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Stopping short in Fortuna, a chance to get to Arenal a day ahead was missed, but it would not stop me from getting to my destination.

November 17, 2015

He used the upstairs part of the hostel as a hangout for him and his friends to smoke pot and watch movies.

A Night in Fortuna..

From San José, I bussed it two and a half hours to Fortuna. its the hub for action, city-wise in the Vulcán Arenal region. I intended to go on to El Castillo, but weather and time did not permit it to be so. The skies opened up on me at the bus station where I was dropped off. There was a grocery store and an appliance store and that was it. The prepaid cell phone had run out of minutes and no room had been booked.

The cab was going to cost $25 to get to Castillo. Which was about what a nights stay should cost. The people at the terminal tried their best to be helpful, but no one really knew. I decided on a hostel in town that was $8 per person for a bunk. It was sufficient.

The rain finally subsided enough to venture out, but still as a precaution suited up the pack in the rainfly, put on long pants and boots plus my rain jacket. As I made my way up the street, I came into what was the heart of town. Options were beginning to pick up. There were pizza joints interspersed between the sodas and a bounty of hostels with people all asking if we needed a room.

(a soda is a small, typical fanfare restaurant in Colombia)

It was peculiar to see the beach culture in this remote, isolated Volcanic region. The hostel was in a glass paned office building that shared the floor with a gym. There were quite a few people exercising.

The manager, Paulo, was fun and one of the closest to that of a peer I've had yet. He used the upstairs part of the hostel as a hangout for him and his friends to smoke pot and watch movies. He was warm and inviting, so I lounged around and watched a movie with the gang before going to sleep. It provided good shelter for the night.

At 7am, I would be in front of the super again, boarding a minibus headed to Castillo.

(a super is a larger than average grocery store. Similar to a super market)

November 18, 2015.. "The Longest Day in El Castillo"

In the morning waiting, I could see the volcano. It looked right on top of the city and I wondered how its pyroclastic eruptions did not incinerate the town. It ceased erupting in 2010 and its magma chamber is empty, but it continues to smoke still.

The bus picked up two other travelers who were going up to the observation deck. Which meant I got a sneak peak at the mountain base without having to pay the 4000COP. The driver even encouraged me to get out and take a few photos as he chatted up another female worker.

The observation deck was extremely close and looking up at Arenal. There was a lodge and restaurant all bundled in together. To the left was the lake, which was equally picturesque. I was pulled back to the van to continue on to the town.

El Castillo was little. A single, dirt road town, with about 250 residents. It experienced seasonal population growths same as the coast.

There were beautiful murals painted on the concrete street abutments and the signage was also painted by hand. It showed the care and pride

Around town, instead of seeing the butcher cattle cows, I saw more dairy and lots of agriculture. It was clean and sparse, but was an active community. The houses were fresh and people were present. A lot were working, tending to the land or maintaining their property. A bit of traffic passed, but it was all tranquil and friendly.

I saw mostly Ticos. There were beautiful murals painted on the concrete street abutments and the signage was also painted by hand. It showed the care and pride for what was being offered.

(Ticos are what you would refer to as being the native Costa Rican people)

I arrived at Essence Hostel, which was 3/4 the way up the main hill. It was a tasteful compound with fresh walls and an abundance of plants. Jairo, the manager, introduced me to the property. He was the same age as me, but held such reverence for the place. I could tell he had a good job and took it serious.

The cabinas were much more ecological intended. Some with butterfly exhibits or snakes. There were private cabañas next to a covered, outdoor lounge. A jacuzzi and hammock overlooking the lake and the volcano were positioned just outside its cover.

(a cabina is a small, standalone room that is usually for rent)

The connecting valleys and ridges with spaced out houses dispersed amongst the lands seemed so static, but it was alive. The smells and sounds were hypnotic, drawing me in further to the spell of this area. Every bush or tree offered a new leaf or flower I'd not ever seen before. Fruits, herbs, produce were teeming all around.

Lizards abound oh, and the birds!!

Of all colors, sizes and shapes. A macaw was screeching in a tree with the exotic red, blue and yellow patterning seen from hundreds of feet away.

Turns out he and his mate fly in from the mountains to snack, right here at Essence! He circled around and landed at a tree in the middle of the property. Crawled down to a perch and said, "Hola! Venga!" when he was ready to eat. It's tail feathers were so long. Later I heard it and its mate calling each other and saw him swooping through the air with the bright colors on display.

I went for a walk up to the finca. It was a concrete truck trail that went down to a river crossing with a skinny waterfall and back up to a clearing where plants were. The cocina and tent barracks where a trio of French volunteers slept and worked looked like a camp leftover from the Vietnam War. It was frightening to imagine daily life, but living by bare means can sometimes look this way.

(a finca is a farm, or can be the designated workplace for a multi-use property

a cocina is a kitchen or designated cooking area)

Exploring the One Road Town..

I walked back to explore the town a bit more. I found an art gallery selling all kinds of specialty items, like lotions, salsa picante made with fermented peppers and homemade bread. It was a very clean and colorful space. Its truly unique to find such a robust community that has the integration of ex-pats and locals, where locals are also sharing in that business ownership and the overall atmosphere is that of clean and refined living. No houses were hoarding junk. No litter was piling up in the streets. The lands were tended to and operating in unison with one another.

The days were quite warm, but there was a breeze and the evenings were quite cool. I took the chance to dip into the jacuzzi and chat with some of the traveler guests as the sun set over the lake. It created wonderful light reflections on the water and Arenal had a stream of smoke coming out of its dome. It was sublime.

The town, the people, the animals, the 360 degree vistas across every square inch with lush, teeming nature, the weather, the remoteness of it all but still somehow connected and thriving. It was the best I'd felt in CR yet. I knew the country had potential to totally wow and here I was basking in it.

I decided not to count the one night in Fortuna and allot three full days to El Castillo. There were lots to meet and even more to explore.

November 19, 2015.. "To a Waterfall, before Water Fell"

Unsure of strength, time or weather, I watched rain swoop down the slopes of Arenal. Canopy becoming lusher. Eyes and brain unable connect what was being see. Clouds moving through the cracks of the watershed.

Climbed higher. Crossing through fence posts. Passing vacas and venturing on into the dense, dripping rain forest.

Darkened from cover. Cool shade. Plants surged forward in unbelievable proportions. Intoxicating smells. Sweet and hypnotizing. The best air of my life.

Dampness trickling along edges of moist ferns. Finally, a crescendo of moisture.

Winds sheered off and away with the flowing water. Chiseled rock surrounded by constant, whipping air.

Stripped down. Charged into the passage of water. Cold water. Bubbling, billowing up with such force.

Chest tight. Breathing hard. Body rigid. Summoned courage. Walked into the cold jet stream pounding down with thunderous force.

Let out a yell! Flashes of Poochie, my grandfather. I felt elated. Like life was flashing, but not a near death. A near life! Adrenaline rushed subsided.

It was cold, but not too cold. I climbed back out and clouds had covered. Dense, wet jungle attracting more and more moisture. Rain came. A snatched a leaf 8 times the size of my head and used it for an umbrella. I walked through soft mush. Downhill and inside the watershed, precipitous clouds continued to swirl and move up the rises in elevation. Clouds formed and clung to the river at the basin below.

Rain blanketed the entire area. Lights finally emerged as El Castillo could be seen again. Little town of Bethlehem. London streetlights. Last of the dryness was gone.

Back and with a recovery banana protein smoothie and headed into the alluring, vista-filled jacuzzi to warm up. Chatting with a Lithuanian couple who did their best to keep patient with a rambunctious daughter. It was nice to speak English for a change. Afterwards made awesome tostadas. GREAT DAY!

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