Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Costa Rica: cloud forest volcanos

The journey from Nicaragua was pretty uneventful although the 1km walk from exiting Nica to entering Costa Rica was a hot, heavy & odd experience (not sure which country the barbed wire walk belongs to but moving it closer to one of the immigration offices would be nice). 

We spent one night in Liberia to break the travelling up (really nothing there despite the guidebooks calling it 'the white city' on account of a handful of buildings painted white. On that basis Redditch should feature in the UK Lonely Planet no?) then got another 3 buses to La Fortuna, the nearest town to the base of Arenal - a lovely big active volcano. 

Being active in a spewy deadly lava way means you can't climb much of Arenal right now but it's smaller sibling Cerro Chatto affords a good view of it from a decent height, and has it's own crater lake to boast of too.  Boots on, off we went. 

Distance wise the walk is nothing - How hard can a 7k round trip be we thought churlishly. 45 minutes later having covered quite a lot of height but no real distance we started to appreciate how hard.  
The height is not enough to make it cool, the humidity was immense & the effort of climbing at a 45* angle made it a relief when we changed from open hillside to cloud forest & got a mist shower. 

Strange thing about cloud forests is they're so lush that you can hear rain but not really feel it much. The ceiling of leaves trap in the heat but stops most the rain falling in. They're dark because of the density of plants & seem to echoe a lot too. All very confusing for the sensory system. 

Another hours climb with the notion of the top in our imaginations the fine mist became a downpour however and cloudforest turned to rainforest.  With it came mud and insects : mostly buzzy flying things but the raindrops highlighted a lot of big webs across our trail. The trick seems to be watch your feet, your hands, the vines above you and the bush around you simultaneously for bitey, crawly or slithery things. In my case be aware but don't think about them too long. If I'd have spotted the manufacturers of said webs I might have died on the spot. 

Having reached the top (soaked through) we then had a 120m descent to the crater lake where we could swim & admire Arenal. In reality this was a 25 minute clamber down a very muddy slippy trail to reach a crater lake in such thick cloud we could see about 5ms ahead. Given we were caked in mud we considered the swim but there was a good chance we'd never find our way back to the right bit of shore so decided against. 

In a very British way we huddled under a dripping tree with 2 others, ate bananas & made stoic comments about how it could be worse & took a scenic picture of us against the limited background of cloud.  Bananas, small talk & loitering until we'd all got cold we admitted defeat & headed back. 

The route was now a mud luge and with Chris's metal knee (great for descents) & my inate mountain goat-like balance we made a slow return trip. 

Midway down Chris displayed his northern routes by bringing the jungle to a standstill with a Brian Potteresque 'whoa whoa whooaaa', hands raised aloft to stop the hoards of people proceeding (in reality just me).  A snake. One of the few dangerous ones in this country and disconcertingly it left our path by disappearing upward into the growth. Last seen about head height just where we needed to pass.  

After that Chris got a bit Bear Grylls (or maybe Chris Packham) and insisted on stopping for every insect we saw. Photos of a caterpillar were taken FFS! 

Part two of the days walking was to a waterfall nearby. The water was cramp inducingly cold but welcome after being so hot for most of the day.  Found out that swimming towards a waterfall is like natures resistance pool as you're constantly pushed away from it. 

Back to the hostel where we'd rented a tent for 2 nights- basic but clean & the cheapest option we could find in this town (Costa Rica is full of Americans on 2 week vacations so prices are aimed at them rather than budget travellers), cold shower, rice and beans for dinner (remarkably similar to our breakfast), a few beers & we collapsed.  Not our most successful yomp in terms of vistas but a challenging, (mostly) fun walk & an introduction to the extreme Eco-system of Costa Rica

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