This weekend was our first expedition to other parts of the country. Thursday was just a normal day at school, interspersed with studying, facebooking, eating lunch with friends, and making runs to Rice n Smile for arroz con leche. That evening, however, we all went to the movies and saw Toy Story 3 in 3D. It was really fun and the 3D was really cool (I was skeptical but pleasantly surprised). We went to the showing in English with Spanish subtitles so that we’d be able to understand it. The whole night was a lot of fun before we got back to the hotel to start packing for Friday we set off for the Arenal Volcano.
After a quick breakfast we threw all of our stuff (except small overnight bags/backpacks) into a storage room at Hotel Colaye before meeting Andres, who would be our driver for the trip. We then took his fancy tour bus (equipped with air conditioning, a bathroom, and a DVD player) to a hotel near the volcano. We stopped at a souvenir shop and took pictures of the excellent view on the way. the whole drive was through lush rain forest, mountains, valleys, and farmland for several different crops. We saw pineapple and sugar cane (the main crops of the area) as well as papaya, banana, rice, and yucca. there were also crops for ornamental plants to be shipped out to the US or Europe. Almost everyone used living fences and Fernando explained how cutting one branch off of one of those trees an sticking it in the ground would sprout an entire new tree to add to the fence.
We drove through a few small towns, passing churches and hospitals and schools along the way. All the kids were in school and Fernando explained that the scool year runs fromt eh second week of February to the second week of December, with a two-week break in July. In small communities the schools have two different shifts: 7am-12pm and 12:30-5:30pm. They switch off who has which shift throughout the week.
After crossing the continental divide (where the rivers flow to the Pacific on one side and to the Caribbean on the other) we stopped on the Caribbean side at a fruit stand about a half hour away from our new hotel. Across the street was a cocoa tree which the owner of the property kindly allowed us to examine. Fernando managed to cut a ripe cocoa bean pod down so we could taste it, too. It was really hot and humid outside but the kind lady of the house made us stay int he shade until we got back on the bus to continue on our way.
Fernando also used this opportunity to show us bread fruit, which when cooked correctly tastes like a potato, and guan’abanana. He said that the guan’abana is really good if you just put it in a blender with ice and sugar and then drink it. He also found some pejivayes (from which we ate soup our first lunch) which turned out to be small yellow/red fruits about the size of an egg. The fruit stand also sold fresh, natural cashew nuts. Fernando told us that they sometimes have cashew juice and that cashews are fruit as well as nuts (the picture he showed us of this was really cool).
We spent the weekend in the Hotel Jardines Arenal (Arenal Gardens Hotel), where I stayed in a triple room with Sam and Indira. Our room was right behind the reception desk, with the window opening onto the patio where everyone hung out. It was a funky place. The paint was colored (yellow in our room) with white scribbles over it and wood paneling over the ceiling and top third of the walls. There was no hot water and our AC was broken so we suffered the heat and humidity with only a fan for relief and bugs and geckos for company.
After leaving our stuff in our rooms we got back on our bus and went to the town of Fortuna. Fernando showed us a tree that they used to make perfume (the flowers smelled very perfumey) before we all headed to the Soda Parada for lunch. I ordered garlic bread (pan con ajo) and casado con pollo but when my entree came, they gave me chicken fajitas instead. My order had been switched with that of another girl’s further down the table but it took us a while to realize it. Both dishes tasted good and the portions were so large that we couldn’t finish the food even after switching and sharing.
When we had finished eating, the weather started pouring rain. a few people brought out their ponchos or umbrellas while other just huddled under eaves and ran back to the bus. Everyone was worried because we were supposed to be leaving to go on the canopy tour, but were unsure if we’d be able to with the rain. The rain soon stopped however, and by the time we arrived at the canopy tour place, Fernando’s friends there said we could go ahead with it. We commenced signing waivers and getting into harnesses.
By the time everyone was geared up, the weather had cleared and we had a perfect view of the volcano. The Arenal volcano (as Fernando explained on the bus) is 1633 meters tall and has been active since 1968. We were apparently extremely lucky with our clear view of it for many people who visit never manage to see it so well. We were even able to see smoke and steam coming out of it as it erupted, it was really cool.
The Canopy Tour Guides split us into two groups so I, and everyone else in the second, waited for the entire first group to go ahead of us. We listened to the screams of fear and yells of excitement of the first group while Fernando gave us a few extra pointers. After a short hike and a quick demonstration, we climbed the stairs to the first platform to be sent down the first zip line.
The guides were really funny and continuously imitated and made fun of us. They hooked us onto the cable one at t time and we each began flying through the treetops. There were 11 zip lines and 12 platforms and everyone did them all. On the way zipping down the mountain we saw monkeys, a toucan, and a three-toed sloth that was right under one of the platforms. The experience was absolutely amazing.
When we reached the bottom of the hill, a group of people met us with water and a tractor to cart us all back up to the bus. When everyone was ready, we took the bus to a restaurant for dinner where we enjoyed some old 80s music, strange music videos, and kareoke. Though everyone was tired, we had a great time and did not head back to the hotel for several hours.