Saturday, November 26, 2011

Costa Rica - Day 2

We awoke on our first morning at the Arenal Observatory Lodge (the full name is necessary, because nearby there is an "Arenal Lodge" as well as an "Arenal Observatory") to the sound of rain on the roof, and a quick glance out the window confirmed that it was still wet and misty out. The trip up to the Lodge (our rooms were a few hundred meters from the reception and restaurant) confirmed it, with the volcano still being completely enshrouded with mist.

No worries though, being from the PNW we are no strangers to making the most of a rainy day so we set out on a hike to cover most of the shorter trails in the vicinity of the lodge as well as a longer one that ascended a dormant volcano (called Cerro Chato) which was now filled with a lake. Initially it wasn't raining too hard, and we made our way down to the the first attraction on our circuit, a nice waterfall:

Unfortunately the rain picked up while we were at the waterfall, and as we continued along the trail to our next attraction we had to walk alongside the raised path which was designed to be above the water but actually ended up serving as a puddle collector:

The second attraction on the local circuit was a hanging bridge over a river, which was quite nice as by this point the rain had abated:

We continued along from the bridge, passing through some fields (the Lodge is on grounds that were formerly occupied by a farm) and a few river crossings, some with bridges and some without. As we neared the start of the trail up Cerro Chato it was becoming clear that even if it wasn't raining at our current elevation, it would certainly be wet and misty higher up:

Nevertheless, after a short break at a shelter located at the base of the trail, we started heading up into the wet forest:

Before long our fears were confirmed as it started raining hard again. Here is Roanne taking a breather on the steep trail (which was actually a mix of walking and scrambling up steep mud and roots) as the rain continued to fall.

We continued to persevere, and after gaining about 1000 feet of elevation we finally topped out on the rim of the volcano. Here is the view looking back toward Arenal:

And here are the two happy adventurers posing in front of the view down to the lake:

As you can see it was another all-white panorama, and since we could not make out the lake in the fog below, we decided that it would be prudent to hike down the inside of the rim to the shore of the lake so that we could at least set our eyes on it. This trail was even more steep and exciting than the one coming up from the farm, here is Roanne making her way down:

After a lot of scrambling and sliding we finally reached the shore, where we could see the water immediately in front of us but not much else:

We stopped for a short break and snack, and then given the persistent rain we decided to get going again. Here is Roanne paused on the way back up to the rim after a nice root-ladder section:

Before long we were up and over the rim, and headed back down toward the farm. On the way down Roanne stopped to test the structural integrity of the vines to try and gain insight on how realistic "Tarzan" was (pretty realistic it turns out, those vines are strong!):

On the way down we observed some nice flowers:

Some giant ferns:

But most of all just a lot of green, especially after we dropped below the cloud layer again and could see the full vibrance of the forest without the filtering effect of the mist:

Awesome! Upon reaching the base we made our way back to the lodge, and along the way it started to clear up a bit. Here is a view of the nearby Lake Arenal with the Lodge in the foreground:

It was even starting to clear up a bit around the volcano, and we could see both sides now (though still not the top):

Here is the Google Earth view of the GPS track from our hike, obviously captured on a much clearer day:

We then headed back to our room for some lunch, a hot shower, and a quick snooze. After these things were accomplished I convinced Roanne that we should drive into the main entrance of the national park that surrounds Arenal and check out an old lava flow from 1992 that our book described. It was a short hike of a few km into the lava field, here is Roanne heading up the black rock:

I found the lava field to be a bit underwhelming, maybe it was more impressive soon after it had happened. On the way back we took a detour to check out a giant Ceiba tree which was far more impressive than the lava:

We also heard some rumblings from the volcano along the way, and after finishing the hike back out we headed to a view point from which we had our best view of the volcano yet, almost the entire thing:

We held out hope that the weather would continue to clear and that we might see some red hot magma that night from our hotel, but soon after this shot the clouds moved back in and by the time dusk had arrived it was pouring rain again.

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