From Monteverde we acted like good little tourists and moved on to the next mega stop; The Arenal Volcano. Getting there consisted of a $20 Taxi/Boat/Taxi ride. We spent about 90 minutes winding through the incredibly beautiful countryside, 30 minutes on a pleasant breezy boat ride with views of Arenal, and finished off with a 15 minute taxi to our hotel.
One occurence of note. Basically I just want to brag for a second so here it is. When we were getting in the shared taxi, there was an Israeli girl that was kind of freaking out. She was trying to communicate to the driver that she wanted to make sure her friends knew she was leaving and that everything was ok. However, the Israeli girl only spoke Hebrew and English and the driver only spoke Spanish. Sooooo….while she was freaking out and the driver was starting to get upset repeating a similar line to the canopy tour guides from the last post, “Everything is fine, don’t worry, everything is fine.” And the Israeli replies with, “I know you are saying everything is fine, but that doesnt mean anything. All you people say is that everything is going to be fine.”
So what does Chase do? Thats right, he steps into his good samaritan shoes and does a bit of translating. I say, “Hello Jewish girl, do you want me to tell him something?” (Those weren’t my actual words….but this was the first time I’ve ever talked to an Israeli). The girl says yes, “tell him I want to talk to my friends before we leave.” I give her a calm reassuring grandfather-esque smile that just HAD to have put her at ease. I go on to talk with the driver and save the day. Everything worked out and this may be the first time in my life that my spanish served some sort of real purpose.
Upon arrival in La Fortuna (closest city to Arenal) we get checked in and immediately sign up for a tour package…these little towns have the tourist thing down to a science. Our tour consisted of a walking tour around the base of the Volcano, a dinner, and a few hours at the local hot springs. It was during this time that we met our two new friends, Jesus and Annetta.
We actually met Annetta right after we checked into our hotel because she had just checked into the room adjacent to ours at about the same time. She was lingering out on the balcony so me and Phil went and introduced ourselves. I think I made an “eh” joke within the first minute of meeting her. “I hope the tour is worth the money…EH?” She responded, “Did you just say eh?” I continued to make jokes and tease the friendly Canadian….those Canadians, I like em’. I mean, without them, we wouldn’t have Canadian bacon and that would just be a shame…
So despite the wise cracks, Annetta became our friend and accompanied us on the Volcano tour, dinner, and hot springs. The company was great.
After Annette came Jesus. Jesus was our Costa Rican guide, expert on the local flora and fauna and massacre-er of the english language. It was great and endearing…well, as much as another dude can be endearing to another dude. On our way to the Volcano me and 8 other tourists were sitting in the back of a large van with Jesus riding shotgun. He went on to twist his body around towards his customers and greet us with a huge smile and probably the funniest question ever. “Hello! You. How are you feeling? Are you feeling good?!” He proceeding to painstakingly ask this exact question to each person in the van. It was freakin awesome. I responded with, “Jesus, I am feeling good…very strong feeling.” Others had similar responses, all with a smile, you couldn’t not like this guy.
The jungle and the Volcano were fine and dandy but Jesus made the tour worth it. We then went on to the hot springs and dinner. The food was fantastic and the hot springs were really really cool. There was something like 23 different pools all with different cascading waterfalls and stone structures. Each pool was also a different temperature so there was something there for everyone. There were also some wicked crazy slides that definitely wouldn’t pass the safety regulations in the USA.
Once back at the hotel in La Fortuna, me and the Canadian had a long deep conversation about the full range of life’s most challenging issues. We touched on it all…it was just one of those conversations. It’s amazing how the little decisions you make can end up, perhaps, changing the rest of your life. If we hadn’t decided to accept the offer to stay at that hotel, we wouldn’t have met Annetta, and we wouldn’t have had the conversation that opened my mind to a few channels of thought that I hadn’t considered before.
Travel is cool like that…and I think some travelers are like minded….and it’s good to talk to people….because you can learn things….and change.
I mentioned at the beginning of this post that there was good times and bad times…so I’ll close with the bad.
Me and Phil were smooshed into two bus seats that were built for Ticos (Costa Rican people) and not tall Americans. This little design flaw was the domino that set off a chain of events that, again, may have led to longterm consequences….
I sat down in my seat and jam my backpack in between my legs. It’s a tight tight squeeze but whatever, I’m gonna put up with it. Phil sits down, jams his bag between his legs, considers his options, dislodges his bag and puts it in the above the head storage rack. Now, I think we both knew that this was not safe and there may even have been a sign saying not to do this….but we had survived the trip thus far and had kind of put the danger zone in the back of our minds. I didn’t think twice about Phil doing this, if I had, I would have told him to put it back between his legs.
So there we are, soaking wet with sweat, in a jam packed bus full of Ticos. We were traveling on the cheap, this 4-5 hour bus ride cost us just 4 dollars or so. I guess there’s a reason why it’s so cheap. I remember noticing a man that was hovering right next to Phil for quite some time. Because there were no open seats I didn’t think too too much about it, just that it was kind of odd how long he has been there. I also noticed he was decently dressed, well shaven, and I definitely picked up a weird vibe from him. I wish I had been more aware at this point but I had just totally forgot Phil had put his bag up there and hence was totally dumbfounded when another American across the aisle shouts at Phil, “Hey! Man! Your bag is gone!!” Phil shoots up out of his seat and says, “Chase, we have a problem!” I now understand what NASA must have felt when Apollo 13 made their uneasy declaration, “Houston, we have a problem.”
My stomach immediately hits the floor and I knew in that instant that the guy who had been standing there, as our Canadian friend called it, “nicked” Phil’s bag. We later found out that he had an accomplice who was distracted the American across the aisle who was actually watching Phils bag the whole time, unbeknownest to us. The man that made the grab got off at the next stop and then the partner got off at the next one. I knew it was too late to do anything and Phil actually went up and tried to talk to the bus driver about doing someething about the stolen bag…but it was too late. The guy was long gone.
The rest of that day had a somber shadow looming us. I felt scared and taken advantage of. I started to question what it was that I was doing in this seemingly dangerous country, away from the justice that seems to prevail in the US. But more than that, I felt bad that my friend got ripped off and that this one incident was going to change the entire experience of the trip. I told him later that maybe him getting his bag stolen saved me or the other tourists on the bus from getting our stuff stolen in the future. And maybe if you are reading this now and you are going to be traveling in Costa Rica in the future…maybe Phil getting his bag stolen will keep you from getting ripped off. So here it is….DON’T EVER PUT YOUR BAG IN THE OVERHEAD STORAGE AREA….you are warned, that’s all I can do.
So that was the bad news of the trip. Now that 3 or 4 days have passed, the somber air has completely gone away. I’m back to loving life here in Costa Rica and the people seem more friendly and caring and safe than ever. There are bad people out there in every part of the world…we just have to educate ourselves about how to avoid their reach and not let the actions of a few effect our perspective of the whole. This analogy is wildly overused but here it is again: extremist Islamic terrorists represent Islam with about the same correlation as the crazy loony man on his soapbox screaming about the end of times and the condemnation of sinners represents Christianity. I’m not going to let one excuse of a man obscure my image of a country full of wonderful people.
Pura Vida is still at large….