I slip out of bed into the view of daylight. It’s the first time I will get to set eyes on the landscape and I am thrilled. The sliding glass door in our room faces the volcano and it’s the first thing I see, impossible to miss (… when graced with clear skies. However, the region often experiences some low hanging clouds that can oddly enough make you question if you saw something there in the first place). The volcano has been dormant for almost a year, but there is a sense of unsteadiness laced about it.
Even though exhausted, we don’t sleep in very much, which essentially sets a precedent for the entire trip. Breakfast at the hotel is exciting. The proper staples of a Costa Rican breakfast often include rice and beans (gallo pinto), eggs, and a slice of farm-made cheese, all of which prove to be my favorite choices. (Signs all over the country tout this as a “Tipico” breakfast) There is plenty of fruit, and sweet plantains which are also popular in just about every location we visit.
We decide to strike it on our own in the morning and head towards the La Fortuna Catarata – a local waterfall. We snake back down towards town and take a right past a local grocery and young school-aged children playing soccer, until we reach dirt and rock roads. Rob is thrilled to see what our little underpowered car will do with the new terrain and we slip and slide our way to the waterfall’s entry point. After paying the entrance fee, we stand at a look-out point where we see an aerial view of the fall before starting down to the waters below.
There are steps made from grids of concrete, and concrete posts with lengths of chain running between them. There is too much to take in, and everything has the green glow of life around it. We already start to see species of Ficus trees which are common throughout Costa Rica. Some species are sinister and will strangle its host tree, sometimes to death, all the while encasing its victims body with its own tangle of growth. In same cases, you can see the hollow core where the original tree once was.
We finally reach the base of the waterfall, and everything is hued in a breathtaking blue green. There are little pockets of flowing water downstream, where fish weave in and out of our legs. We make our way to the central pool and slip in as we’ve just watched other visitors do. The water churns with the massive energy – we can only get 20 feet or so from our starting point before we are unable to fight the energy of the water any further. A quick and careful trek (the rocks are slippery with scums of algea) behind the waterfall reveals a mural of hanging vines and trickles of moisture. The pressure is noticeably lower behind the fall and you can sometimes feel your eardrums pop.
Later in the afternoon, I convince Robert to drive us towards Arenal National Park and ask if he’d be willing to scope out Skytrek – a tour featuring a sky tram and a series of zip lines that criss-cross above forest floor. Zip lines are a typical part of canopy tours and other tourist traps around the area. We find out there are no less than 250 versions of this in the region. However, thanks to Moon’s guide to Costa Rica, my interest has been piqued in this particular experience, as they proclaim these are the tallest in the country.
I am terrified of heights and one experience comes back to me – once, I had a panic attack as a teenager when faced with a 60 foot high platform/zip line, an impossibly tame version of what we are now contemplating. The highest of these platforms is 200 m, or more than 600 ft above the forest floor. However, I was instructed by multiple friends before leaving on this momentous trip not to say no, so I agree with nervous apprehension.
In the sky tram, which will first bring us to the top before starting the zip lines, we chat with Mariano and Tatiana from Brazil and talk politics and culture. The apex yields a stunning view of the Arenal Volcano and Lake Arenal which sits at it’s western side. We run through two practice zip lines with our overly-personable instructors, Jose and Carlos, who teach us to cross our ankles and bend our knees towards our chest while straightening our elbows, and what to do should the pully stop on the cable hundreds of feet above the bottom. The way they show us to flip around and pull ourselves along the remaining length of steel rope hand-over-hand, makes me think of scenes from “Cliffhanger”. The thought of it makes me a little woozy, maybe not as much from the heights as from recalling Stallone’s stunning cinematic performance.
After two practice lines, I am somehow chosen to go first. Momentum launches me, screaming, off the first platform. (I will be made fun of mercilessly as we traverse the rest of the zip lines. I do not entirely commit to the screaming thing and they come in these bizarre fits and bursts, that apparently left everyone else doubled over in laughter while they were waiting for their turn). I do manage to cowboy-up and turn my head side-to-side to take in the view and appreciate how high up I really am. Carlos slows down the pulley at the end of the line and I almost fall over from the adrenaline coursing through my system, making my legs wobbly and weak. There are a total of five of us completing the pathway of zip lines down to the bottom including a man with a thick Georgia Southern accent who raises Chickens for Tyson and grows peanuts for distribution to several candy companies. We are not action-movie material. Rob and I learn a couple new phrases: “muy divertido” – very fun, and the Costa Rican mantra, “Pura vida”, or pure life. This phrase opens doors for the Costa Rican traveler, their version of “it’s all good!”