Cloud Forest to Hot Volcano
On our last day in the cloud forest we were treated to a very special surprise during breakfast. The guided tour groups were beginning to form outside our rooms when we heard some commotion. Someone had spotted a quetzal not too far inside the trails. Several members of our group quickly left our breakfast behind to try and capture a glimpse of the ever elusive flagship bird that is at the heart of the luscious Monteverde protected cloud forest, which we were so lucky to have as our backyard for these past few days. Sure enough, as we entered the trails the distinctive high pitch call of the quetzal could be heard up in the canopy. The beautiful green and red could be seen clearly from the ground, and the distinctive protruding tail feathers only added to its majestic presence. For the members of the group who have not yet seen the prized bird, it was certainly a treat at just five minutes before we were supposed to leave Monteverde. But the last morning in the cloud forest did not stop giving there, right when the quetzal flew off, a white nose coati came crawling up a log just feet away from the trail. As a relative of the raccoon, but with a longer nose and tail, it is one of the larger animals in Monteverde, and it was unbelievable to have seen two of the largest and most sought after animals in our last minutes in the cloud forest.
With all the commotion during breakfast, our departure from Monteverde got pushed back to 8:30. The ride to Arenal was beautiful and bumpy, like most of our time in the van. We approached the volcano from the far side of the lake that sat below it. Lake Arenal is an artificial lake that was created by a dam with intent on creating hydroelectric power for the rest of the country. Although the lake displaced the original town of Arenal, the hydroelectric power generated was considered successful by once providing electricity to over 70% of the country. Now only consisting of less than 50% of Costa Rica’s power source, the area is still very important in producing electricity as there is the nearby Miravalles Volcano Geothermic plant, and a wind farm on top of the mountain range that we drove by.
Before getting to the hotel, we stopped at a German bakery in Nuevo Arenal (the town that was relocated when the lake was created). And although the volcano was in our sights, we had to drive for about an hour around the lake (the long way) before reaching Lavas Tacotal, our hotel for the night. With such a great view of the Volcano, it was hard to believe that its last major eruption was just eight years ago. And with small amounts of lava flowing up until 2010, it was amazing to see the smoke plume from the crater whenever the clouds would lift. Arenal Volcano got its biggest headlines in 1968 when the enormous eruption wiped out three villages and killed 87 people. For about the next 40 years it was considered the longest continuous lava flow in the world
After lunch we made an ATM stop in the nearby town of La Fortuna before heading to the hot springs. The entire area seemed to be geared towards tourism, as the amount of signs in English is but one of the indicators of the importance of tourism. However, since the Volcano has been considered dormant since 2010, the government is worried that tourists will stop coming to the area. But if they knew how great these hot springs are, there would be no shortage of tourists. Many group members thought the hot springs to be a bubbly hole in the ground. We were surprised to find a resort built around the naturally hot water running from the Volcano into many different pools and waterfalls. With the addition of three intense waterslides, poolside bars, and Nadal playing in the French Open on the flat screen, our couple hours there went by rather fast.
~ Chris Lawrence