Volcanos and Jungles
in La Fortuna, Costa Rica on 31st March, 2013


We were finally saying Good Bye to Chile. At the passport control at Santiago Airport the border guard scanned my passport, looked at it quickly and then stamped it with an exit stamp. And then just as he was handing it back to me he pulled it back and looked at it quickly as if he'd made a big oversight. Luckily it was just a final, knee-jerk check.

After an eight-hour flight we arrived in Mexico city. My phone didn't update to the local time properly and I thought we had 25 minutes to clear immigration, get our bags, clear customs, place our bags back on a conveyor belt, go through a metal detector, clear any possible exit-controls and reach our gate to board our flight for Costa Rica. We ran through all the above like madmen only to realise once we saw the local time displayed that we had about 85 minutes to do all the above. Turns out it was all doable in about 20 minutes.

I decided with the extra time I had to ring my family back in Canada and check in with them.

Our flight was completely full. We sat in the back row of the plane. I could see our bags sat on trollies outside with a police truck parked at an odd angle with it's lights flashing. After a few minutes an announcement was made for an 'Erik Gonzalaz' to make himself known to the flight staff. They took him and his bag off the plane. Shortly after that we took off.

We landed 2.5 hours later in San Jose, Costa Rica where an old and smiling border guard stamped us into the 45th country I've visited. We got outside the airport and began haggling with the taxi drivers. One was insistent. He began pulling Triin's bag while saying "I'll take you to your hotel for 35,000 colons", I said to him, "20,000" and he said "Yes, yes, not a problem". The taxi driver in question didn't look to be old enough to be driving. He told us he was studying agriculture at university.

The lonely planet guide described San Jose as one of the worst places in the world to visit. It's walking tour of the city describes certain points as 'robbery hotspots' and makes mention to not be a hero during an armed-robbery. We had a few things to buy and needed to pickup some bus tickets. As we walked down one of the central walking streets we could see police on every street corner and even some in a lookout tower with binoculars near a park square.

As we got closer to San Carlos Bus station we began to see a lot of tramps and drug addicts sleeping on the footpath. Triin said she felt nervous and hadn't seen anything like this before.

We stood in a queue for twenty minutes to buy our bus tickets. There was a tramp coming through touching everyone's shoulder and back in the queue trying to be touchy-friendly while asking for money. It looked as though his face had melted off. Triin moved away quickly as he came closer to us and I told him off for touching me.

We spent the afternoon drinking cocktails in a bar outside our hotel.

The next day we did a five-hour, twist-and-turn bus ride up to La Fortuna. The bus averaged a speed of 32 KM/H. The drive reminded me of the Chang Mai to Pai bus trip I did in Thailand.

We spent the first night in La Fortuna walking through a Jungle with flashlights looking for night-time creatures. There were frogs, snakes, loads of very large insects and we spotted a Leopard in a tree. Our tour guide was an avid photographer and a Canon user as well. He was even kind enough to offer us a lift in his truck back into town afterward.

The next morning we caught a cab to an animal wildlife rescue centre. Along the way we past a police roadblock where one of the cops was holding an Uzi Sub-machine gun. He looked like Ice-T on his 1988 "Power" album cover.

We were taken around the rescue centre, introduced to each of the animals and given the background on each one of their unique circumstances and how they ended up at the centre. In the final hour there we cut up various pieces of fruit, mixed together other cookie-like food and fed each of the animals. In some cases we got to go into the cage with the animals to feed them hand-to-mouth. I only had one monkey grab my hair quickly during the whole experience.

The weather changed constantly while we were in La Fortuna. When photographing the monkeys I needed to up the ISO setting on my camera. This caused some grain to appear in the photos. When I reviewed the photos they reminded me of some photos I'd saw in National Geographic back when I was a teenager. They'd often have lightly-grained photos shot with telephoto lenses with dark-green, blurry backdrops. The overcast sky would defuse a white light from above onto each animal subject. It felt great to reproduce the same style of photography.

When we were done at the rescue centre we took a taxi to a hot spring resort. Triin researched which one had the fewest number of children running around. When we arrived we ordered our lunch which would be cooked two hours later. When the food was ready one of the staff members would come to find us and seat us at our pool-side table to eat. For lunch I had a plate of salad, black beans, steak and chips with a lemonade to drink.

They had a variety of pools and water falls. About every hour it would start to rain for 10 minutes fairly heavily. It was surreal sitting underneath a waterfall, feeling the massaging effects of the water falling on my back, surrounded by exotic plant life and feeling the downpour from the skies above.

Most of the people there when we arrived were Costa Ricans but the place filled up with Germans and Americans towards the time when we left a few hours later. We had a lot of spots to ourselves during our time there but there was one point when we were in a hot tub when a 100-year-old German corpse sporting a bikini climbed in. She had the same haircut as you'd expect with active military personnel. I was disgusted and turned myself to face some plants. When I did turn around again I tried to sit with my eyes closed but eventually gave up and just got out of the pool. I saw the same person the next day trying to horde food and coffee during breakfast at our hotel. It's a shame most pool activities are so popular with people on either extreme of the age spectrum.

We found a local eatery for dinner. They sold typical Costa Rican dishes for £2 - 3. The dishes were very similar with usually the meat being the only variable. It reminded me of the Asian street food I was consuming back in Cambodia and Vietnam.

The next afternoon we took another tour. We should have known something was up when the homepage of the company had the title "Untitled Document" and every page on the site was a single JPEG. Around 2pm two men with Jheri curls turned up to take us on a mold-smelling bus which looked to be on it's last legs.

We drove up the side of a mountain to a lookout before going for a walk through a jungle looking for animals and waterfalls. Along the way the tour guide showed us how to make Jungle Mojitos, explained which plants had hallucinogenic properties and pointed out some wild monkeys in trees.

We got back to the lookout to watch the sunset. The sunset itself was amazing. It feels like the 'red hour' here has so much more vibrance here than it does in Europe.

After the sun went down we drove to a small bridge which was situated over a river. In the fields leading up to the bridge we could see fireflies dotted everywhere. The river water had been heated by the volcano. It was very warm and moving at a very swift pace. There were cars parked all over the road by locals going for a free swim in the river. We had to walk out of the bus barefooted and down sharp rocks to the river. There was no lifeguard, no police, nowhere to put your stuff and, bar five candles people had placed around the steps, no lighting either. Just a lot of locals shouting and drinking. The screams coming from the other side of the overpass made it sound like someone was being killed.

Triin and I sat at the edge of the overpass looking at the top of a one-meter-tall waterfall a few meters in front of us. At times the water would really start to gush and Triin was worried she'd be swept away. I had her sit behind me with her legs wrapped around.

Our tour guide stripped down to his swimming trunks unveiling a lion tattoo on his chest. He came by with some homemade cocktails for us. We sat drinking for 45 minutes while watching the odd flashlight shine across revealing what the candles didn't. Without the flashlights it was dark enough to see stars in the sky. The river experience is very similar to a recurring nightmare Triin has so I'm sure this experience won't soon be forgotten.


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