We spent just one night in Sarapiqui. The following morning, it rained. A lot. We were supposed to visit an archaeological dig site before departing Sarapiqui, but this plan was scratched due to the weather. It rained almost every day we were in Costa Rica - it is the rainy season, and we knew to expect this - but thankfully, this was the only time the rain actually caused a significant disruption to our planned activities. Instead of the dig site, we went to a museum, which was interesting, but definitely one of the less exciting activities for the week. Fortunately, the day had plenty of excitement in store.
Our destination for the day was Arenal, home of the famous Arenal Volcano, an active volcano. We had another lengthy bus ride to get there, with a couple of stops along the way. Before the first stop, a food and gift shop by the side of the road, Daniel said that we would get to see an "iguana tree" there. He asked if we had any ideas about what an iguana tree was. I didn't really know. Daniel also said that the shop had very good ice cream, so we could get ice cream if we wanted.
It was still raining, although not too heavily, when we came to the stop. Daniel said that if we wanted to see the iguana tree, we should follow him in a single file line out onto a bridge that went by the shop. I was the first in line after him. We walked out toward the middle of the bridge, some thirty feet above a rushing river, and Daniel stopped. I looked to the left, at the large tree there.
A tree that was absolutely full of iguanas.
It was an amazing sight. Glancing back up the line, I could see the others' faces light up one by one as they realized what we were looking at. The size of the iguanas, the quantity of iguanas, and the fact that they were sitting on these branches dozens of feet off the ground added up to make it probably one of the more bizarre yet wonderful things I've witnessed.
We went back to the shop, where most of the group seemed to be getting ice cream, so Cara and I joined in. The ice cream, sadly, was not very good, at all. I guess when it comes to ice cream, we are spoiled back home. I wonder what Daniel would think of Jeni's?
Our next stop before reaching our hotel in Arenal was a local homestead for what was dubbed the "Be My Guest Lunch." We were served a tasty meal, including some chicken and rice and homemade tortillas, and then a group of local schoolchildren put on a performance for our entertainment. The kids, dressed in traditional garb, did three dance numbers. In the first dance, the boys pretended to be bulls and the girls, holding their flowing dresses out to their sides like capes, pretended to bullfighters. The whole performance was a joy to watch; the kids were very charming and enthusiastic.
We continued to Arenal under very cloudy skies. Apparently, getting to actually see the volcano can be a hit-or-miss affair. Daniel told us a story about how one family on a tour of Costa Rica had been unable to see the volcano during their day in Arenal, and had decided to come again and stay in Arenal for five whole days - and again, they didn't get to see the volcano at all. So it was with definite excitement that Daniel pointed out the mountain peak as it appeared through the clouds on our drive into town. We actually stopped the bus for a photo op before continuing to our hotel.
We stayed at the Hotel Arenal Manoa, where each room had a view of the volcano (which was still visible through the clouds when we arrived to our rooms). Like all the hotels, this was quite a nice place, but we didn't spend a whole lot of time there. That night, we had a visit to the Tabacon Hot Springs waiting for us.
Cara and I had never been to natural hot springs before, and this was definitely one of the things we were most looking forward to on the trip. (I mean, just think about it - "natural hot springs" - that sounds pretty awesome, doesn't it?) I can gladly report that it lived up to our expectations and then some. Sitting in a pool of naturally heated water, surrounded by lush jungle, your feet sinking into the volcanic sand at the bottom of the pool, is incredibly relaxing. Tabacon has a huge array of these pools with water flowing down in series of waterfalls from the more secluded locations to the more heavily trafficked central pools. There's one pool with a bench beneath a large waterfall, and wow, did it feel good to sit there! There's even a waterslide (this going into an artificial swimming pool), which I went down a few times. After getting to enjoy the hot springs for two hours, but before leaving the premises, we also got to enjoy an incredibly huge - and delicious - Mexican buffet for dinner. It was actually rather ridiculous. There were about eight different selections for dessert alone. (One of the funniest sights of the tour was a little boy in the group named Sean returning from the dessert table with a plate containing four crème brûlées, then repeating this twice more.)
We returned to the hotel very full, and very satisfied. That night, there was no sign of the volcano. The next morning, however . . .
Yeah, we were pretty lucky. We ate breakfast in an open-aired room with a spectacular view of the volcano, and then headed to the buses for our departure. As we drove away, more clouds began to drift in, and soon the volcano was once more gone from view. And speaking of clouds, we were off to Monteverde, and the Cloud Forest. To be continued!