Back in the Saddle

So, it’s been a minute, hasn’t it? It’s been about six weeks of minutes. I could blame my absence on some travel, an editing project I accepted, my struggle with irregular verbs and the past tense in the Spanish class I’m taking, or simply the ubiquitous fear of the blank page–and all that would be true. At some point, you just get overwhelmed thinking of how to catch up with everything. Then I remembered… no, I really don’t have to catch up. Just sit down a write a simple post and let that suffice.

So here we go. At the end of September, we took our first trip outside of Monteverde (not counting our day trip to San Jose to get fingerprinted). We journeyed to the town of La Fortuna, which lies beside Lake Arenal and the Arenal Volcano. The volcano there is dormant but not extinct. That means it isn’t spewing anything at the moment but it could at any time. It is considered the youngest and most active volcano in Costa Rica.

Back in 1968, they didn’t know that because for 500 years it was just Cerro Arenal, or Arenal Hill–a small, tree-covered mountain. Then, at 7:30 a.m. on Monday, July 29, she blew. The eruptions continued unabated for several days, burying over 15 square kilometers under rocks, lava, and ash. When it was over, the eruptions had killed 87 people and buried 3 small villages. Giant rocks–some weighing several tons–were flung more than half a mile away at a rate of 1,300 mph. After that, until around 2010, tourists could relax in one of the many thermal hot springs in the area and watch the lava flow at night. Then it suddenly stopped. Today, it emits toxic steam and gasses, but that’s about it. That’s why no one is allowed to hike beyond its foothills. And of course, that could change at any moment.

La Fortuna is not very far from Monteverde as the crow flies, but that crow would fly over the continental divide and protected rainforests that cannot be disturbed by roads and traffic. So you either take a 3.5 hour drive around the north shore of the lake or you do what we did–jeep, boat, jeep. It’s about an hour drive to Lake Arenal, followed by a 20-minute boat ride, and then another 10-minute drive into town. They don’t need jeeps any more, but they still call it that. And the roads are still rocky enough that the vans can’t go much faster than 15-20 mph for most of the trip.

La Fortuna itself is much more of a typical Central American town, dominated by a Catholic church overlooking a proper town square. It’s about 3,000 ft lower than Monteverde in elevation, and you can feel the heat. It’s situated on an agricultural plain, not in a rainforest, so they don’t have the sense of jungle and wildlife to which we have become accustomed. But everything is dominated by the volcano. It seems to have its own weather pattern. It’s really all you can look at.

There’s our boat! Arenal Volcano is doing a photobomb.
That’s the setting sun, not an eruption.
The poison gases.

We rode horses on some lava flows (see above) and enjoyed sitting in hot springs in 90-degree weather. Fun times.

Perhaps the best part was returning to Monteverde after seven days and, for the first time, feeling like we were home. The air was cooler and thinner, and the rainforest enveloped us once again.

More locally, without a doubt one of my favorite places in Monteverde are the series of benches about a 15-minute walk from our house. They sit on an overlook pointing southwest. On a clear day you can see the valley as it stretches into the province of Guanacaste, then the Pacific waters of the Gulf of Nicoya, and finally, the Nicoya Peninsula beyond that. Some of Costa Rica’s most spectacular beaches lie on the other side of that peninsula.

The sun sets a little to the right of this view and the nightly show it puts on is spectacular and different every night. We don’t go there daily, but several times a week. I feel rather stupid taking pictures of it each time, but how can you not? No filters necessary.

A rainstorm in the valley blocks the show
No words.
One of the clearest days I’ve ever seen here.

Even hardened, longtime locals still drift out to the benches near sunset, or to one of the many restaurants with a view.

Weather-wise, there has been a change. October traditionally has the worst weather of the year here, as it is the peak of the rainy season. While those of you in the States are enjoying your pumpkin spice, leaf peeping, and apple picking, we are normally being deluged with daily torrential rains. We braced ourselves from the horror stories: “28 straight days of rain,” “the power goes out,” “the internet goes out,” “keep bottled water in case the water goes out,” “stock up on cans of soup and tuna in case the roads wash out!” But I gotta say… not so bad. Global warming hits rainforests first and things have substantially dried up here since even 5 or 10 years ago. And while that may be convenient for us, let’s not consider this a positive development. It rained most days in September and October, sometimes as hard as I’ve ever seen it rain. But mornings were usually clear and the rains generally lasted only about an hour. There may have been one or two days that it rained all day since we arrived in July.

November quickly dispatched with the rainy season and things have turned much cooler than I ever imagined. I thought my days of crisp, cool air were over. Not so much. Jean is grateful for the few sweaters she brought. Morning temps can be chilly this time of year. Not US chilly, but 55-65 degrees. And remember, these houses don’t have a speck of insulation, so when the winds howl over the mountains, things get nippy. In December, the real windy season begins. Again, there are horror stories: “It will feel like you are going to lose your roof!” “The creaking and cracking sounds your house makes!” “Tie everything down!” We’ll see. In the coming weeks, I will be diligent. I look forward to telling you about the Costa Rican women Jean is working with and about the holiday traditions, new and old, we encounter.

Until then, pura vida, mae.

Published by Tom Cox

Tom & Jean, a couple of contemplative ex-pats from Pittsburgh, shed all their earthly belongings and move to Costa Rica. What could possibly go wrong?

2 thoughts on “Back in the Saddle

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