Day Three - to Santa Elena
After packing up the next morning, Leslie and I returned to the Aguas Caliente and swam together in the steaming jungle. After, we drove around and behind the rumbling volcano past a spot where our tour guide had stopped the night before. There was an open field which, in 1978, had been a thriving farming community. The mountain had erupted violently that year, and burning, poisonous gasses killed everyone almost instantly. Later, lava flow wiped out all traces of the village except for the school house, which still stands alone at the edge of the field.
We drove the jeep past the hot spring resorts towards Tilaron - an amazing two-hour journey around Lake Arenal. The twisting road completely vanished a number of times, forcing us to plow through mud bogs and ford streams. Occasionally, the road would narrow to less than a lane, with eroded 20 foot drop-offs to the side. Yikes.
In Tilaron, we ate at the restaurant below the Cabinas Mary. The expatriate owner spoke horrible Spanish to us and after our meal, challenged me to a contest. He held two corks between his thumbs and index fingers, and twisted his hand so they were locked, then unlocked, then locked again. He said if I could do it, our lunch was free. I tried and tried and finally gave up, much to his pleasure. We asked him how to get to Santa Elena and Monte Verde. "Head out of town, bear left, and climb for 30 kilometers of Hell." He laughed.
He was right. Again, the potholes turned into canyons and my arms went numb clinging to the steering wheel. We arrived in Santa Elena late in the day and took a room at the Pension Sueno. Rafa, the owner, tried to convince us to take a private guided tour with him on his farm the following day. We said we'd think about it, even though he swore we'd see no wildlife from the well maintained paths of the Monte Verde Cloud Forest. With him, we'd see everything. Later, some other guests convinced us that we should join him. We made arrangements to go the next morning.
That night, Rafa's wife cooked a fish for me that was so good I wanted to cry. We sat at a long table with Rafa and a German couple, Carl and Hellena, who were in their 50s. They were both teachers and were roaming around Costa Rica for 6 weeks and laughed at our 8 day adventure. "You Americans - work, work, work..." We talked long after the meal over a bottle of Chilean wine about the differences between the US and European education systems.
Leslie and I went to bed ridiculously early to the sound of pouring rain on the metal roof.