The first couple days of travel are difficult. A long plane ride mixed with a new city and culture, along with sporadic sleep patterns makes the going rough. The first three days were spent in San Jose, a grimy city that doesn’t offer much stimulation to a traveler eager for the novelties of a new place. Large, sprawling, commercial, and dirty sums up the Costa Rican capital. The best part of the stay had very little to do with the city itself. It is the hub for all travelers of the country, so new friends and travel stories were in supply. It was an excellent place to meet worldly people from all different walks of life. We met great people in those first couple days, but the city had so little to offer we had to say our goodbyes sooner than we would have liked.
A five-hour bus ride took us to the town of La Fortuna. After the big city, it was a welcome change of pace. La Fortuna sits at the foot of Volcan Arenal, one of the many large volcanoes doting the Costa Rican northwest. This town became famous after the erupting Volcan Arenal buried its much smaller predecessor El Borio in 1968. After that, El Borio was renamed La Fortuna and was rebuilt. The glowing hot lava that leaked from the volcano attracted photographers from around the world and thus propelled La Fortuna to become a tourist magnet. This persisted until 2010 when Volcan Arenal fell dormant and lost its reputation as the most active volcano in Costa Rica. The tourism though still persisted.
La Fortuna’s town square
Learning to use the GoPro
We rolled into Gringo Pete’s Hostel on Saturday night and discovered a cozy place at about half capacity. No large dorm rooms here. Each group of friends or couple share private rooms for only $7USD a night. The vibrant colours and wood beamed ceilings create a bohemian vibe that suited us just fine.
The entrance to Gringo Pete’s Hostel
The next day, we found ourselves right in the middle of the Independence Day parades that literally run all day. 8am until well past 10pm. The major theme is music – in fact the only themes are music and dance. Community and school bands from neighbouring towns came to march down the main street banging their drums and ringing their Lira’s (a mix between a lyre and a xylophone). The days starts with the young nino’s slowly and unevenly banging away on their instruments while their mothers try desperately to keep them in marching formation – cute, if nothing else. At the end of the day’s festivities we joined about a thousand people around the community track while the best troupes of the evening perform epic marching band routines as light rains visit intermittently. The raining water only seemed to liven the energy of the bands and the crowds alike and by the end of the evening we seemingly floated back to the hostel, our heads ringing with percussion and brass.
Independence Day parade
On our final day we decide to tackle what is considered the most difficult hike in the area behind hiking to the top of Volcan Arenal. Cerro Chato is a smaller volcano (1,140m) that has been dormant for thousands of years. The ascent begins at a small hotel situated on the side of volcano. Sprawling open grassland makes for great vantage points of the small town below. Within a few hundred meters though we are quickly swallowed up by thick jungle vegetation. Our surroundings darken as the dilapidated mud trail guides us onwards and very upwards. Thick fogs turn to rain as we battle the uphill terrain. Over two hours later, we reach our destination – a lagoon that has formed in the volcanoes now sealed opening. Unfortunately, the day was cloudy up atop the volcano so the vast lagoon appeared to be a foggy swamp from the shore. Where we stood mosquitoes buzzed around the mud pools and tadpoles filled the shallows so swimming was quickly off my mind. As it goes, the journey was greater than the destination.
The fog in the trees