Price of Tour Depends on Where You Buy It

La Fortuna is a tourist town with every street home to a travel agency trying to sell various tours — rafting, hiking, hot springs, etc. What’s remarkable is the variance of quoted price for a given activity. Everyone marks up the base price differently.

Our lesson from Fortuna is buy tours through hostels (such as Gringo Pete’s in La Fortuna), NOT from nicer hotels or even random street corners, as their commissions tend to be much higher. The difference in price is sometimes $30-$40 or more, for the exact same tour or service.

Arenal Day 2: White Water Rafting

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On day two in Arenal / La Fortuna Laura and I went white water rafting for most of the day on the Rio de Toro Class III and IV rapids. We had both rafted before and enjoy it, so we were looking forward to taking on Costa Rica's rapids. Our day started at 8:30am with an hour van ride to the river.

All 30 of us who were rafting that day with this company then gathered around a rotund Costa Rican with an unwieldy beard who reviewed safety precautions.

10 minutes later five of us were in our own raft, each armed with one paddle, and a guide in the back who yelled out directions like "paddle forward," "paddle backward," "get down," etc.

The nature that lines either side of the river makes rafting in Costa Rica different from the States. Lush forest and weird-sounding birds and other assorted animals. At the halfway point, the guide got out, took a knife, went into the forest, cut off some pineapples, and gave us some pineapple pieces to eat as a snack. Where else other than Latin America?

Rafting

The other rafters were a motley crew. A PhD candidate in geophysics from the University of Montana; an evangelical Christian; some weak-rafting Portuguese; a deaf kid (who had to have someone translate the commands into sign language, glad I wasn't in her boat).

After two hours on the generally manageable rapids (I fell out once) we were driven back to a delicious lunch spot with all the other rafters. Rice and beans, chips, some salad stuff.

Rincon de Vieja – Part 2 – The Hike

In Rincon de Vieja National Park, there are a couple volcanos. To reach the craters, it’s advertised as a seven hour roundtrip hike from the entrance of the park and you have to sign a waiver before doing it releasing the national park and Costa Rica of any liability. Stan and I thought we could do it quicker. We’re both fit and Stan is an experienced mountain climber in Colorado.

We set off at around 9:30 AM and began the trek. The first hour and a half was an uphill but pleasant hike through some forest / jungle. Lots of trees and shrubs around us and a canopy overhead blocking the sun. We stopped a few times to get water, but overall, it wasn’t too hard. We saw only two other people in this section of the hike — they were older but determined to continue on, it seemed.

After we emerged from the canopy section, out in the open air, we stared up at the crater and were startled with how far away it was and moreover, how steep the trail seemed to the top. We walked on and up through, still feeling pretty good and confident with our pace.

We eventually reached a sign that had two arrows and messages: one pointed to the “difficult” path and said “Use caution” and the other pointed to the “easy” path. We couldn’t decide which one to follow, we flipped a coin, and it landed on the easy path. We set off in that direction and within a couple minutes had to decend a steep, poorly constructed path downhill toward a river. We were amazed this was labeled the less difficult of the two paths — even this brief downhill section was muddy and challenging and it’s hard to see people with big bags or wobbly legs doing it.

At the bottom of the hill we had to cross a river and then came upon a wall of solid dirt and rock with a rope hanging down. WTF? Would we have to use the rope to ascend this wall like a rock climbing wall? It appeared so, and we hauled ourself up. By this point we were stunned at how difficult the going had become. And it had just started.

For the next 40 minutes we gained elevation very quickly as the trail became a stairmaster with muddy footholes and narrow lanes winding through shrubs. No crossbacks, no zig zags, no flat land. Just straight uphill. Exhausting. Very very exhausting. The farther up we got we had to stop every couple minutes to catch our breath.

We felt some raindrops and this added to the stress. The day prior we had been rained on, hard, and we didn’t want to have a situation where it started raining Costa Rica-style and we were left on the side of a mountain with the paths would quickly disintegrate into a mudslide.

As we climbed and climbed I think stopping and turning back crossed our minds. There wasn’t another soul on the mountain and the prospect of rain was scary — not only for our clothes / comfort but for the safety of being able to come back down.

We ended up making it up the steep hill, barely, and the worst was over. We still had to hike up to the peak of the mountain and then walk around the edge, but the uphill was largley over. My quads were shaking.

The top of the crater was like nothing I’ve ever seen. Deserted. Moon-like. Rocks and nothing else. Then some green leaves here and there. We walked along the narrow path at the very top of the crater and finally reached active volcano. A sign said we couldn’t stay for more than 15 minutes b/c toxic gases emitting out of the steamy crater are dangerous. We checked it out, turned back, and found a wind-secluded area where we could have a bag lunch.

Truly one of the more exhausting, crazy, but worthwhile physical experiences I’ve had!

Rincon de Vieja Nat’l Park – Part 1

Rincon de Vieja National Park is not at the top of the tourist list in Costa Rica. But it’s still worth visiting for anyone in the country for more than a couple weeks. Only 45 mins northeast of Liberia airport, it’s easily accessible.

My friend Stan and I spent our first day in the national park hiking the shorter, two-hour path. It was mainly forest / jungle so lots of beautiful tree sights, a mini-volcano / hot spring thing, and a mini-waterfall. About an hour and a half into our hike, it started raining. Pouring. Pouring harder than either of us have experienced. We turned around and started backtracking out of the park.

I had an umbrella, Stan had a jacket, but neither was effective for the torrential rains. We hitched a ride back to our hotel with a Dutch couple (we had walked the 4 kilometers to the park) who we also had dinner with later that night.

The next day we walked to the waterfall near our hotel and swam / stood in the little pool area the waterfall created. Obviously, the nature around the waterfall was stunning — green and attractive and large, angled rocks. When our conversation started treading on "how to improve Twitter’s UI" we had to bring ourselves back to nature. 🙂

That night, in a heroic attempt, we tried to walk to a neighboring lodge in the national park area to have dinner. The closest hotel was 3.5 kilometers away — most people drive or pay the $5 roundtrip fare for a hotel van to take you. We were feeling adventurous, so we set out at night. We got lost, confused, scared (of some attack dogs at one house we passed, the sole house in the deserted park area), etc etc. Even though we had seen the sign for the other lodge during the day, by night, Stan’s little headlamp couldn’t illuminate stuff enough for us to find our way. So we turned around and began the long, 3.5 km walk back to the hotel. Exhausting.

At dinner, we bumped into yet another Dutch couple, who we chatted with. They wanted someone to talk to, and importantly, start complaining to! They ragged on the hospitality impulse in Costa Rica restaurants, which was pretty funny to listen to. ("The service here is non-existent, it’s a spectacle, it’s ridiculous.") It was true that waiting tables doesn’t seem to be a skill at the staff at this hotel or other restaurants. With the waiter standing in front of us, Stan even told me, "Maybe I’ll get the same thing as you, so they don’t screw up our orders." (The prior night they had brought all of us the wrong dish, forcing the Dutch guy to demand to re-see the menu and compare plates to orders.)

All in all, our first couple days in Rincon de Vieja were fun, filled with nature, rain, and one too-long night walk. Little did we know our real physical challenge would come the next day….

Why Costa Rican Weather (During Rainy Season) Feels like a War Zone

I’m sitting at a restaurant in Costa Rica looking out over a ledge into the dark sky. Every 30 seconds the sky lights up and flashes a couple times — lightening. Soon, there will be thunder. The thunder will be loud. Louder than anything in the States. The thunder will last for a few hours.

Then rain will come, and in the rain the monkeys and other animals will make weird sounds.

The sky lighting up is like bombs exploding in the neighboring city; the thunder is the sound of bombs; the animal noises sound like surface to air missiles.

(Note: Costa Rica is a very safe and peaceful country. 🙂 )