Our first night in Costa Rica was spent in Cañas, not a particularly memorable stopover, but we needed somewhere out of the rain. The hotel was expensive by comparison with other Central American countries at $30 a night. It was a bit bleak, apparently clean, well the bed was, though I did discover in the bedside cabinet, an old and dusty pair of socks left behind by a long gone previous occupant, and the room a nest of mosquitoes.
Thankfully we had eaten a good meal at lunchtime, so just snacked on Tacos, guacamole, pineapple and strawberries for supper. The TV was at least 40 years old (no kidding!) and although a card on the top displayed a range of about 100 cable TV channels available, this was just a tease. As we have found all over Central America, what is advertised is not necessarily what you get, from hostels to restaurants, to maps, the PR does a very good job but the reality of often very different.
Anyhow we rested and set off bright and early the next day after a cobbled together breakfast in our room (hotels/hostels rarely provide food) of mango and banana and for David Granola (with tepid milk yuk!).
Once across the Costa Rican border we had begun to head towards Lago Arenal which promised to be very scenic. To begin we had no idea where to visit in Costa Rica. There are many National Parks and it seems the main activities centre around hiking, bird watching, zip wiring, water sports and of course beaches. As it is the start of the rainy season, the Caribbean was out of the question as it rains more there anyway, so at this time of year it is much worse. There would also be lots of mosquitoes to contend with as they flourish in warm wet humid weather. The Pacific coast didn't really appeal either, partly because our experience of it so far has been a bit tepid. The beaches are often heavily littered, in particular the sandy roads leading to the beaches are like wading through a municipal landfill site. And also the Pacific has big, big waves, which are quite dangerous when coupled with rip tides, so it is not really conducive to swimming. So there didn't seem much point in going to the coast. So we thought we would just drive and see what happens. I guess you can do this when you are not too time starved.
We thought we might go to Monteverde. The landscape was beautiful: lush green jungle, expansive vistas and no litter! But in the end the road to it proved too much of an ordeal. Although it was hard packed, it was gravel and uneven and 70 plus kms of that on the bike fully loaded did not appeal so we turned around. But not before we had elevenses here and a look at their camp ground which sounded too good to be true. And it was. The only drawback being it was down a narrow steep, gravel and potholed lane for 2-3 kms. I had the heeby geebies on the back whilst David heroically kept the front wheel on the ground, and steered us to the site. It was small, but had everything you would need, a view to die for, loo, water and picnic table. And tonight we would be on our own just us the moon and the stars. But again, we decided the road was just too hazardous for a big bike heavily laden, particularly if it rained, as it seems to be doing in bucketfuls in the afternoons. So we headed back to the main gravel road and headed for tarmac around Lake Arenal and the Volcano.
I think we have mentioned before that Nancy is perfect for biking Canada and the USA, but a smaller bike would be more suited to the roads of Mexico and Central America. Anyhow, we passed a sign for a German bakery about 30kms outside Arenal so when we got there that's where we headed for lunch Not much change from $20 for a salad, a sandwich and a couple of lemonades. Come back rice, chicken and beans for $3! Back on the road we continued around Lake Arenal, the volcano gradually getting closer
At the German Bakery we had picked up a couple of flyers for places to stay the night. One in La Fortuna, the other a hostel beside the volcano which we thought might be fun. On we drove, taking in the spectacular scenery around the lake. We stopped off at various other hotels along the way, to check out prices. They were all along steep, often gravel, uneven tracks and a bit out of our league. So we ploughed on the Essence Arenal. Another steep gravel road
which wound its way up to the heavens and David was determined. Finally we arrived hoping there was room at the inn so to speak. Well there was, just one. And my was it worth the effort. Essence Arenal
is what Lonely Planet describes as a 'boutique' hostel. We were never really sure what that meant, we have often read this description. We figured it means a hotel masquerading as a hostel perhaps for wealthy backpackers, for 'traveller' authenticity. We were shown to our room, unpacked, changed into something cooler and finally took in the view and the swimming pool! Situated overlooking the lake the views are stunning. The volcano sits majestically so close you could almost reach out and stroke it's elephantine lava river coated slopes; it's peak poking through a haze of smoke gently billowing from one of its craters. The Lake spread out like a shimmering silver skirt at its feet. Whilst the jungle edges the scene like an emerald green frill. Magic. We booked in for one night and settled in