Thursday, February 16, 2017

Arenal Volcano

Visiting one of the volcanos is a must when traveling to Costa Rica according to the travel guides. This is true even though there are too many musts to see even in a three week trip like we had. Arenal is one of those volcanos and if we had been here several years earlier we could have seen it erupting and the lava flowing down the mountain side. Our hotel gave us the best views of the mountain when the clouds finally cleared. We were a bit lucky here because often the clouds don’t go away. Tall mountains have the ability to create their own weather which in this case means many cloudy days at the mountain top. 

Our ride to Arenal was special because we were alone in a car with a fellow birder. We weren’t always so lucky. We stopped half a dozen times on our trip to get good looks at some hawks in the distance and chatted about birding in the Arenal area. Before taking us to our hotel, he introduced us to a friend, tour guide and fellow birder who set us up with a couple of field trips where we would have a good opportunity to see birds. 

Black-mandibled Toucan
Great Curassow (male and female)
Our resident White-nosed Coati

Our hotel also put us close to some natural area which meant that we had good looks at birds and animals even as we ate our meals in the restaurant. We took three field trips from out hotel to explore the surrounding area. Our first trip was a walk through the forest at Arenal Hanging Bridges. These are extremely solid for hanging bridges with very little sway, wide walkways, and solid handrails. We arrived early in the morning so were able to see about half of the twenty birds we would see before we even left on the hike. Then we walked about two miles over seven hanging bridges enjoying the chance to be up in the wilderness and not just having to look up. This was a great walk and much better than the one we would do later at Monteverde. The one at Monteverde was more focused on get folks up the gondola so they could zip line back down. I find zip lining to be fun, but not a great adrenaline rush and you zip too fast to enjoy the scenery or see any wildlife. I’m happier just hiking on the hanging bridges. 

Great Potoo
The next day we took a long van ride nearly to the Nicaraguan border where we took a boat ride on Rio Frio in the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge. We stopped on the way at Restaurant Las Iguanas. The name is appropriate as dozens of iguanas hang out over the river next to the restaurant. Of course this was also a chance to buy a few souvenirs and a bite to eat or drink for those so inclined. We spent about three hours on the river getting some good close-up views of monkeys, birds, and a variety of lizards. We even passed by a tree filled with bats awaiting the evening light to go on their bug runs. The most exciting view according to the guides was the pair of Jabiru flying high overhead. These birds aren’t rare, but they are rarely seen in spite of their size. 

Sloths do move very slowly
Interesting Bat Trees

Capuchin Monkeys entertain us
Lesser nighthawk
We had a nice rustic lunch on the way back of rice, chicken and beans. When we got to town, I opted to get out and walk the three miles back to our resort. The town was mildly interesting. Several bars and restaurants with sports on TV just like home although these were all open to the weather. I also passed by many tourist shops and guide offices. Hotels and hostels also abound in this tourist-oriented town. A lovely park sits in the center of town. After leaving the town, I passed by farms and cattle ranches before turning off the main road to the hotel. I hadn’t noticed that the final part of the walk was about ½ mile uphill before reaching the hotel. 

Downtown Arenal
City Center Park
Branches grow into trees for a cheap fence

The next day, I opted to go on another guided hike on the other side of the volcano. It was to this side that the volcano spewed its lava in the past to the point of destroying the town that had been nestled under the mountain. We hiked up a small outcropping of lave to get great views of the volcano and the Arenal Lagoon that we would travel the next day for part of our trip to Monteverde. Near the parking lot was a small area with samples of banana and coffee trees. The hike over the lava was a bit rough but worth it for the scenery and the plant life we saw beginning the process of breaking down the lava into soil. 

White-throated Magpie Jay
A family of Coati stop traffic
The other side of Arenal

Pacific Screech Owl

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