As we started getting close to La Fortuna we kept our eyes peeled on the horizon for a view of the volcano that resides in the town, but unfortunately due to cloud coverage we saw no evidence of a volcano. We arrived at our hostel around 8pm and still couldn’t see it. This hostel we stayed in a dorm with 12 beds, most of which were taken by other travelers. The dorm room was quite nice with a private bathroom and large balcony- it was also really clean. The hostel had a pool with a slack line across it which was fun, there was also a bar, restaurant, laundry, and secure parking- not bad for $12 a night! It wasn’t until after we had come back from getting some cheap local food that we got our first view of the volcano. Even though it was dark, the clouds had cleared and there, towering above the entire town of La Fortuna was a massive volcano. Kyle, Ryan, or myself had never seen a volcano before so it was pretty exciting and we were really looking forward to our hike the next day.
On Thursday morning we loaded lunch, water, and swimsuits into our backpack and headed towards the volcano. We entered at the Arenal Observatory Lodge where we got a map and some hiking suggestions. The three of us decided to take the longest hike, which was to hike up a smaller, dormant volcano next to Arenal and end at a crater lake at the top that allowed swimming. The first half the hike was easy going, walking along a dirt road. We had a great time taking photos of the volcano, laughing and goofing off along the way. About 45 minutes in we arrived at the actual trailhead, and started heading up towards the crater. And then we kept going up, and up…and up. And this wasn’t just a gradual incline, we literally were hiking straight up the side of the volcano, no switch backs or easy paths. In the thousands of miles of hiking and backpacking I have done, this was by far the hardest hike I have ever done. It just was so steep and we all felt like we were climbing, rather than hiking. It was a bit entertaining how hard it was for all of us, towards the end we were all groaning and exhausted out of breath. It was interesting terrain as it was a clay mud like substance. We were all feeling thankful it wasn’t raining because it would have been almost impossible to hike up. And of course when we got near the top, thunder started grumbling above us as a huge cloud came in and surrounded us in the white mist that had become rather familiar in Costa Rica. Arriving at the top, finally, we laughed in disbelief as our view of the large crater was blocked by the clouds. We found a trail that led down to the lake so we could go swimming, but as we descended it began to pour and we made the decision that it was too dangerous to attempt it in the pouring rain. Plus we were all a little nervous about the descend with the wet conditions. Fortunately as we ate a snack before heading back down the mountain the clouds moved for a second and we got a view of the green lake. It was magnificent, and the fact that we only got a glimpse just for a second, seemed special.
The hike down the extremely steep mountain was rather interesting. It was literally like hiking down a small river. The water just rushed down the crevices of the trail and we were all completely soaked. I leaded the way and had a great time splashing in the mud, sliding on my butt, and singing loudly. As always getting down was much faster, and we were all thankful that it wasn’t as dangerous as we thought it was going to be. Plus we were thankful for a true rainforest experience! That evening after hot showers and a nap we walked into town and had a wonderful dinner together (thanks Fred and Nina!) and enjoyed reminiscing on our trip together so far.
Being that we were staying in the dorms, we met some friends: two girls, one from Michigan and one from Austria, and a guy from Florida. The following morning we packed the car full of new friends and headed to this free hot springs river we were told about. Not far from the hostel we piled out of the car and followed a local to a small trail on the side of the road. The trail led to a small river, which looked like any other stream: surrounded by trees and dirt, large rocks causing tiny waterfalls, and clear water. But what was different was the steam! The surface of the water had steam rising from it. The 6 of us quickly took off our shoes and backpacks and waded into the water- it was hot! We found a deep spot and all sat around in a circle, giggling in joy of what we had found. A natural hot spring river- for free! It was awesome. After an hour or so of enjoying the hot spring and chatting, we ventured down the river a bit and found a way down to the lower hot springs without having to walk across the road- instead we were able to walk under it. There we found a small waterfall caused by the structure under the road. Ryan laid on his back and had the water push him down the cement and into the waterfall, which was rather entertaining. Due to a tip from someone in our dorm Kyle swam under the waterfall and just as the guy in our dorm had told us, there was a small cave! The 6 of us all swam under the waterfall and into the cave- it was a really cool spot and we all laughed and enjoyed the interesting spot we found ourselves in.
The time we spent with the people from our hostel was really enjoyable and Kyle, Ryan and myself all agreed that the hot spring experience was definitely one of our favorite parts of the trip- especially since it was the morning of our last day. After we dropped everyone back off at the hostel we said our good byes and packed up the car with all our packed bags. Driving East we headed back towards San Jose where it was time to drop off the car. Kyle and I had a flight out that night, and Ryan had a flight the next morning. It was a long drive as San Jose is just the most awful place to be in a vehicle. I was so thankful for Ryan’s patience and skill driving because the traffic there is like nothing I have ever experienced before- I do not think I would have been able to handle it with the ease that he did. (Although his hands were shaking when we finally arrived at the rental car place! Haha- it was awful, I strongly suggest never having to drive in San Jose if you can avoid it!)
We made the walk back to the bus station and hopped on a bus headed towards Alajuela, the town the airport is located. There we checked Ryan into his hostel and then walked to get some dinner before Kyle and I had to get a taxi to the airport. Kyle and I arrived at the airport with plenty of time before our flight, because it was both of our first times flying Spirit. We saved a lot of money by choosing the flight we did: San Jose to Ft. Lauderdale to Boston and then to Minneapolis- haha an 18 hour journey that should only take 8, but it was totally worth it. The San Jose airport was really clean and not very crowded considering our flight was at 1:15am. Right before our flight started boarding Kyle and I heard our names called over the speaker to come to the desk at the gate. That is when we found out we had been “randomly” chosen for extra security screening. They pulled us aside and searched us with a wand and went through our bags. Little did we know this was the start of a long journey home!
Considering we were leaving a foreign country, we didn’t think too much for the extra screening at the San Jose airport. But when we arrived in Ft. Lauderdale and cleared Customs and Immigration we had to go through security again. This time before they even scanned my ticket at the TSA check point to enter into the security area, the woman just looked at my ticket and got on the radio “We have a quad. We need a supervisor.” She then took mine and Kyle’s passports and pointed to a small cubicle box and told us to stand against the wall. We sat there and watched as everyone else on our flight went through security with no problems. After 30 minutes of sitting there waiting I had to go to the restroom. I told the lady and she had to close her TSA lane and escort me to the restroom! She stood outside of my stall and I felt like some sort of criminal being escorted everywhere- it was crazy. Finally the supervisor showed up and told us we had been selected for “selective secondary security screening” and that we would be undergoing special screening. They then closed down an entire TSA lane and had us go through the scanner twice, and then the full body scanner. With my shoes off I stood on a black mat where I was given the most intrusive pat down. They then took everything out of our bags- and I mean everything- and swabbed them all for residue. The woman also made me turn on my electronic devices- for a second I couldn’t get my camera to turn on because the lens got messed up, and she told me that if I couldn’t get it turned on they would confiscate it. In fact, if any of our electronics were dead and we didn’t have chargers they would have taken them. Finally after my entire bag had been dumped and tested for residue they let us go, without repacking my bag!We then had to get our boarding passes stamped from the Department of Homeland Security with this fancy raised stamped that told the Spirit ticket people that we were allowed on the plane. TSA then told us that when we arrive in Boston we would have to go through the same process- ugh! I will say that all the TSA people who were involved in our extra screening were all very nice and Kyle and I could tell that they weren’t any more thrilled about it than we were, but it still sucked. I felt rather invaded. When we arrived at our gate I was looking at our ticket and that is when I saw “SSSS” printed on the corner. I googled it and learned all about what selective secondary security screening entails and why people get “randomly” chosen for it. Kyle and I bought a one-way ticket from a foreign country back into the United States, which must have flagged us. I guess it makes sense, but it didn’t make it anymore enjoyable! Oh well, we finally landed in Minneapolis where Kyle’s parents were there waiting for us.
It was wonderful to see family and we had a great time chatting and hanging out while we dealt with getting our checked bags. We arrived at their house in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin about an hour or so after leaving the airport and chatted for a little bit longer before Kyle and I couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore. We had been traveling for almost 40 hours and had only taken a couple naps in that time period. I sure slept well that night!
Kyle and I have now been back in the United States for about a week. The adjustment took a few days but we are on to our next project and have been enjoying our time in Wisconsin. I’ll post soon about our next project and small journey we have planned!