Camille is a volcano aficionado, so we knew a volcano visit had to be on our agenda. Arenal is one of Costa Rica’s many active volcanoes; until recently, you could see near-constant lava flows down her sides. The lava stopped flowing suddenly a couple of years ago, but she still vents steam and ash. And we still wanted to see her.
She had a major eruption in the late 60’s, destroying two of the three towns around her flanks and killing more than 80 people. The third town, the one that was untouched, was renamed La Fortuna. The Fortunate.
She’s had several smaller eruptions since then, and I was nervously excited to be close to the beastly mountain. We booked a room at the Arenal Observatory Lodge, which is the closest hotel to the volcano. The lodge is so close, it was originally built to house scientists who were studying Arenal. We stayed in the Smithsonian section of rooms.
The lodge is on an amazing piece of property. The grounds immediately surrounding the lodge were well manicured and swarming with butterflies and hummingbirds. The various lodging areas were spread some distance apart, with pathways and suspension bridges connecting them to the restaurant and lobby. Seven miles of trails extended out in all directions into the rainforest.
The observation deck is directly in front of the volcano, but when we pulled up, we could only see the bottom two-thirds of the mountain. The top third was covered in a thick layer of fast-moving clouds.
We decided to explore the “Old Lava Trail,” which leads toward the foot of the mountain to where lava has hardened into rock. We’d gotten about halfway there on the slippery, muddy trail and had stopped to spy on some monkeys cavorting in the trees, when the skies opened up and it began to pour. We headed back toward the lodge, having left our rain gear in the car. Naturally.
We grabbed some large branches with broad palms that had fallen on the path and used them as umbrellas (this pic was before the downpour).
They worked pretty well, but dripped mud and dirt all over our heads and necks. As soon as we exited the trail, the rain stopped, although clouds still covered the volcano. It was time for a rinse and a swim in the pool.
At first we were the only ones swimming, but soon another family came to the pool. They had a daughter about Camille’s age, and watching them felt like watching some nature documentary on the social habits of animals. They swam around each other, stealing glances, both obviously wanting to play but not wanting to be the first to make contact. Then suddenly, they were talking. Then they were thrashing about and making up games and pretending to be dolphins. Where only a minute before they’d been ignoring each other, now they were best friends. Before the night ended, Camille and Lucy had exchanged addresses and promised to keep in touch.
All evening and all the next morning I kept an eye on the volcano, hoping the clouds would part. As we were in our room, getting ready for breakfast, I walked out onto our balcony again for another look.
And there is was. The top of the volcano. Clouds still swirled around her, but you could see the very top, with a thin wisp of steam rising into the air. We took a thousand pictures.
We enjoyed breakfast watching the volcano. We went on a hike to a waterfall and could see the volcano. The waterfall thundered down an opening in the dense rainforest landscape, sending a refreshing spray of water over us.
We took some more pictures of the volcano.
Just as we approached the reception area to check out of our hotel, a large cloud slid in front of the volcano, and the view was gone. And I counted us very lucky to have seen her.