Lava lava lava | Ali and the snake | How to lose a volcano
Considering the Arenal Volcano dominates the landscape around here, you won't be surprised to hear that one of the 'must do' activities is to trek around the volcano, specifically on the lava fields created by the 1968 explosion.
Today the whole area is green and lush. Which is surprising considering that the volcano only stopped being active back in 2010. When you look at photos from that time the area looks rather bare. Now it's covered in rainforest. It makes you think about how it must have looked before it exploded in 1968. At the time, the locals were unaware it was even a volcano. They thought it was a mountain. As such there were houses and even a school on it. All of which went when the mountain suddenly revealed its true identity - burying over 15 square kms of land with rocks, lava and ash, destroying three villages and destroying a further 232 square kms of crops.
Now it's one of the biggest tourist attractions of Costa Rica.
All of this history makes the 'Arenal 1968' trail a particular fascinating one. It may have had a tragic start but it really makes you marvel at not just nature's ability to recover, but humanity's too.
Talking of which, we had a fun start to the trek before we even started (if that makes any sense?!). We'd just paid for our tickets when a guide said 'Hey, do you want to see a snake?'. We said "Hell yes" which is funny considering 1) we didn't know what sort of snake and 2) Ali hates snakes.
As it turns out it was this little fella...
It's a green vine snake. Very cute but apparently venomous (something the guide neglected to mention as I got up close and personal with my camera)! Luckily it's more interested in mice than men.
After that, we felt a little more apprehensive about heading out into the rainforest, but we had good footwear on and figured, just how likely is it that we'd meet another snake? (more on that later).
So we set off on the trail, the start of which, we were told, would be "marked by a rock with the Costa Rican flag". I was expecting a small rock on the floor with a flag painted on it, not this!
To get a sense of scale, this 'rock' is twice the height of Esme.
Now we were on the trail and our adventure had begun! The first stage takes you through secondary rainforest. We didn't see any more snakes at this point but we did see LOTS of lizards! Here are just a couple.
It became a bit of a game to see how quickly we could spot them and capture them on the camera before they disappeared. As they can move pretty quickly!
The rainforest itself was beautiful. We were the only ones around for a long while so had the space all to ourselves. Well, not quite just us, there were also some rather noisy critters around us...
I spent a lot of the walk with my neck craned upwards trying to spot the birds that were making that noise. Turns out it wasn't birds, but cicadas. Seems they get very noisy and active in the summer (after anything between 5 and 17 years spent dormant underground). It's the boys making all that noise too - to attract a mate. Once they've succeeded, then they die. An interesting life...
You also get neck ache from looking up at the trees as they get pretty big here. I ran out of neck before I ran out of tree for this little video...
Pretty soon though you start climbing up so you're at the top of the rainforest canopy. And then you have to negotiate a whole lot of rocks - we had found our lava! Well lava stones. No hot stuff here thank goodness (apart from the sweaty hot things we were after all the climbing).
About a third of the way on the trail you reach a viewpoint, where you can see the volcano and Lake Arenal (which is, I think, the largest lake in Costa Rica and a big hydroelectric dam). I figured I'd employ the handy 'panoramic view' function on my iPhone at this point. 1) because it's a nice tool and 2) because I'd been a complete idiot and forgotten to charge my camera battery and it died on me :-(
We had a choice not far after this to take the short route or the longer one. What I loved about this is that the longer route on the map is marked in yellow and the shorter one in red. But the guy at the reception told us that the signs were the other way round - the longer trail was marked in red and the shorter one in yellow. So Costa Rican.
Because my camera had died I decided to actually enjoy the trail for once. It wasn't an easy one - lots of rocks and steep inclines and declines. Ali even has some footage of me looking like an actual explorer (as opposed to the complete scaredy cat in his first video). We'll share it once he's done the edit.
On the route we discovered more lizards (you know when you've seen a lot of lizards when you go 'oh look another lizard' rather than 'wow, cool, a lizard, get the camera!!!').
A (very long) 3km later (Esme was getting very tired and hangry by this point) and we'd circumnavigated a different lake and were on our way back to the final viewpoint and cafe. We'd seen zero wildlife in this part of the trail, which was strange. Then we discovered a family of Coati on the final stretch, a black squirrel eating a nut and a whole gamut of different birds. Typical!
On our final ascent to the viewpoint cafe we were thirsty, hungry and very very tired. We arrived to see an absolutely stunning view of the volcano in all its glory.
It turns out we had timed our walk perfectly. Literally 5 mins after arriving at the viewpoint the clouds rolled in and literally obliterated the volcano!
We sat there in the cafe rehydrating ourselves and eating some truly delicious food (for a reasonable price for once - very unusual when eating at a tourist hotspot) when the heavens decided to open. A good example of why you need to act fast when travelling in rainy season in Costa Rica. Make the most of the weather when it's there!
We also had a little visitor who was clearly not that keen on the rain - another snake. Here comes the famous words from one of the staff there "Hey do you want to see a snake?". Well it had been just fine last time so, sure. Here's the sweet thing, just trying to make this way in the world. In this case, towards Ali.
It was at this point, and only at this point, that the same staff member told us to steer clear. And another man in heavy boots and a brush came along trying to steer the snake away from any people.
Just because it was the most dangerous snake in Costa Rica, that's why.
And there's Ali getting closer to get a better shot.
And I wonder why he doesn't like snakes?!
The funny thing was that they managed to convince the snake to stop heading towards Ali and it headed off in a different direction - apparently towards the bathrooms! Cue a couple of guys frantically running down in that direction to stop the snake giving someone a nasty surprise while sitting on the loo!
What fun in Costa Rica.
Pura Vida everyone!