La Fortuna and the volcano
Saturday, January 26 2019
location: north shore, Lake Arenal, Costa Rica
Soon after getting out of bed, I accepted a cup of strong drip-made coffee from Steve and then he and I stood out in the yard overlooking Lake Arenal to the west and talked about manly home ownership stuff like drainage and trees. The smattering of tropical-looking trees in the open field below us were, Steve told me, "monkey trees." As for the monkeys themselves, there are some howler monkeys that appear in the trees north of the house (and I'd heard them in the distance before getting out of bed), though they never actually make it to the monkey trees in question. The lot Steve & Chris had their house built on is only a little over an acre in size, and there's a very nice adjacent lot below them. It comes with its own little grassy knoll, perfect for a casita (if you're into that sort of thing). But for now the owner is asking $60,000 for that lot, and Steve is hoping to wait him out so the price will come down. I don't think I'd be quite as happy with things as Steve was being given that the cattle farm around him was gradually being sold off in lots. But he seemed pleased with the new neighbors, most of them other ex-pats, who were in the process of planning or building houses that would eventually be visible from his yard.
That said, this is a great location. At over 2000 feet above sea level, the temperature is cooler than it would otherwise be, and there is plenty of rain as storms from the east are pushed westward against the Costa Rica's central spine of mountains, squeezing out the moisture. The moisture is actually a bit of a problem, causing things like books to mold unless they are kept in a closet with a dehumidifier.
Chris had made vegan french toast, so that was what we had for breakfast. It had been awhile since I'd had french toast, something I'd stopped eating as a teenager when I learned how much egg it contains. Just the association with egg is enough to make we want something else, though it was what was for breakfast and it was known to be egg-free, so that was what I ate. Chris also likes to make her coffee with uniquely Costa Rican coffee parapharnalia: a wooden frame that holds up a fine mesh "sock" that one rinses out but never washes. She swears by it, but she makes it weaker than Steve makes his drip coffee, so I was not impressed.
Today's plan was to drive to destinations both to the west and to the east for various activities. We started by picking up Chris' 18 year old daughter from a nearby compound and transporting her to another compound. She'd recently broken her iPhone and MacBook and, along with nutritional yeast (which is impossible to get in Costa Rica) we'd smuggled in a replacement iPhone for the daughter.
We continued northwest past the place where a huge ceiba tree inspired James Cameron to include a magical tree in his movie Avatar. Eventually we ended up in the dusty town of Nuevo Arenal, where Gretchen could pull some much-needed Costa Rican colones out of a bank machine. It's such a tightly-knit community that Chris and Steve knew the guy who had been at the teller machine in front of Gretchen. He was a handyman who could do light carpentry (though perhaps not the kind who would rig a window so compatriots could later break in and steal your shit).
After buying pretzels and coffee at a German bakery, we headed back east, continuing past the house, past a group of ticas feeding coatimundis along the road (in violation of the posted rules), past the rest of the lake, and even past the massive Volcán Arenal, a volcano so perfect that it looked as if it had been drawn by a five year old. In the town of La Fortuna, Steve parked the SUV and we walked to Organico Fortuna, a favorite lunch spot. There Gretchen and I both ordered the tacos, which were amazing (all the more so given our expectations; we feared the food might be dreary hippie fare). The tacos were bigger than expected and came on thick hand-made semi-soft corn tortillas and were covered with beans, vegetables, and (in my case) guacamole. They were impossible to eat without making a mess of one's self, but there wasn't anyone I was trying to impress.
On the drive back west, we learned that La Fortuna got its name when an eruption of Volcán Arenal resulted in a massive lava flow going west, away from the town. That was all well and good for La Fortuna, but what about towns (such as old Arenal, now under water) to the west? Fuck those unlucky fuckers, let's build a hydroelectric dam!
We stopped at a little hot water resort on the side of Volcán Arenal called Baldi Hot Springs. After parking, we couldn't figure out how one pays for admission, so we got in for free and hung out for nearly two hours without anyone ever caring that we lacked arm bands. Gretchen and Steve both took advantage of an aggressive water slide into unheated water, though I went down a more modest slide that dumped me into water that was more like the temperature of a bath. For a time Chris and I feared Gretchen and Steve had been busted for not having arm bands, and as we waited to see the outcome of that, we watched a group of teenage lads playing a surprisingly sedate game of net-free volleyball. As Chris pointed out, every other word from their mouths was "mae," Costa Rican slang for "dude!"
Adjacent to the big warm water pool was a swim-up bar, and our last activity at Baldi was to order drinks there. Mine was a not-very-good IPA.
Next Steve drove us all the way back to Nuevo Arenal, hurrying at times so we'd be able to see the setting sun at the place we'd be doing dinner. (Chris chided him for this, and he joked that he was just doing what Mario Andretti would.) Our destination was Tinajas Arenal, a sprawling restaurant on its own spit of land jutting into the lake. They had their own grandfathered-in lake access and a gorgeous view of the setting sun. The vegan options there weren't great, though they did have a veggie burger and a vegan pasta with vegetables that included eggplant. Both Gretchen and I ordered the latter, though of course they were told to hold the eggplant in Gretchen's case. Steve and I were the only ones who had alcoholic beverages. I had some sort of large beer and he had a glass of wine. Chris got the veggie burger, though she didn't think it was very good.
Dinner discussion was mostly about all the dirty secrets being exposed by widespread access to genetic testing. Chris had a story of a family where it turned out the kids all had much more Italian ancestry than expected. Where was the Scottish ancestry that should've been provided by the father. When the kids confronted their mother, she owned up to the obvious reality. And then it turned out that the kids' biological father had fathered kids in other families as well. In the past, people used to have their suspicions. But this DNA shit does not lie.
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