Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Nic and Hoya vs. The Volcano

Looking forward to a restful couple days in the countryside, away from Hermosa, we hop in our rental car (careful not to scratch the interior as Costa Rican car agencies tend to be on the anal side, Economy Rental actually went so far as to take a series of digital photos of the spotless new car) and haphazardly navigated our way through a collection of unnamed towns all with their individual maze of unmarked streets.
One thing we realized, the tour book maps all show "avenidas" running East to West while "calles" run North to South. This is opposite from the states, where avenues run North to South. Fortunately, while an amusing aside, it didn't affect us too much since none of the streets, outside of Jaco, are actually named. So, avenida or calle--it really didn't matter. Directions from the locals were limited to landmarks and meters. Thankfully, Nic was equipped with a smart compass-watch which saved us from weaving a perpetual circle around Alajuela and then some.

A serpent-style road that wound up and down, around and around, wiggling through alternating stretches of pastoral farmland and wild jungle, with the lonely golden light of little "sodas" (or little roadside cafes) tucked in between, led us to La Fortuna, the touristy-town at the base of Volcano Arenal. Our jaded tourbook sneered that this town (resplendant with it's strip malls and gawdy hotels) was built up on the fame of Arenal, only for Mother Nature to respond by shifting lava flows southwest for only the tiny town of El Castillo to see, and completely out of view from La Fortuna. Being the intrepid travelers that we were, we didn't hesitate to push on for El Castillo and the killer volcano views.

As night moved in, a jungle storm descended. Nic navigated the gravel road riddled with potholes as sheets of thick rain pelted the car and the road with tireless fury. (Think of Seattle's big storm of Dec. 06, just 50 degrees warmer, in a jungle-forest). We finally found accomodations at a Tica family's simple cabinas, after driving up the steepest, narrowest, pot-holey-ish road ever.

Wind howls, jungle trees sway, and the tin roof hums with rain, as we snuggle into bed after a long night on the road.

Around midnight a hard pounding on the door awakens us. A guest had mistaken our cabina for the office. We settle down again, until 7am we hear someone screaming for help, over and over, as the storm continues to blow over her cries for help. We hopped outta bed again. Only to find a man rushing to her cabin, a guest was locked out of her cabin. We get up for breakfast and put on the warmest clothes we'd brought--shorts, t-shirts and sandals—much to the amusement of the other guests who are decked out in such luxuries as pants, goretex jackets. A chilled breakfast of desayuno tipico—gallo pinto and eggs, fried plantains and a ghost-white cheese that didn’t have much of a taste.

In the storm, Arenal hides in a veil of clouds. Nic and I laugh off the volcano—without a clear night to view her molten flows, angry Arenal is more of a joke, a little less than a jagged hill when compared to our North Cascade beauties.

Little did we know…Vulcan Arenal holds much power over the casual tourist! Don’t think you can leave Arenal without a fight for your life…and your rental car.

We tumbled down the mountain that morning. After arriving in the thick of a jungle midnight, we peered at our surroundings in the early morning light, seeing for the first time the rickety one lane bridges we’d driven over that separated us by only a couple inches from angry river rapids of peanut-butter color and gooey thickness--the result of one wild night, gorging on the silt of flooded streams. Creeks swelled perilously above their seams, and crept towards houses, cows and trees as we bumped along in the rental car. A little breathless to be away from this surprisingly harsher Costa Rican environment, we stopped suddenly, jaws dropped. A tree, a felled mangrove skyscraper with all its jungle inhabitants and parasitic cables, lay across the road. It was like stumbling across a downed 747 in the middle of a remote road. Solid. Enormous. Completely un-passable.

We walk up to the tree, talking in the light, cold rain, deciding what to do, casting furtive glances as our bright white 4 door sedan. Do we wait for someone to cut through this beast and free us? Or drive back, all the way back to town and wait it out there. As Nic looks at me (his back to the jungle, facing me) as a gust of wind rips through the dense forest. Giants sway, groan and snap in the distance. Another burly gust and a 20 foot section of jungle-scape, just 20 feet before me, sways then snaps, splinters and tumbles.

No comments: