Crazy roads. That’s what they’ve built in Costa Rica, so that’s what we drive on. Narrow paved roads with no shoulders and lots of hairpin turns. Narrow gravel roads with potholes and washboard ruts and more curves than a coiled fer de lance.
Narrow and winding is how they build roads in Costa Rica.
I asked the owner of Villa Encantada why they haven’t paved the road to Monteverde cloud forest, one of the country’s top tourist attractions. “The government has more pressing concerns,” he told me. As we bounced along the dirt road for over an hour, driving playground-zone speed, my teeth loosening from my gums and the persistent squeak from our rental Toyota growing ever louder, I had to wonder if the country’s dentists and car mechanics were somehow in on the non-paving plan. It took us two hours to drive 70 kilometres.
Many smaller roads aren’t paved and travel is sloooow and dusty.
After dark, with no street lights to illuminate the way, the roads become ever more perilous, as we’ve found out on two occasions while racing the sunset home. And somehow, both Avery and Bennett are able to fall asleep in spite of (or perhaps because of) the drunken swaying of the car — it becomes rather like a giant bouncy chair, the kind that used to vibrate them to sleep as babies.
Costa Rica’s answer to Canada’s roadside mountain sheep: coatimundis, which are racoon-like scavengers.
On those occasions when the drive is going smoothly, bands of roving coatimundis wander across the pavement midday to keep me on my toes (read: my foot hovering over the brake pad). Yes, we’re surviving las carreteras locas, and they’ve prepared us for the ocean, where we face las olas locas = crazy waves.
Everywhere you go near Lake Arenal in Costa Rica, the perfect cone of the Arenal Volcano is not far from sight. We first spotted it on the southwest shore of Lake Arenal, then again two days later while driving to Tabacon Hot Springs. Its beauty and the stories surrounding it (an eruption in 1968 destroyed two villages, and its spewing lava lit up the night sky for years before it fell silent in 2010) certainly lured us in, so we visited Arenal Volcano National Park to get up close and hike in a lava field.
On the fertile lava field that leads up to the Arenal Volcano.
The basic park has three hikes and we chose the 1.6 km trek to the lava field. It was neat to watch plumes of smoke and ash streaming down the flanks of the volcano, but we all agreed the highlight was spotting two bright yellow eyelash pit vipers asleep in trees on the return hike to the car.
Even though the volcano hasn’t erupted in five years, it still emits smoke and ash daily.
The following day Desafio Adventure Company saddled us up with Lobo’s Tours for a brisk horseback ride to popular local attraction La Fortuna Waterfall. Unlike trail rides in Canada where you plod along slowly, almost falling asleep as your horse follows the tail of the horse in front of you, this was a horseback derby where each mount vied for the lead. The result was constant trotting and reining of horses so they didn’t gallop into the forest on either side of the wide trail as they sought leadership. It also made taking pictures of Arenal Volcano problematic.
The only time it wasn’t a race was when the horses stood still at the beginning of the trail ride. Blake’s horse is Marlborough; Avery rides Millionario.
By the time we reached the waterfall Arenal was out of sight, shrouded in clouds. A winding (and in parts crumbling) jungle staircase of 475 steps brought us down to the main attraction, La Fortuna Waterfall, which was in full force dropping 75 meters into a large pool at the base of the dormant Chato Volcano. It was fun but impossible trying to swim out to the waterfall as the water surge kept pushing us back.
La Fortuna Waterfall falls 75 metres and is a top attraction.
After a crazy trot back to the ranch (and a final glimpse of the volcano), we were faced with one more white-knuckle adventure: driving back to Nuevo Arenal in the dark.
Here’s a tropical cocktail named for my friend Robin, who we’re travelling with in Costa Rica. I was tasked one evening with making her a fruity drink that didn’t have gin in it. So, I added some Dos Pinos Mixto de Frutas to a shot of Fleur de Cana rum, squeezed in some lime and ended up with this splendid cocktail, which Avery aptly called the Rumbin.
This fruity rum drink is best enjoyed by a waterfall in Costa Rica.
- 1-1/2 oz rum
- 3 oz mixed fruit juice (Dos Pinos is a combination of pineapple, papaya, mango, banana and orange juice)
- Squeeze lime
- Garnish: Tropical flower
Method: Build in a tall glass over ice and garnish with a tropical flower.