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Friday 13 Dec 2013
Santa Elena, Costa Rica

I saw the volcano at last!

The Jeep-Boat-Jeep transport turned out to be more of a Bus-Boat-Minibus affair, but it was a fun journey.  The first bus ride was about 20 minutes up to the edge of Lake Arenal, where we transferred onto a wide flat barge with about 60 passengers.  The sun had come out at last and the volcano was more visible than it had been for the last few days.  As we headed out into the lake, everyone watched the clouds begin to pull back and swirl around the top of the cone.  Getting a full, clear view of the volcano in all its glory is a rare occurrence, so when it finally happened, the boat turned side on and stopped for everyone to get their cameras out.  It was truly a beautiful sight.  Arenal is a perfect cone and simply enormous.  I spent the whole 40-minute boat journey watching the clouds slip over the summit and cling around the upper slopes, briefly revealing the full view before masking it from sight again.

On the other side of the lake, we were divided up into minibuses for the long bumpy climb up to Santa Elena.  I’d spoken to an English couple at the hostel this morning.  Chris and Gayle were out in the same minibus as us now and we got chatting.  Chris is a big ginger guy from Leeds, with curly hair and a full beard.  His accent was so similar to one of my friends that it could almost have been Rob that I was talking to, and I liked him instantly for it.  Gayle, from the Midlands, was equally friendly.  They’re taking 9 months to travel down from the US to South America.  By the time we reached Santa Elena, we’d invited Chris to join us for zip-lining the next day as Gayle was terrified of heights and wouldn’t go with him, and arranged to meet up for dinner later.

We were dropped off at the Quetzal Inn where the owner, a very tall American named Rick, showed us into a beautiful triple room with a balcony.  It was lovely, but the wooden floor had just been waxed and the smell was overpowering.  We barely lasted five minutes before going back to ask Rick for a different room.  The next was smaller and lacked the balcony, but at least we could breathe normally.  We heard a commotion outside and looked up to see a gang of white-faced Capuchin monkeys scampering along the roof.  Rick produced some bananas and we held them up for the monkeys.  They wrapped their tails around the gutters and hung right down to take the bananas directly from our outstretched hands.  They were cute but very mischievous and squabbled amongst themselves for the fruit.  I couldn’t help giggling and getting the ‘ba-ba-na, ba-ba-na-na’ song from the Despicable Me 2 trailers stuck in my head. (Just think of the 60’s song Barbara Anne and replace with Banana and you’re pretty much there – now it’s stuck in your head, too!)

Rick walked us round the corner to a soda where we had a great lunch and made our plans for the next couple of days.  We spent the afternoon pottering around the town – little more than a triangle of three roads with shops, bars and adventure tour agencies.  Steph went back for a nap while Andrea and I nosed around the shops.  When we got back, Rick explained that our neighbours were a local rock band who were playing a gig the next night, so were practicing in their room.  He’d stashed Steph in yet another room across the courtyard so she could get some rest.

Rick seemed to have taken an instant shine to Steph and invited us down for a drink before going out for dinner.  Gayle and Chris met us in the lobby, along with a Canadian couple called Landen and Megan (Costa Rica is full of Canadians!), and we all shared an enormous bottle of red wine before going to a nearby place for dinner.  Taco Taco was a great find.  The lovely Costa Rican lady running the kitchen took our orders at the serving hatch with a big smile, then sent us off to sit at one of the tables outside the hostel that seemed to share the same building.  They were made out of randomly shaped tree slabs, heavy cross-sections of old tree trunks for the tabletops and smaller stumps for stools.  Every now and then we checked at the hatch, as small baskets of food appeared – amazing fish tacos, pulled beef burritos with grilled onion and pineapple, huge crisp quesadillas with rivers of melting cheese dripping out of the sides… We bought beers from the hostel bar and wolfed down the food – I am starting to drool just remembering how good it was!

It turned out to be a really good evening as the beer flowed and our random group of seven got to know each other.  Five of us even braved Amigos, which appeared to be the only club in town.  It was salsa night and we watched from the edge of the bar as three or four couples shimmied about looking a bit lost on the large dance floor.  Then it dawned on us that the other people watching were actually waiting for their turn.  None of us were drunk enough to want to dance so we scurried off to find a table further back.  As with the hostel in La Fortuna, the volume of the music and the hypnotic presence of TVs showing random movies made conversation difficult.  Tonight’s offering was the end of a dodgy 90’s horror called Species, which essentially involved a giant pulsating blob that used to be human, a gang of zombies and the last few humans trying to defeat it.  Landon and Megan kept trying to convince the rest of us that it was actually quite a good film, but I remain skeptical.  We were then surprised when the music finished and the house lights came up at midnight.  It seemed there was no late license, so we headed back towards the Quetzal Inn, pausing to pose on the back of a large concrete armadillo. As you do.

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Zoe's Big World Adventure Part II - #2 Mexico, Belize and Costa Rica

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I met Christina in April. We travelled a bit of Australia together and both learned to dive. Now we're off to Mexico and Belize to see what the Caribbean and the Great Mesoamerican Reef have to offer, before I head down to Costa Rica for 10 days.

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