Laguna de Arenal, a huge lake in the middle of Costa Rica.
I never really thought about visiting Central America. It was during a visit to Berkeley in summer 2015, where a stranger struck shared about her travels to Costa Rica, that incepted this idea. Less than one year later, we found ourselves in this country.
Getting in was easy. After the delightful two days in Belize, we flew from Belize City to Panama City, and then to Juan Santamaría International Airport.
Once we exited the airport, the problems began.
The vehicle I rented online was not available. The previous renter crashed it, and Vamos Rent-A-Car was sold out of every other vehicle. They put us in touch with another rental company called Diekcant Car Rental. The company did not have any vehicle availability, drove us to our hotel and said they’d be in touch at 8am the next morning with any updates.
I was worried. Rental scams were not uncommon, so before our vacation I had meticulously researched reputable car companies. Not only had I never heard of Diekcant Car Rental, we weren’t even guaranteed a vehicle the next morning! Our itinerary timeline was also tight; the plan was to leave the hotel at 6am the following morning. We would be behind schedule.
I tried to maintain composure to not project anxiety onto my parents. We enjoyed the beautiful hotel perched on top of a mountain, the Hotel Posada Canal Grande. Highly recommended.
The next morning, we ate breakfast in the hotel patio.
Diekcant called at 8am. They had a vehicle for us, the Daihatsu Bego! The engine was 1,500cc, much less powerful than the 2,500cc I had requested. The plan was to scale a cloud forest 5,000 feet high, and they were convincing me that this was enough juice to do the job. There was no alternative, so I reluctantly agreed.
After submitting the paperwork at the office, off we went! We headed to La Fortuna, a small town next to Arenal Volcano National Park.
Unfamiliar with the road rules, I cautiously navigated out of the city. The roadsigns were all in Spanish, which added to my nervousness.
Being a volcanic country, the landscape was unsurprisingly hilly. Another dramatic event unfolded shortly after we entered the freeway. A bed mattress was tied onto a pick-up truck. As we descended downhill, the high speeds blew the mattress right off the truck. I was one lane over, but still had to maneuver around it.
I intentionally chose Route 143 as the longer but more scenic drive. We soon found ourselves in the countryside with colorful, lush landscapes.
An hour later, we stopped at a small town called Alfaro Ruiz.
This church was what caught our attention. We had originally planned to drive straight to La Fortuna.
The view from the church. To the east was a bathroom with a kid charging visitors to use it.
The drove continued. Countryside driving was much more manage-able than the city. I also got used to the vehicle. Its acceleration was pitiful but got the job done.
At 1pm, we arrived at La Fortuna, at the foot of the famous volcano, and ate some lunch.
Here’s mom eating fish, rice, beans, potatoes, and other goodies.
Did I say volcano? I forgot to mention the looming thunderstorm. What a disappointing view, couldn’t see shit!
You can never plan perfectly for a tropical country. It was raining on and off, so we decided to go for the La Fortuna Waterfall hike rather than scale the mountain.
The waterfall from afar.
We slowly trekked our way down to the waterfall, a 500 ft. difference in elevation. The hike back up was not fun.
I loved the natural hanging gardens to the side.
It was mid-afternoon by the time we finished the hike. Time was against us.
We were to drive to Monteverde Cloud Forest 3.5 hours away. The latter half of the drive required climbing 4,000 feet in elevation over 30 kilometers. Every online forum mentioned extraordinarily poor road conditions for that final stretch. I did not want to do that drive in the night.
So off we went.
Driving along the lake was pleasant. We could see Arenal Volcano hidden behind clouds throughout most of drive. We stopped for gas at a town called Tilaran. Gas station workers filled up the car. We communicated non-verbally; I didn’t speak Spanish, they didn’t speak English. The credit card did the talking.
Now for the final stretch. Although the length of the drive was theoretically 30 km, it must have been closer to 45 km. I zig zagged the whole route to find the path of least resistance. Fighting back against me were gigantic pot holes, mud, and loose gravel. We were thrown around inside the vehicle the entire time. Some of the pot holes were one foot deep. Other times our tires spun for moments trying to escape loose gravel or mud. I feared we would be stuck without assistance.
My fear intensified when evening came. We were several thousand feet high and there were no street lights. At one point, we were driving through fog that would scoff at the inferiority of Karl the Fog.
Long story short, we (obviously) made it to the hotel. The problems didn’t end, though. The hotel never received my booking, even though I showed them the receipt. They blamed Expedia, apologized for the troubles, and bought us dinner at the town’s famous taco stand.
They then re-directed us to one of the only hotels with availability that evening: Hotel la Puesta del Sol. The owner was nice, but I would not recommend staying at this hotel. It sat on the edge of the mountain and had metal sheets for roofs. The high winds hit the hotel all night. It felt like armageddon. Our room and windows shook with every blow. Earplugs did not help.
I eventually fell asleep around midnight, but woke up and vomited nonstop between 2-4am. It wasn’t food poisoning, so it must have been from the culmination of stress throughout the day: car rental issues, driving in a foreign country, driving up that SCARY ASS MOUNTAIN (understatement), and the constant shaking in the hotel room.
But we were alive, and I am thankful for this memory.
This concludes Day 1 of Costa Rica.