When I checked into my hotel yesterday, I was given a green wristband and told I needed to keep it on for my entire stay. It’s for security, I was told, and for the included breakfast. Most of the time I forget it’s there, but every so often I have the urge to tear it off.
Today I walked into La Fortuna, the town that is the center of tourist activity for Arenal. And I saw people with yellow wristbands, blue wristbands, red wristbands… a whole wristband rainbow. And so I have no potential to blend in with the locals. Which is a joke, because of course I would never blend in the the locals here. Since I don’t speak Spanish. Or look like I’ve ever spent time in the sun.
I really have no idea how much I walked today. It’s about 2 kilometers each way from my hotel to town, and I wandered around the town quite a bit. I started early, around 9am, and it wasn’t too hot or sunny. But by the time I walked back, around 1pm, the sun was out and the sweat was dripping into my eyes. I was wearing long pants and a hat, and I applied sunscreen to all the vulnerable parts, and I had a bottle of water with me (purchased last night at a grocery store to replace the one I lost at the airport), so I survived.
But I was happy to get back to my air conditioned room, take a shower, put on my swim suit, and take a dip in the pool, which I had all to myself. I even had a soak in the jacuzzi. And no one else was around the hotel all afternoon. It was really very pleasant. Though I kept thinking I could have visited my friends Kevin and Linda in Palm Springs and enjoyed the same thing, only with super great people.
Well, the things I have planned tomorrow and Wednesday are unique CR experiences, so as long as I can keep the sweat out of my eyes, I’m going to be fine.
My sister, who’s been to Costa Rica twice, warned me that La Fortuna is not a nice town.
She was too kind.
There’s actually one nice thing in La Fortuna: a park in the middle of town filled with beautiful flowers. I read that the funding to maintain the park comes from the visitors’ fee for Fortuna waterfall, one of the most popular attractions in the area. (I’m going tomorrow.) A lot of hummingbirds were enjoying the trees and flowers. It was reasonably nice sitting there after my walk, though there weren’t any shade trees. And as I walked through the park, a toothless old fellow greeted me and asked me where I was from and welcomed me to Costa Rica. (He must have seen the wristband.)
But otherwise, the place is a pit. Lots of restaurants that all look the same and have essentially the same menu. Tacky souvenir shops. Tour operators offering the same tours to the same nearby attractions. Nothing upscale whatsoever. No art galleries. No boutiques. No charm. Just an ugly town.
According to my guidebook, La Fortuna was a sleepy agricultural town until 1968, when Arenal erupted. Until then, the locals didn’t even know Arenal was a volcano. The original explosive eruption lasted three days and killed about 100 people. This was followed by 5 1/2 years of lava flow. It continued to be active until 2010, but it has shown no signs of life since then. The eruption and the lava flow went west, away from La Fortuna, which is why the mountain is lush and green. On the other side it is completely burnt out.
Adventurous visitors began trickling in right away, and the trickle soon became a flood, turning La Fortuna into what it is today.
I did at least have a good lunch: quesadillas con pollo that were reasonably tasty in spite of the fake cheese sauce adorning them, and served with a side of fried potatoes that were crisp on the outside and tender inside. But the best was the iced moka (their spelling), which was chocolaty and refreshing. (I’m sure it was no different from what you get at Starbucks, but I would never ever drink iced mochas except when I’m on vacation.)
Final thoughts for the day
The sun rises at 6am and sets at 6pm. Even though it’s hot. One of the perks of summer back home is daylight til 10pm.
On the other hand, it’s cooled off this evening, and there’s a gentle breeze out here by the pool. I ate dinner at the hotel restaurant, and decided to go with pasta instead of local fare. I should have learned by now that “typical” and “local” are not good adjectives for restaurants. Good restaurant food should be elevated from typical local fare.
My room is nice, the bed comfortable, the shower roomy, and it’s impeccably clean. But the walls are paper thin, and the man in the next room seems to be suffering from allergies.
My tour departs at 7:10 tomorrow morning. Breakfast starts at 7:00. That might be a problem. But there’s a coffee maker in the room and I bought some snacks at the grocery store, so I should manage okay.
The volcano came out from the fog this afternoon, all except the top.