We woke up to a beautiful surprise. During the night, the clouds had moved from Arenal Volcano and the summit could be seen! The peak had threads of steam coming from its side. It was a truly majestic sight and the staff was excited for us to see the volcano. They smiled at us as we headed in to breakfast and pointed toward it. Aine had a particularly nice breakfast, being given a toy giraffe by one of the waiters. She immediately started flirting with him and would smile and duck her head into my shoulder when he would come by. She also made friends with a four year old Costa Rican girl. Together they hugged each other and ran around the dining area, holding hands. After breakfast, we had a bit of time to view the many types of orchids that were growing around the hotel. There were also several colonies of leafcutter ants that were bringing purple flower petals to the hive so that it resembled an ant parade. We later learned that each ant was bringing a leaf or flower in order to make compost to grow a certain type of fungus to feed the queen and colony. On the leaf worker ants carrying may be found an even smaller worker ant. That tiny ant was “quality control” and would inspect the leaf to make sure no harmful bacteria or fungus was on it. If the leaf did not meet the inspection, the little ant would go down to the big ant and make it drop the leaf and turn around for a new one.
Around 10 a.m. we loaded up the bus and regrettably said “Adios” to Arenal. Allan was again our guide. We were in for another surprise when we found out that our three and a half hour drive to Manuel Antonio would probably take five hours! It was one of those revelations that can be corrected in future tours, but for now, our pioneers would have to grin and bear the long ride. We made the best of it as we could. The rain had departed the area and so our ride from Arenal was no longer hidden in cloud. We could make out sweeping views and mountains that were full of forest. Big pastures that had Brahman cattle slowly grazing across them. But the day being Saturday meant heavy traffic and if our little bus was not slowly climbing up a mountain, whining in low gear, it was our little bus behind a truck carrying a load of cassava to market. Still the slow going had its benefits. One benefit was to look closely at how people live in that part of Costa Rica. There was clearly a poor population. These people lived in houses that were made of whatever useful material they could find. So a house would have tin siding, thatch roofs and windows sans glass. Still, no matter how humble the abode, the laundry would be bright, clean and hanging out to dry. Here and there would be fields of various crops, such as cocoa, papaya and the latest and biggest crop in the country, pineapple. It was now around 3 p.m. and we were hungry and tired when we stopped off at a rest area called El Jardin. It was just off the newest highway in the country, Highway 27. We all had a buffet lunch that was again local in flavor and variety. The portions were as huge as the gift shop was huge, so we were happy to get such great food for such little money. It was also hot, for we had passed from the rainforest part of the country over to the Pacific region. The terrain now resembled that of Hawaii, with red soil, palms, and mountains. As we sat and ate under an open air hall, an iguana came out to inspect the customers. A couple of the locals tossed some potato slices its way and it happily munched on them as we stopped to get photos taken.
We were back on the bus when Allan suggested we take a brief stop to see Crocodile Bridge. As eager as we were to get to the ocean, we all said yes. So, we pulled up to a modern road bridge that had crowds of people on either side. Walking along a very narrow concrete walkway and broken guard rails, we were able to look at the river below. There, lounging on the banks were enormous American crocodiles, the longest being at least 15 feet and looking like he owned the river. It was the first time I ever saw one in the wild and even with the distance, I had the odd sensation of being prey. Sort of if there was such a thing as a grizzly bridge, I guess. Part of it was taking pictures and zooming in on the crocs, as that was somewhat disorienting. We boarded the bus again and rolled along, finally catching a glimpse of the ocean. Brian mentioned how neat it was to see the Pacific Ocean on Central Time and I had to agree that it was pretty cool. Jo said, “Imagine, it would take three days in our country to reach the ocean!” We now headed along the coast, past Playa Jaco, which is sort of the Miami Beach of Costa Rica and further south toward Manuel Antonio. The sun was now starting to set and we all turned our cameras toward it to catch the final moments of the day. By this time, everyone was ready to get off the bus, including Allan and the Cesar, the driver.
We arrived at the seaside town of Quepos. It was quite a lively area with signs in both Spanish and English, selling rooms, lots for sale, souvenirs, rides on the ocean and more. We skirted the downtown and headed back along the coast past restaurants (one with an entrance being the nose of a DC-9!) condos, private homes and hotels. Finally, a bend in the road and down the hill and we arrived at the Karahe hotel. Chaos ensued as everyone was eager to finally get off the bus. I went inside reception with Allan and sorted out room keys.
The hotel sits on the hillside on either side of the highway, with the main office on one side and the hotel and beach on the other. So we were dismayed when we realized we unloaded on the wrong side of the road. So back into the bus went the luggage and us as we headed downhill to where our rooms were. About ten minutes later, everything was sorted out, people headed to their rooms and we bade Allan and Cesar goodbye as they had a three hour drive back to San Jose.
That night, we had dinner at the thatched hall that served as the dining room and bar of the hotel. The Pacific waves played in the background and we toasted each other on making it from Arenal to Manuel Antonio. People went around and introduced themselves. I ordered locally caught mahi-mahi and it was another out-of-the park-delicious dinner. Our rooms were nice and bed felt wonderful after a long day on the road.
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