It didn’t take but a few months before I had an itch to return to La Fortuna. In November of 2010 my son, Miles, and I took the first flight of the day back to the land God created with me in mind.
Unlike the first time we drove from San Jose to La Fortuna, the trip was so much easier. There was no dense fog, no crazy drivers and absolutely no stress involved. The previous three-hour trip was now only two hours.
We stayed at the Arenal Lodge (on the way to the volcano, just over the bridge of Arenal Lake). It was so beautiful. The room was very spacious with two queen beds and a sitting area complete with refrigerator and coffee pot. The floors, walls and ceiling were of wood. Patio doors and windows made up the back wall that led to a huge patio with several recliners and table. It over-looked the hotel pool out to the pasture with the volcano in the distance.
The first morning, at breakfast was amazing. We were sitting in the beautiful dining room looking out the windows when I spied my first encounter of a multitude of birds eating fruit on the bird feeder. OMG! I grabbed my camera and out the door I remained for at least an hour, taking a multitude of photos. Finally, Miles brought my breakfast out to me to eat on the patio.
We were sitting there when the hotel’s resident Blue and Gold Macaws flew overhead and then landed on the patio. One of the little guys was very precocious. He came over to our table and attempted to steal our plantains. Miles picked up his plate and turned away. The Macaw was having none of that! He reached out and grabbed Miles’ arm with his beak and pinched him until he gave in. The Macaw won. He had his breakfast.
We headed out to El Castillo, not far from the main road to visit Arenal Eco Zoo which is a snake conservatory. (When you get to the guard house [east of the lake], turn towards the volcano. Pass the park entrance, cross the little bridge and you will see a sign on the right for the conservatory. Turn right and follow the road to El Castillo. When in the town, turn left and the conservatory is on the right.) Even though it was only a few miles from the hotel, it took about 30 minutes to get there. Once again we had to drive down the horrid road that also leads to the Sky Trek ziplining tour we had taken on our first visit. The secondary roads in Costa Rica are not paved. Instead, they are made of rather large rocks. You can only drive about 10-15 MPH on these roads. The rocks are tossed up by your tires, hitting the underneath side of the car. So you need to go slow enough to hopefully not damage something. Also, once the rocks are thrown up, they leave holes in the road. So you are constantly driving “all over” the road in an attempt not to hit potholes.
At the snake conservatory we met an intriguing guide. As is the norm, many of the people there speak fluent English. He asked where we were from and what we did for a living. Miles piped up and told him that I volunteered at the Houston Zoo. That opened up a door for an amazing adventure of which I had never dreamed. The guide started opening the snake exhibits and handed snake after snake to us to hold. I don’t know, but maybe he thought since I worked at the zoo I would naturally love snakes. Before that moment, I was terrified of snakes. If I saw one in the yard, it would be dead in a matter of minutes. For the next hour we handled more snakes than you could shake a fist at. It was totally awesome! This experience caused me to get my docent certification at the Houston Zoo to handle snakes which I do every time I work there. I am still afraid of snakes when I encounter one in the yard, but I do not run for the shovel anymore. Every time I return to La Fortuna, I always visit the conservatory.
Our next visit was to the Hanging Bridges.
(Coming from La Fortuna, cross the bridge at the lake and immediately turn right. Go up the hill and you will come to the entrance.) The hike takes you up and around the park on brick-paved stones. You must go slowly, constantly observing the side of the hill and into the forest. If you walk too fast you will miss snakes, birds, leafcutter ants and all sorts of little creatures. There are 16 bridges to cross. Each one is named for the adventure to come. For example, the Tarantula bridge takes to the area where there are a multitude of tiny holes in the side of the hill. If you peer into the hole, you will see hairy legs. Yes, tarantulas. They have assured me they are not venomous. But still, I do not pester them. Another bridge takes you over the tree tops. You can see for miles. In the tree tops do not miss the butterflies! You can walk down to a small waterfall at one point.
The entire hike takes about two hours, providing you are taking your time.
Hiking is in my blood. I cannot hike “forever,” but I do love to walk. We decided to visit the Arenal National park and volcano. (The part entrance is down the road across from the guard building.) How often is it that you are offered the opportunity to get “up close and personal” with an active volcano? We hiked up to the base, as close as permitted, to see what it was like. Yup, there was a huge sign that said, “Do not come any closer or you DIE!” Okay, close enough for me!
In the forest, they have a tree that is touted as being one of the largest in the country. The photo shows Miles standing at the base of the tree.
Looks huge enough to me! We didn’t see any birds except the White-throated Magpie-Jay in the parking lot.
Immediately following this hike we relaxed at the Lava Lounge in La Fortuna.
It has become a favorite place to kick back and relax.
From there we visited Proyecto Asis located in Ciudad Quesada. It is a refuge for rescued wildlife. When we arrived the door was shut so I knocked. A guide opened the door, I asked if we could tour the park, and he motioned us in. I did not realize they were closed—I just thought you had to knock to get in. No worries: he hooked us up with one of the caretakers and we got a private tour. There were habitats for injured, abandoned and confiscated animals. We got to play with the raccoons,
feed the baby Kinkajous,
pet the rescued sloth and listen to the amazing stories of how the animals got there.
Especially of interest was the sloth and her baby.
She was found hanging from an electrical wire. She had apparently climbed the electrical pole to claim it as her home. She must have slipped and ended up dangling with her arm over the live wire. Someone noticed her, alerted the center, and they were able to get her down. They had to amputate the arm, but she appeared to be okay. One month later, much to everyone’s surprise, she gave birth. They did not know she was pregnant, or how she managed to hold on to the fetus with all the electrical current that invaded her body. But mama and baby were fine.
They also confiscate animals that are in people’s homes illegally. One such animal is the monkey.
People buy or sometimes steal them from the mother to have as a pet. But after a few months, the monkey becomes uncontrollable and they either confine them to a much-to-small cage or set them free. This is a problem since they do not know how to fend for themselves and will surely die in the wild.
At the center, the animal is cared for and will hopefully be returned to its natural surroundings. In some cases, the animals must live at the center forever.
Proyecto Asis is a non-profit organization. They welcome volunteers to help care for, feed and build habitats. Check out their website if you have a desire to make a difference.
(From downtown it’s about 1 mile to the road leading to the waterfall. Turn right, go to the dead end. There you are!) I had absolutely NO idea how physically taxing this hike was going to be. I looked down the hill, into the forest, and could see nothing but steps. “Hummm… how far was it to the cataratas? Couldn’t be that far. Think I’ll count the steps as I go.” HA! The steps are bricks placed at uneven positions. Some are a three-inch drop; some are 10”; you may have to step out farther to reach the next brick. Every step of the way you must look at your feet or you will stumble. At one point you hold onto a rope and make a hairpin turn while kinda jumping down to the next level. Finally, about 400 steps down, you see the cataratas. What a site! Unlike the small cataratas at The Hanging Bridges, this was a site to behold. We spent about an hour at the cataratas not only to absorb the beauty, but also to soak our extremely tortured calf muscles. When we reached the bottom, my legs were shaking worse than I had ever imagined. I really did not think I could walk even one step farther. After soaking in the cold, cold water of the river,
I thought I was ready to ascend all those steps. Lord a mercy! I think I got maybe 50 steps up when I was gasping for breath. Miles had lagged behind and decided he would run up the steps. He caught up with me, and he was not much better off. It took quite a while before I finally reached the top. Needless to say, for the next few days I bathed in Ben Gay and moaned each and every time I had to walk.
During our week in La Fortuna we visited every butterfly habitat we could find. Unknown to us, there were a lot of other adventures of which we were not aware. Oh….. this means that yet another trip needed to be planned for next year.
We had heard about the beautiful cataratas there, and wanted to see another work of God’s beauty before leaving. To get there, you take a different route out of La Fortuna and we were told it was only about an hour drive. After we got through various small towns, we turned off onto a road that would become the drive from hell. At first we thought it was so awesome to see the road below us and all the hairpin turns. It didn’t take long when we realized there was absolutely no other traffic—coming or going. Suddenly we hit a place where the road seemed to drop with the pavement reaching out over the side with no earth under it. Screech to a halt! Heart throbbing. Panic attack. What happened to the road? Oh, man. We got as close to the inner side of the road as possible and drove so slowly so we could actually see every pebble in the road. This one-hour drive took us three hours. Nerve wracked, we finally passed two vehicles. We felt a little better. Shortly thereafter we sited the majestic La Paz cataratas directly in front of us. Praise the Lord! We had made it. What we were NOT told is that the road was hit hard by an earthquake earlier in the year. Ah, mystery solved. The road wasn’t even open to thru traffic, yet there were no signs posted. “Just another adventure successfully completed.”
We ended our vacation in San Jose. I wanted to visit the zoo yet another time. I was able to makes a donation while there that really helped me feel like I could maybe make a difference. Again, we stayed at the Don Carlos Hotel (see previous blog for details).
And back to Houston, we came. This time with so many more memories and hopes to return sooner than later.
All photos are copyrighted by Cindi L Rogers
If you are interested in visiting this wonderful country, or if you would simply like more information, please don’t hesitate to bookmark my blog for continuous updates and additions to my travels and explorations. Or you can always email me privately. If you decide to visit La Fortuna, let me know and perhaps we can meet up so I can give you a tour of the town.