Alas, it was time to say goodbye to the beach, and move on with things. Up next, we drove back to Liberia, past the town, and up a rustic road to get to Rincon de la Veja park for some steamy hot volcanic action.
It was rumored to be less crowded than nearby Arenal, which has been dormant for a few years now. It was also very close to the airport, so it worked nicely to maximize our time there. Also, excellent hiking.
The downside: the road leading up to the park has several private "adventure lodges". Take your pick, they are all the same, and they are the only place where one could possibly stay in this area. No cute B&Bs, not a single hotel or hostel once you leave Liberia. Just...adventure lodges. We chose the only one that had availability, but they were all pretty much the same. They try to sell you activity packages of rafting and tubing and horseback riding and ziplining, all within the confines of their property. Which is all well and good, but I tend to like more quiet nature activities. I want to go rafting, but I don't want to go rafting with drunk college students.
Speaking of which...our hotel had plenty of college students, along with a pool with a swim-up bar that appeared that no one had gotten out to pee outside of the pool in quite some time. There was a busload of students from a state school in Kentucky which I will not name. Ugh, they were terrible. Sitting at breakfast, having a group of boys three tables over loudly discuss which sorority sisters they want to bang, and who banged whom, and how much they can competitively drink, and who passes out the most, and what "nasty skanks" they declared certain ladies in the group to be. Thanks for embarrassing yourself and looking like complete douche bags in a foreign land, you terrible wastes of your parent's money. I wish for the pox to afflict them.
Aside from spending as little time around the hotel as humanly possible, it's quite a nice area totally worth exploring. We found out later that you can camp at the park for just a few bucks a day. We should have done that instead. Oh, the odd thing about Costa Rica is that they have their own currency which is tapped into the US currency fluctuations. Most places will accept US dollars, except for small local places and street vendors.
When we got to our lovely adventure lodge on Sunday afternoon, we saw a big sign on the wall : Rincon Park is closed on Mondays.
We drove all the way out here and the Park was going to be closed on the day we planned to go? Costa Rica is a bit disorganized with getting this sort of information out on websites and whatnot.
We hopped in the car and despite the late hour, tried to make it to the Park before the gate closed. There, the ranger informed us that no, we can't hike at this late hour, yes, the park is indeed closed on Mondays, but...there is another sector of the park that IS open on Mondays, and it wasn't too far away at all. We decided that it wasn't the end of the natural world after all, and planned to come back to the park for a very early morning hike on Tuesday before our flight. Living dangerously is our specialty.
Meanwhile, the park ranger directed us to a private trail with a waterhole and swimming hole. What would be a more perfect place to cool off then a waterfall in the middle of the jungle?
The volcano was completely obscured under cloud cover, and occasionally, the wind would blow in rain drops.
The next morning we woke early, drove down a series of very rough roads to the Maria sector of the park. It was indeed open, and we were there early enough to be the first ones on the trail.
Through the enchanted forest we hiked, seeing so many birds and butterflies.
This sector of the park is known for its springs, so it's a good idea to bring something to swim around in.
This strangler ficus was busy strangling a boulder:
Which was really interesting to get a clear view of how it does its thing.
There were plenty of really lovely spots. I had a nasty spill at this waterfall- trying to scramble over slippery rocks is clearly not my specialty. I ended up badly bruising my hand, my wrist, and my hip, but nothing was broken so I kept hiking. The hip bruise was enormous though. I took pictures. I don't think I've ever gotten a bruise that large before.
There were Blue Morpho butterflies everywhere! They were enormous, but too fast for me. When they rest, they do so with their wings folded up and they look like a brown leaf. When they fly, you see brilliant flashes of blue.
We reached a hot sulfur spring, where water was bubbling up from under ground and into a stream. People had walled off a bit so you can sit and bask in the hot water. While sitting in hot springs was much more gratifying when we were in Iceland, it did feel oddly good to have a warm soak, with occasional dips in the fresh cold stream.
The sulfur turned the water the most magic shade of aqua, and the surrounding rocks were the tell-tale yellow.
The downside: you will smell like sulfur for the rest of the day. So will your clothes.
They also had a cold spring, with sulfuric waters bubbling up in pots in what looks like a landscape that a brontosaurus would find comforting.
It was a really nice hike. The ranger had said it would only take two hours, but we were there for at least six, basking in pools and springs and really taking our time and observing birds and butterflies. Afterwards, we stopped at a commercial enterprise which ran a well-known hotspring and mudbath. There were a series of man-made pools built up along a stream, and each one further away from the source spring was a bit cooler than the last, so you can take a nice soak in whatever tub you felt most comfortable. For about $10 you could sit there all day.