As of Tuesday, April 18th we had spent 2 1/2 glorious days on the beach on Costa Rica. And it was time to move inland. Destination: La Fortuna.
We stayed in three different locations while in CR: Playa Hermosa, La Fortuna and Santa Elena (Monteverde). How did we choose? It started with identifying the types of things we wanted to do: beach time, hiking time, hiking time, flower time, bird time, monkey time…you get the idea. Then, I started researching areas that offered all of those things within a reasonable (3-4 hour) proximity of each other. A bunch of more research (using both travel books and online resources) and…voila!…we had a rough itinerary. To choose lodging I did a lot of research on Trip Advisor. Sense a theme? Research.
Playa Hermosa is around three hours from La Fortuna on good roads, so we weren’t in a big rush to leave that morning. Of course, we were enjoying a last swim in the ocean at 7 and eating breakfast at 8, so were on the road by 9 or so. Oh, well, the early bird…
What struck me most during the drive was watching the brown of the coast turn to the lush green of the rainforest. I found it reminiscent of the area North of Hilo, Hawaii.We left the four lane highway an hour in and set out on a windy two-lane road. There were areas that were very pastoral. Rolling fields with cattle and horses. We passed through an area filled with windmills. Then, at a crest, the mighty Lake Arenal showed herself to us for the first time.
Lake Arenal is the largest lake in Costa Rica, covering 33 square miles. The lake tripled in size in 1979 with the addition of a dam. Two towns, Arenal and Tronadora, were abandoned and overtaken by the expansion. Neuvo (new) Arenal, an attractive, busy little town now sits high above the shores of the lake.
It is an impressive (and beautiful) lake.
Shortly before arriving in Neuvo Arenal we went flying past a nondescript wooden building with a pile of wood in front and a rustic sign reading Equus Bar. I said, “Heeeeyy…that’s where that is!” I had done some poking the evening before and was intrigued by Equus, known for it’s wood-fired bbq, but it didn’t appear to exist on the GPS. As we headed up another hill the husband asked what I was referring to. I explained as we pulled into the lot of Macadamia Cafe, which sits on the top of a hill with expansive views, unlike Equus, which sits across from the lake shore.
We considered our options. Macadamia…which has sandwiches, is visited by tour buses, and has a gift shop. Or, somewhat questionable looking Equus, which had great online reviews. We agreed that we were there for the experience, so headed back down the hill.
Stepping into Equus is like stepping into a dusty building from the Old West. It is not fancy. Every surface is coated with the fine dust that comes from a constantly stoked fire. It feels…gritty. And the smell? Meaty. In a very, very good way. We were one of only a scant handful of customers. We made our way upstairs, to better view the finger of lake that could be seen from the restaurant. After perusing the menu we ordered pork ribs, with sides of beans and tortillas.
The pork arrived with a side of cat. It’s not uncommon for restaurants and businesses in CR to have a resident cat and dog. Thus, our platter of pork had barely hit the table in front of us when a green eyed feline began winding around our legs.
The cats in CR are petite. Like, I could cram three CR cats into the beefy, American Colby Jack (our large orange feline). Of course, they use this feline petite-ness to their advantage; assuming expressions of sweet, baby-esque hunger. Suckers me in every time.
Let’s talk about the pork. It was not pork ribs like we expected. It was more like chunks of pork, with only a smattering of bones. They were lightly seasoned. And juicy. And porky. And delicious. And our eyes may have rolled up into our heads more than once as we worked our way through the platter.
And, the cute, petite, green-eyed cat? He or she was probably fed his/her body weight in pork. Of course, just as we were finishing our meal the resident dog wandered far enough out of the building to be able to see as as he/she turned around. Next thing we knew, we had a dog under our stools. Unfortunately for the dog, the pork was all gone. A point emphasized by the cat as he/she sat and leisurely bathed himself/herself from head to toe. Poor pup.
Refreshed, we drove the last hour and a half into La Fortuna, pausing in Neuvo Arenal to admire the views, the cute town and to restock the cooler with Imperial beer. We arrived at Lomas del Volcan mid-afternoon and quickly settled into our bungalow. Lomas del Volcan sits just on the edge of La Fortuna, far enough from the road that you feel that you are nowhere near a town. Our bungalow was at the top of the resort (when I say “resort” I mean by Costa Rican standards, not American standards. It was clean, it was cute, it was not fancy), which meant that we had bungalows next to us, but also an empty grassy field on one side. It was delightful.
The featured image for this entry (scroll back to the top) is the view of our bungalow taken from the road that ran in front of it. Not too shabby, huh?
Oh, I forgot this part…as we checked in the husband pulled out the car keys and, attached, was the fob for Hotel el Velero. You know…that place we’d left that morning? On the beach? We walked off with the keys. Oops. Luckily, Mike, the manager, was very understanding. Those keys traveled to La Fortuna, Santa Elena and back to Liberia before being left at the front desk of the Hilton our last night for pick-up by Hotel el Velero the next day.
It’s not difficult to settle in when this is the view:
That is Arenal Volcano. It stands 5437 feet tall. Compared to Mt. Rainier (14,410 feet) it’s just a baby. But, it’s perfectly conical shape and proximity to the La Fortuna area makes her an impressive (and looming) lady. Arenal is still active. In fact, there were a number of occasions that we noticed steam/smoke wafting from her top. We initially mistook it for a cloud, as she has a tendency to hold a cloud over her peak, but with some scrutiny it became very apparent that that was no cloud.
Arenal Volcano began it’s current eruptive period in 1968 with an explosion that buried three small villages and left 87 people dead. Up until July 2010, the eruptions were constant. She oozed lava and threw out smoke on an almost daily basis. Since 2010 she has been relatively quiet, with few explosions and lava flows. However, scientists have made it clear that she’s very much still alive. If you’d like to see some impressive photos of what she looked like while erupting, click here. We found the fact that through all of those eruptions she has remained so perfectly shape, unlike our own Mount St. Helens, who completely blew her top in 1980 (to see before and after photos, click here).
Although it’s one of the more famous volcanoes in Costa Rica, Arenal is not the only one. In fact, the country hosts six active volcanoes and sixty dormant or extinct volcanoes within its borders.
With Arenal looming over us we took a dip in the pool before settling onto our small patio to drink in her view, listen to the birds chirp, the cicadas sing their (at times) raucous song and enjoy an Imperial or two. Pura vida.