Adventures from Back of Beyond

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Arenal

Our first view of the volcano was absolutely surreal.

We were driving in from the west, through the jungles of Costa Rica. A monkey had just crossed the road, its long tail standing erect like an inverted "j".

The canopy of trees opened up to the sky as we approached a long narrow lake. Suddenly there it was, above the blue water, off in the distance -- the most perfectly symmetrical, steep-sided stratovolcano I'd ever seen, complete with smoke billowing out the top.

We kept driving toward it, mesmerized, as if pulled by a magnet. At one point, we noticed a lot of cars parked alongside the road at a particular spot. Many persons were coming and going in bathing suits and holding towels.

This looked like my kind of spot -- the Tabacon hot springs.

At Tabacon, the attraction isn't just an ordinary hot spring -- it's a hot river, with the water in the rushing clear water heated by Hades -- the fire of an active volcano. Here, the fresh water from the hot river is diverted into a series of beautifully constructed and landscaped pools, each a different temperature, each with a little different theme.

I couldn't believe it, hot spring fanatic that I am. This was utterly awesome to me. I swam from pool to pool, exploring, luxuriating in the wonderfully warm water. Surrounded by jungle, intermittently we'd hear the loud lion-like roars emanating from somewhere in the trees, the call of howler monkeys.

Soon I discovered a swim-up bar, in the middle of a large centrally located pool. My ecstasy seemed complete. Could it get any better than this? Yes, it turns out, it could.

I swam up and seated myself on one of the submerged barstools. Friendly bartender. Sitting in hot water to just below my chest, I ordered a cold beer. I chugged it down without thinking. Only afterwards did I realize that hey, I'm in my bathing suit! I had no wallet, no money, no credit card, nothing -- that was all back in the locker room.

I apologized to the bartender, and he not only totally understood -- he said "it's OK to pay me later."

So here I am sitting in a wild hot pool heated by a volcanic river of pure water, surrounded by a monkey-filled exotic jungle, drinking a cold beer at the swim up bar, and on the honor system to pay -- now that's about as good as it gets.

We lingered there until after sunset, then discovered the visible spectacle of the molten lava. We watched in utter amazement as huge fiery boulders were shot out the top of the volcano, raining down on the sides. When all was very quiet, we could actually hear the the sound of molten lava cascading down its slopes. As the moving lava cools and begins to harden as it flows down the steep slopes, the congealing material gives off a tinkling sound, much like glass breaking. What an experience.

I made damn sure that bartender was paid before we left.

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