On Wednesday, the group was asked to congregate in the hotel car park at 8.30 am, but we did not leave immediately because someone spotted a sloth in a nearby tree in the hotel grounds. You might think that, see one sloth and you’ve seen them all, but this was different from that of yesterday. It was much larger and less hairy and adept at climbing to the very top of the tree but
The Arenal Paraiso hotel is located on the east side of the volcano and we drove round to the west side for a better view. On 29 July 1968, Volan Arenal – the name means sand – erupted after a period of quiescence of almost 400 years and killed 85 people and buried a number of local villages. Eruptions and lava flows remained a regular occurrence until suddenly everything went quiet again in 2010, but there are still hot springs and the site remains a popular tourist attraction.
We took a long trail through low forest and then climbed some very uneven volcanic rocks to reach a vantage point at the foot of the volcano. White streaks of ash marked the higher slopes and cloud crowned the top. It is forbidden to approach any nearer to the volcano since it is still active and could erupt at any time. Behind us, there was a huge artificial lake which is used for recreational purposes.
The whole area is a large national park and our guide Eduardo took pleasure in pointing out different trees and plants and spotting different birds including the white-throated magpie-jay, the crested caracara, and the grey hawk (we are all becoming twitters).
After two hours or so at the volcano, we drove into the village of La Fortuna which nestles on the east side of the feature. Roger and Vee joined Brian and Cally in having some lunch of burgers and beer at a cafe called “Soda La Parada”.
Back at the hotel towards 2 pm, the group had the afternoon free, but various paid options were offered: bathing in hot springs, a trip to a local waterfall, walkways over treetop canopies, or a zip wire tour of the rain forest. Only four of the group chose to go for any of these options – so who were they and what did they select? You guessed it, Vee and Roger decided to go for the zip wire and they were joined by Brian and Cally (both in their 70s). None of us had done this before.
First we paid our $45 (£27) a head for the privilege of being scared witless. Then we signed forms absolving the hotel of any liability in spite of a written warning that consequences could include “disease, injury or death”. Next we were fitted up with our harnesses and helmets. Finally we had our instructions: how to sit in the harness with ankles crossed and how to use a leather glove to avoid spinning and slow us down.
There were 11 of us altogether: the four from Britain, four from France, and three from Mexico. There were 12 towers and 11 zip lines which together measured 2,200 metres (7,200 feet or 1.4 miles). Vee – the woman who did hang gliding in Brazil and the highest bungee jump in the world in South Africa – was totally calm about it all and handled it everything very smoothly, only once stopping short of a platform and having to pull herself forward.
Roger found it much more difficult. It was not just a matter of having courage; the whole thing required some judgement and skill. It was not a case of doing one or two lines and then it was much easier; each line was of a different height or length and required more or less courage and a different braking technique. On one line, Roger stopped too short and had to grapple himself up to the platform. On a particularly fast line, his gripping hand bounced free, his wrist suffered a friction burn from the zip wire, and he had to get his grip back before he spun around. He finished up with a painful rust red diagonal streak across his right wrist as a souvenir of an amazing and thrilling experience.
Cally found the whole thing particularly terrifying and was accompanied on two lines by a member of staff. One of the French guys braked too soon and finished up suspended in space because he panicked and had no strength to pull himself along the line. A member of staff slid down the line to pull him up to the platform. For all of us, it was one and a half hours of pure adrenaline.
At Eduardo’s suggestion, we all went back into La Fortuna for dinner, visiting a typical local place called “Rancho Perla” where Vee enjoyed sea bass and Roger made sure he had one of the only three desserts on offer (coconut tart & ice cream).