Day Two - Fortuna

Only the second day and I feel like we've been on four vacations. We got up very early to start our drive to Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano. We rented a Suzuki Sidekick - a small, white 4X4 with (thank God) air conditioning. As Alajuela began to wake up, we drove through the quiet streets to the PanAmerican Highway. I was amazed by the road - a paved two-lane highway that snakes through Central America from Mexico City to Panama City. What struck me was that this was essentially the equivalent to our Interstate 80. This was the most used road in the country and it looked like a country back road in the States. It had no lines painted on it, no shoulders, and potholes that could ruin your car. Yet there were semi trucks hurling down it at 100kph. Amazing.

We followed the highway to San Ramon, and then cut in and began climbing into the mountains. The new road shrunk to one lane, so we would have to pull over to let oncoming traffic pass. And the potholes started getting bigger - to the point of occasionally eating up the whole road and forcing us to climb in and out of them. I was thankful for the 4X4 traction, as most of the holes were filled with water. The jungle grew thicker and got so dense we felt we were in a tunnel, with green walls rising on both sides of us. We drove through tiny villages, each with a soccer field. Finally we came to a wide, open pasture and the volcano rose before us through the clouds. It looks so out of place, bursting out of a flat plain at an insanely steep angle.

We pulled into Fortuna and found a dirt cheap hotel with shared hot showers and a mattress that felt like a sheet of foam rubber. Then again, it was only US$9 for the two of us...

There are three things to do in Fortuna: go white water rafting on a nearby river, check out the volcano, and check out the waterfall. We weren't interested in the rafting, and we wanted to see the volcano at night, so we headed for what was described to us as a "nice hike" to the waterfall. We followed a path off the road and walked straight into the jungle. It again reminded me of a tunnel blasted out of the thick, green wall of vegetation. We didn't see any wildlife, although a bug the size of a mouse sucked about a gallon of blood out of my leg.

A Local Flower

About half way to the waterfall, we came to an almost vertical drop with the trail heading right over it. An American couple from San Rafael was standing there too, looking over the edge at the roots and branches and rocks you had to negotiate to get to the waterfall. We decided to try, and ended up muddy and wet and satisfied when we finally got to the bottom. The waterfall itself was excellent, with a cool mist and thundering roar from the 100 foot drop.

That night, our tour to the volcano was delayed for an hour, so we drank in the restaurant with Tita, a German engineering student who was traveling around alone in the country for 6 weeks to learn Spanish. "The busses are not made for people nearly two meters tall," he said. Again, I was glad we rented the Jeep.

Later, after many beers, we climbed into an old school bus and drove up the side of the volcano to an observation point. As we got out of the bus, right on cue, the volcano began to rumble and then thunder and hiss as it shot steam into the air. The side of the mountain lit up as lava poured down. It did this three times during the next 20 minutes.

When we got back on the bus, it would not start. Tita, who's summer job is with Ford in Germany, got out and banged on the starter and the engine started right up. Everyone clapped.

Half way down the mountain, we stopped at the Aguas Caliente - a river that comes right out of the side of the volcano. Where we were, the water was about 90 degrees and steam rose into the canopy of the jungle. I swam with two French guys as the rest of the group watched with flashlights. I sat between the rocks and let the hot rapids rush over me.

Twice during the night at the hotel we were awakened by the thunder of the volcano erupting.

     M A P     S L I D E S H O W     C O N T I N U E D