The town is located a few kilometers from the Arenal Volcano and was primarily an agricultural area until the tourism industry discovered the beauty of the area. In 1968, the volcano erupted, buried villages and killed up to 100 residents. It remained active until 2010 and in conjunction with several hot springs has been a major attraction ever since. It would have been incredible to see hot lava roll down the volcanic cone while we were there, but I would have seen it through the rear-view mirror of our vehicle as we headed out of town as fast as possible.
As I stated last week, it was there that we embarked on one of the shortest and most difficult hikes ever encountered. It was a three-kilometre hike up Cerro Chatto, a small volcano that is dwarfed by the much larger Arenal Volcano. Chatto last erupted 3,500 years, so I had a false sense of security as we headed up into the clouds that often surround it. The terrain became steeper with switchbacks and obstacles such as huge mazes of tree roots and mud holes. Then it began to rain.
Walking in a rainforest in the rain has always been a dream of mine, so the warm precipitation was a welcomed element. It also obscured the sun which would have made our ascent extremely hot and muggy. However, the rain caused my clothes to stick to me which made hiking even more difficult. Upon finally reaching the rim of the volcano, we realized we had to make an extremely steep descent into the crater in order to reach our destination – a volcanic lake. The trail down was incredibly steep, narrow, muddy and had two-way traffic. A slip or tumble would have started a human cascade. Upon reaching the lake it became obvious that a great photo was out of the question since mist and rain limited visibility to 25 meters. Then came the most grueling part of the hike – climbing out of the crater. By the time we returned the staging area, Angela and I had mud from our toes to our thighs.
We returned to our residence, a downtown hostel named the Sleeping Indian which we rented exclusively for our family. From our second-storey balcony we could look out over the town square and a large church which was directly across the street from us. Beneath the hostel was a tourism shop and massage parlor. Joined onto the building at the rear was another residence that housed a family. The roof of their building was solid and the walls of the structure were made of a curtain-like light-weight fabric stretched over a wire frame. I am sure the humble abode would be subject to water hazards in the rainy season.
At the rear of the property was a poorly-maintained fence and cattle that would routinely get out and wander onto the busy street. The locals took it in stride and stopped the cattle from entering the church which opened its doors early every morning. Business patrons often petted the animals before the owner arrived on a motorcycle and chased them back home. We never did see anyone show any interest in repairing the fence.
While at La Fortuna, we spent a few hours soaking in one of the local hot springs. We also took on the status of ‘coffee snobs’ after a tour of a plantation and production process. We received an education as we participated in all aspects of coffee production including planting, roasting and bagging the most expensive coffee in Costa Rica. It was an awesome tour, but it spoiled me because I can now taste the difference between high-quality (smooth) coffee and what we typically drink in North America.
We also hiked into the beautiful La Fortuna waterfall and cooled off in a pool below the falls. High overhead the sun shone through a hole in the treetop canopy and bathed the area in magical light that left me thinking I was in a dream. We also embarked on a 70-km side trip to Rio Celeste. After an easy hike through the jungle and over a large suspension bridge, the river and waterfall greets hikers with its distinctive cyan-turquoise color. The phenomenon is caused by a chemical reaction between calcium carbonate and sulphur, and it is quite a sight to see the transformation where two streams converge. We didn’t bath in the water due to warnings about its composition, but that didn’t prevent locals from swimming in it a few miles downstream.
One constant at La Fortuna was the policia who were constantly on patrol. At night they were easily spotted as they always drove around with their emergency lights flashing. Despite the fact that people were drinking in the town square and lighting off fireworks every night, the police took it all in stride and we didn’t see anyone get arrested.