Arenal Volcano 2008

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Snowy EgretFebruary 12, 2008 - Tuesday - to the Arenal Volcano area - As I sit on the deck this morning before we leave Sueño Azul Hotel, I see a Kingfisher dive for his breakfast, and the Snowy Egret is wading in the pond.  There are many other birds in the trees. It has rained off and on more or less continuously since we arrived at the hotel. Despite being located quite a long way from the Caribbean coast, this area is only about 60 metres about sea level.  It is very wet here. At nearby La Selva Biological Preserve, they measure their rainfall at about 4 metres (about 15 feet) of rain per year.

After check-out, we drive to a drop off point on the Peñas Blancas River and spend two hours river rafting. I think everyone was a bit concerned about the river rafting, however this is a Class 1 section of river, which means no white water, no helmets or strap-ins needed - just a gentle float down a calm river. It rained hard for the first few minutes as we loaded, but it cleared and we had perfect weather for the whole trip down the river. There were three or four sections where the water ran a bit faster, but nothing I would call rapids. I think everyone had fun. I certainly enjoyed myself, since we had very good boat men in the three boats used for the trip (Enrique in our boat). We saw lots of wildlife up close, including Howler monkeys, a snake swimming across the river, and countless birds. There was juice and fruit available at the end of the trip.

Jesus Christ Lizard being held by our guide Enrique Raft 2 on the river, John Doh, Karen McIntosh, Aram Kaprielian, Hans and Margit Korner First set of faster water - raft 2
5 tiny Long-nosed bats on a tree Howler monkey eating leaves Darren one of the boatmen at the end of the trip

Floating down the river

Howler monkey eating leaves


Our bus driver Walter was waiting for us and drove us onward to La Fortuna, where we had an absolutely wonderful lunch at the Don Rufino Restaurant.  It was mid-afternoon at this point, and we arrived at the Tabacón Grand Spa and Thermal Resort about a half hour after leaving the restaurant. They had drinks waiting for us in the lobby, gave us express check-in, and delivered our luggage from the bus to our rooms. Speaking of the rooms, they are deluxe - the best grade hotel we've stayed at for the whole trip.

Tabacón Spa restaurant buffetThe skies are cloudy and there are frequent rain showers. I don't see how we are going to hike in these conditions tomorrow, but that's the plan according to Diego and Steven. Our dinner this evening was later than usual (7:30pm), in order to give us time to digest our sumptuous lunch. We had the buffet at the Tabacón Spa restaurant. Their theme this evening was Chinese. The food was very good, but it was quite noisy due to the whole spa complex being very busy. The spa and hot pools don't close until 10pm.

February 13, 2008 - Wednesday - Arenal Volcano - Today started off with a hike to see a volcanic flow on Arenal Volcano. A woman in our group sat on an unstable rock and rolled to the ground, resulting in some cuts and bruises. Otherwise, everyone coped well with the sometimes rough terrain. There was some rain at the start of our hike, but it was cloudy or clear the rest of the time. Unfortunately the mountain was shrouded in cloud, which is not unusual for Arenal. When I was here 10 years ago, Arenal was in cloud as well. We watched the volcano spit hot boulders for awhile.  They are easy to see in binoculars, since they kick up dust clouds as they bounce down the steep slope.

Start of the hike to the Arenal volcano flow field Arenal volcano flow field Pink flower growing in the Arenal volcano flow field

The Arenal Volcano Observatory was our next stop - a sublime place which has a nice restaurant overlooking the volcano.  A resort is also located here as well as a volcano observatory operated by the Smithsonian Institute. We had a leisurely lunch, observed the volcano from the deck, and had fun watching the tropical birds feeding on some fruit left out for them at a feeding station. From this vantage point I took better photos than from our hike earlier in the day. Steven O'Meara gave us a bit of history about Arenal Volcano, and then we got back on the bus and returned to Tabacón.

Arenal Volcano as viewed from the Arenal Volcano Observatory Hot rocks skipping down Arenal Volcano Arenal Volcano Observatory
Arenal Lake as viewed from the Arenal Volcano Observatory Restaurant deck, Arenal Volcano Observatory Seismograph showing a tremor, Arenal Volcano Observatory
Flock of Montezuma Oropendola at the bird feeder Blue-Gray Tanager White-nosed Coati picking up the bird feeder scraps

The rest of the afternoon was free, so I went up to the hot springs and spa and soaked in the hot pools. Some of them are very hot (41.5°C) and others are as cool as 25°C. I found a hot pool away from the crowds and alternated between hot and cool for about an hour. Our hotel room booking includes admission to the hot springs, so many of the group was also taking advantage of the facility. Normal admission is $60/person for a day pass. There is a free shuttle between the hotel and the hot springs, since they are located about a block apart.

Hot pools in river Hot pools in river Joe in a hot pool in the river

We had a sumptuous dinner at Arenal Kioro Hotel, a resort located toward La Fortuna not far from Tabacón. This two year old resort is situated on the mountain and has wonderful views of the area. The whole complex is quite spectacular. After dinner, we drive back to Arenal and park along an access road, trying to spot the hot lava rocks as they tumble down the mountain, but it is so cloudy we only spot a couple of rocks before giving up and returning to the Tabacón Resort.

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