After our extended stay in Puerto Escondido we hit the road again, well actually we hit the air again. We flew back to Mexico City, stayed overnight in a hotel at the airport, and then caught an early morning flight to San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica.
As we were only staying overnight in San Jose we picked our hotel strategically within walking distance of the bus station. This strategy is always a gamble as more often than not the area around city bus and train stations is rarely the best part of town. San Jose was no exception.
We spent the afternoon wandering around ‘downtown’ looking for something worth visiting but, to be honest, the whole the area was pretty awful. We decided to check our route to the bus station and maybe we would be able to buy a ticket in advance. Our route was lined with seedy bars, strip clubs and run down hotels which charged by the hour! We found the bus station and were told our bus to La Fortuna would leave at 8.40 the following morning. We weren’t able to buy a ticket in advance, but apparently it did not get too busy and if we turned up about 20 minutes before we would be fine.
The following morning we headed to the bus station. As we got closer a woman rushed out of a doorway, still adjusting her miniscual dress and underwear as she went. She hobbled precariously along the cobbled street in high heeled, ill fitting shoes and make up smeared across her face. As we approached the doorway a man was standing there adjusting his trousers. He was laughing and said something in Spanish to Steve (who didn’t understand a word) but knew enough from the body language to shake his head and his hands and say, “No, no, no”. As we walked on Steve turned to Sarah and said, “We have to come back through San Jose in a month or so, on our way back to Mexico, maybe we will stay in a different part of town!”
We arrived at the bus station 40 minutes early and were greeted by a queue that wound it’s way like a snake around the waiting area. It was chaos. Steve did a quick head count and estimated there were about 70 people in front of us. “No way are we getting on that bus, not even in Central America”, he said. We slowly made our way to the front of the queue as the number of people behind us continued to grow. “Remind me not to believe anyone giving out information at a bus station again”, said Sarah. She also struck up a conversation with three Norwegian girls in the queue behind us and agreed that if we didn’t get on the bus we would all share a taxi together.
Closer and closer we edged to the front as the people and bags were wedged onto the bus. “Where are they putting everyone?”, said Sarah Then Steve got to the the turnstile at the front of the queue (we were next in line) only to be told in broken English, “Bus full. No more. Wait here”.
The man ‘organising’ the chaos disappeared and after about 10 minutes he came back, by which time our bus had left. The man pointed to a pink bus and let us through the turnstiles. The next five minutes involved a lot of people speaking Spanish, and a lot of arm waving, and furious discussion. We couldn’t work out where and when the bus was going, not even which country, never mind which town! Even the people among us who could speak a little Spanish were only guessing at what was happening. Eventually, a driver turned up for the bus and luckily not only was he a really nice guy but he spoke excellent English. He explained this bus would take us to a town part way to our destination and he would ring the bus company to organise another bus to meet us there, and this would take us the rest of the way to La Fortuna. “Sounds like a plan”, we thought and on we jumped along with 30 or so others who had joined the queue behind us.
The bus driver also explained that the bus would be making many stops along the way and all sorts of people would be getting on and off, some good, some not so good. He said every day someone has something stolen on the bus, including money, passports and credit cards. So he warned us to keep our personal possessions close and be vigilant.
“It’s only 9am, we have a five hour bus journey ahead of us and already today is turning into a bit of an adventure. Well worth the £4 fare”, said Steve!
The first bus was pretty comfortable and three hours passed quickly. The bus driver was right, all sorts of people got on and off the bus and sometimes it was packed. Sixty people was the busiest it got, many of whom were standing. It would have been very easy to take something from a bag in the overhead storage but we kept ours on our laps.
We arrived at our first destination and the great bus driver organised the original 30 into a line and told us to wait there and a bus would be along shortly. Five minutes later, as promised, a bus arrived. It was much lower down the scale of comfortable buses but it went forward and the driver seemed to realise he had a clutch. It was already an improvement on Guatemala!
We left San Jose at 9am and after five hours, two buses, hundreds of passengers, £4 spent and one seriously dodgy bridge, we had covered the 85 miles and arrived in La Fortuna. Yes! You did read that right, only 85 miles. Luckily we had been to Costa Rica before and knew that travelling by public transport is not the quickest. In fact, travelling full stop is not quick. A lot of the country is very rugged and hilly, and often unpaved. Then when you throw in the ‘Central America’ element you really are not going anywhere fast.
But we were in La Fortuna in time for a late lunch, so we went to see if the town was worth the effort getting here.
We are lucky enough to have previously travelled to Costa Rica. But that time it was a break from work and so we spent most of the time relaxing on the beaches on the Pacific Coast. Although there was one night which we spent in a dilapidated old cow shed on the Nicaragua border, but that is another story from another trip! We had wanted to visit La Fortuna on that occasion but the beaches were so good we couldn’t pull ourselves away. So this time we were determined to get here.
La Fortuna, or The Fortunate, gets its name from the aftermath of a huge eruption in 1968 of the nearby volcano Arenal. El Burio, as the village was known then, was completely spared while other villages were destroyed and so its name was changed. Not only was it lucky to be spared but the eruption changed the whole geography of the area creating the beginings of a tourist industry that has gone from strength to strength, with the town becoming a centre for nature and adventure tours.
It is now possible to view the volcano by almost every conceivable form of transport including on foot, bike, horse, kayak, SUP, plane, the list goes on. Unfortunately, you are only allowed to legally hike part of the way up, as it is still active and a constant flow of steam can be seen just to remind you.
Arenal looks the part, it is the stereotypical conical shape and stands alone towering above the town.
We had a great time here. We hiked to the start of the now solid lava flow through the rain forest. We did a smaller but excellent walk in a small reserve near town and we took a trip to the Rio Celeste in Tonario Volcano National Park, where we again hiked through the rainforest to a ridiculously blue river and stunning waterfall.
As has been the case for most of this trip it has been pretty hot. So one day we decided to cool off by taking a dip in the river on the edge of town. There was a rope hanging from one of the trees and a couple of people were swinging out to the middle of the water and making the several metre drop into the refreshing water. The longer we watched the more Steve was edging towards making the swing. Eventually he decided to go, stepped up, grabbed the rope and out he went straight into the water. He made his way back up the rocks and to his absolute complete surprise found Sarah stepping up to the rope. “Anything you can do” was the last thing he heard as she swung off the rocks and plummeted down. Steve held his breath until she surfaced with a big grin.
At the end of one particular day we stopped off at some natural hot springs which are obviously very popular. The water flows down through the rainforest in a series of small cascading waterfalls which do create quite a strong flow. We got changed into our swim gear and found ourselves a nice position wedged in, protected from the flow. We relaxed and watched the sky go dark as the sun started to disappear, it was a great feeling as we thought about just where we were.
We decided to get out and head back to town for dinner. Steve found himself a safe place to drop his swim shorts and put his dry ones on. He trapped his wet shorts under his foot but as he went to put his leg in his dry shorts the flow of the water took his swimmers away. He was caught with his shorts half on and half off not knowing whether to go after his swimmers or protect his modesty. After a few seconds of hesitation he went for the latter and watched his swimmers float away. A few seconds later a girl a little way down the thermal pools jumped as something grabbed her leg. Her panic was short lived as she bent down and pulled up Steve’s shorts. You could see the confusion in her face as she looked around for the naked owner and saw Steve frantically waving at her. The shorts were retrieved by relay and everyone went home happy.
One of the major attractions of Costa Rica is the wildlife. There is a whole array of colourful birds here plus some glow in the dark frogs and good sized lizards. They even have tapir and jaguar although they are rarely seen. Add a few humpback whales into the mix and you have something for everyone. The real star of the show though is the sloth! Seeing one of these peculiar creatures is high on most people’s list. The last time we were here we saw one, high up and not very clear. This time we hoped for better.
We had only just arrived at our accommodation, when the guy who checked us in came over and asked if we wanted to see a sloth as there was one in a tree in the grounds. We trotted off with him with Steve muttering something about only been here five minutes and we had already seen a sloth, they must be everywhere.
We found the sloth quite low in the tree and very visible, then it started to move very, very slowly, hand over hand, for about two metres, whereupon it stopped obviously exhausted. Apparently they sleep up to 20 hours and move about 40 metres a day. Steve said he had known plenty of people with similar productivity!
Sarah managed to get a couple of good photos and a great video, and little did we know at the time how lucky we were. As we have travelled around since then we have met so many other people who have only glimpsed sloths from a distance, even the guides in the National Parks have been impressed with Sarah’s video.
There really was a ton of things to do in La Fortuna and from our experience and speaking to others it was pretty much all of a great standard. However, some of the activities are reportedly better in other locations, and ziplining was on our list. Apparently the place to do that is in The Cloud Forest at Monteverde.
So it’s Monteverde or bust for us!