangerous bridge” lacks efficiency of words. One suspension bridge was made of the cheese grater-like, industrial strength hardware cloth, much like our drawspans back home except that was the whole damn bridge. Also, it was one lane. For two lanes of traffic. And it was really, really high.
Of course, you approach almost every one of these bridges blind, because the roads twist in such a manner here that it makes the nest of power cords behind a computer desk look like child’s play. I shit you not, the GPS had a little graphic of the car on the display screen, and for most of the drive the roads twisted so severely that the GPS could not keep the car on the route – it looked like a 1980s video game.
But sweet bouncing baby Jesus, this country has beautiful land. We’re staying at the foot of Arenal, a volcano that only recently began erupting again, and since it’s the raining season, clouds cloak it every afternoon as the rains move in. Foliage all around explodes into brilliant colors, and the sheer size fo the leaves dwarfs you. As we traveled further away from San Jose (a hole, as far as I could ascertain) and deeper into the mountains, waterfalls begin to dot the roadside. This, of course, makes it easy for road to wash away from time to time, but breathtaking nonetheless.
We stopped for a late lunch at a roadside soda, the Tica equivalent of a diner, only with better rice and beans. We drank fresh papaya juice; I ate a tamale with rice and beans that taste nothing like anything back home, although they look the same. El Cap had fajitas, although, again, they didn’t look a thing like Chili’s (thank god!) but tasted much better. The plantains we tasted were cubed and not deep fried and much starchier than what we’re used to eating.
Once we arrived at the hotel, we settled in and took a stroll. We met an off-duty concierge, Sergio, at the bar. He showed us the hot springs and the volcanic mud and then, but chance, talked about his other career as a biologist.
I told him about Carlton Ward and the Wildife Corridor and he told us about the the Central American equivalent. Apparently a monkey can now cross Central America without leaving the trees. He worked, he told us, for the Nature Conservancy as part of the effort. We chatted a bit about traffic and animals and corridors, and he invited us to join him this morning for a walk through the property (it has something like 53 hectares, which sounds impressive. Of course, I don’t know what a hecatre is, so it could be
the equivalent of a city park or I could be venturing into the Costa Rican equivalent of Alaska. With a stranger. Which I am sure will work out fine). He is doing a bird count. What a completely random meeting. I feel like I should say something about how much I love how the Universe works, but maybe I should save that comment for my return from the wilderness.
I hope the little red pup is OK. I can’t get that out of my mind.