Travelogue – Suspended Mid-Air between Clouds and Treetops (Final)

What Goes Up Must Come Down

Morning began with another cup of perfect coffee and ripe fruit: bananas, papaya, pineapple and watermelon.  We woke up earlier than planned and decided to catch the 7:30 am tour through the canopy at Arenal EcoGlide.  Rose checked out TripAdvisor to check whether the place was safe.  When you are suspended 200 feet above the ground in a harness attached to a thin wire and travelling at 15 km/hr, you want to be safe.

One would think that “canopy tours” we saw everywhere were about nature and exploring wildlife among the tree-tops. That was the furthest thing from the truth.  Yes, you were in the tree-tops, and yes it was beautiful up there, but there was NOT a word about nature on the tour.  Rather, there were words about safety, how to hold your hands, how to lean back and cross your legs, and mostly, how to brake with your gloved hand.

This was adventure tourism.  Canopy tours are in the same family as bungee jumping.  Put someone in a very very high place and push them off the cliff.  In  this case, we were in a harness.  Our compatriots on the tour were from children up to late middle age. We took a rattling open-air truck up a steep winding mountain road to the send-off point, a platform high in the jungle.  From our initial run we landed on a tiny platform, 200 feet up a tree, with a view of the valley way way way below.  That was a short run, a “trial run”.  The next leg of the trip was longer, sweeping across a valley, in some places several hundred feet up.  We  were told “no brake, until the end”, and that if you run out of power, momentum, you could turn around, with your back to your destination, and pull yourself, hand over hand until the next landing pad. I did look around a lot at the amazing vistas of the valley and treetops, but did not “see” much wildlife.

I had a surprise in store this time for Rose, which I didn’t tell her about until it was too late.  I  had read the reviews and knew there was a “Tarzan swing”.  Rose was naturally cautious about the heights; it took several glides to gain her trust.  After the sixth run, we departed from the tree tops and lined up in front of a cliff.  There awaited us a long rope, no zipline, and a platform to  jump off. One my one were were harnessed to the rope and pushed off the cliff onto this giant swing.  After the initial free-fall (a few feet), the swing rope tenses and we swinging high into the treetop and over the valley (back and forth).  The guides, on a platform way below slowed us by hitting our legs and then finally hawling us to earth at speeds that almost removed my leg joints and took them off the cliff.  Rose surprisingly found the Tarzan swing less frightening than the ziplines.

Several more courses, and we had one single run that was over 1/2 a mile long …. suspended over the valley with nothing seeming to hold us up.  Behind us were the tropical rainforest sloping to the top of Mount Arenal (Volcano) and below the fields for grazing catch, ranching horses, and growing yucca and other root vegetables.   At the bottom, I sampled another Imperial beer; it was only 9:00 am and we had the full day ahead of us.

In Search of Lava

It is funny that we we now on our 3rd day at the foot of a volcano and we had never seen any lava.  In fact, it didn’t look much like a volcano from our vista.  Covered in clouds most of the days, you could not see the top.  It just looked like a steep mountain.  This day, were determined to “see the volcano”.  Little did we know that so “see the volcano” you had to leave the volcano.  The is because the crown of most volcanoes is steep (too steep for cars) and potentially dangerous if a volcanic even happens.

We followed our GPS to a place that offered volcano vistas.  We then passed to the Arenal national park.  It looked like a sad empty parking lot with an obstructed view of the volcano.  We decided to continue on the dirt road following signed for an Arenal Volcano Lodge and Reserve.  Glad we did, the heavens opened up and the heaviest rainstorm we had seen to date emerged.  We would have been caught in the downpour.  We turned off the direct road after 10 km onto a single lane concrete winding road that seemed to travel straight up the mountain.  We emerged at a gate house for the Lodge which turned out to be an exquisite hotel, high up the mountain with views of the volcano peak.  We waited on a covered patio for the rain to cease; even using the hotel’s WiFi to make  phone calls back to the U.S.

We also saw a video showing the volcano during 2 eruptions in recent memory, one in 1968 (when the Lodge was build to house teams of vulcanologists) and other smaller eruption in 2007.  During these incidents, large sections of the mountain were covered in hot lava.  Today, you could barely see any remnants of these incidents, the mountain covered in jungle vegetation.  Yet we did see a sign for the “Lava Trail” which looked promising.  The track was listed as 30 minutes, but difficult.  We took it since the rain had ceased, armed with cameras, a water bottle, and lunch.  A machete would have been useful, but not required; a walking stick or an extendable hiking pole would have been highly recommended.

A beautiful winding path meandered through gardens of connas, birds of paradise and other bright colored flowers.  We then plunged into the jungle.  The path led straight down.  In some places there were steps; other places roots; and some, you had to hang onto the vines.  For 30 minutes it just descended.  We finally emerged at a mountain creek which was lined with black rocks and grey sand.  We had found the lava fields.  Around us, verdant green jungle and we could not even see the peak of the volcano.  Rose took a souvenir (some pumice stone) and we ate our solitary lunch in the jungle. The trip back was a little faster, but an unrelenting climb.  There were more trails to hike from the lodge, but we opted to travel to a place called Arenal Hanging Bridges to arrive with enough time to take the trail.

The True Canopy Tour

Arenal Hanging Bridges was 20 minutes away, down the mountain and across the base of Lake Arena (an enormous manmade lake that services the irrigation and drinking water for much of Costa Rica.  The rain had well ceased by now and the drive was scenic.  The further from Arenal we got the more  we could see of the volcano.  From the damn at the foot of  Lake Arenal, we had a near perfect view of the entire mountain; including the steep sides near the peak with the round crater at the top.  We turned down a single lane road which was paved with beautiful stones, and lined with luxory villas and resorts with amazing mountain views.  At the end of the road was Arenal Hanging Bridges with the best view of all.

It was still a few hours before closing, but too late for the guided tour.  We got a map and headed off.  We started on a suspension bridge over a deep mountain gorge and entered a wide near level path through the jungle.  The path ascended and descended gradually for most of the trip, but there were many areas of stairs and some alternate routes.  The “hanging bridges” were sturdilly constructed, but still  swayed as we walked.  High guide rails made us feel safe.  Here at last, though, we could stop and see the tree canopy and photograph it.  At  EcoGlide we were careening at high speeds through the tree-tops.  Here, apart from some kids rushing by us on occasion we could  stop and linger in the tree top; wait for the birds and other pollinators; and view the flowers, fruits and vines.

Free Range Chicken Roasted Over An Open Fire

Using the Internet, Rose identified another great restaurant in the town of  La Fortuna.  We chose to have a whole roast chicken and a hearts of palm salad.  The chicken, which had be slowly rotiseried over an open fire in the front of the restaurant was served cut up on a 3-bowl platter with guacca mole, pica de gallo, and refried beens.  The presentation was beautiful and of course delicious.  The setting, was an  open air, covered  cafe lined with traditional Costa Rican art and costumes.  There was even a Pachenko (local indian) artisant carving gourds.  We had purchased one the previous evening.