Eager to leave Liberia as quickly as possible for reasons made blindingly obvious in my post, we got up at 6am in order to catch the first and only bus that would allow us to get to La Fortuna in the same day.
Arriving at the bus station in Liberia which was just around the corner, we were confronted with a strange feeling. There was no assault on the senses that we experienced in Nicaragua and there was no verbal barrage from taxi drivers. We walked to where the bus was supposed to be and, as if by magic, it was there. A quick chat with the bus driver and we were on our way. Simple.
The bus rides from Liberia to La Fortuna weren’t hard. They were comfortable coaches driving on much better roads than we had previously experienced. The route to La Fortuna was: Liberia – Cañas – Tilarán – La Fortuna.
At Tilarán I encountered my first money issue, ATMs weren’t keen on accepting my card at all. Its safe to say I was a little bit miffed. The bus ride to La Fortuna cheered me up though (on the parts that I wasn’t inspecting the inside of my eyelids), luckily the second half of the journey was the best part. Skirting the shores of Lake Arenal to the right and the dense rainforest to the left, it was spectacular. At the end of the lake we were treated to a rare view of Volcán Arenal uncovered by cloud. Usually the perfect cone volcano doesn’t like to show its face but the cloud cleared briefly for us to see all the detail on the flanks of the perfect cone volcano.
There are only 3 certainties in life: birth, death and my irrevocable hatred for those people beeping their horns and revving their engines late at night. The town of La Fortuna sits in the shadow of the volcano and can only be described as a tourist hub. The town isn’t nice and the restaurants are, on the most part, quite touristy, however, our hostel was accommodating despite having to pay way too much for the pool table. Daylight robbery if I’ve ever seen it.
The previously mentioned money issues were amplified when we arrived in La Fortuna and I realised it wasn’t just Tilarán’s ATMs that had a problem with me. A ring to my bank and some thoughts on how to survive another 2 weeks later, I had only one option, I needed to find a way of getting the rest of the money that I would need for Costa Rica without having use of ATMs. After finding the bank, finding out that no one in the bank spoke any English and finding what I needed, I got ready for a lengthy conversation in spanish about the intricacies of my predicament. After long explanations and lots of photocopying we had sorted it out. I estimated how much money I’d need for the next week and left very relieved. Without my somewhat shaky grasp on Spanish its possible that the rest of my stay in Central America wouldn’t have been so comfortable or prolonged. However, this was not my only money issue and the next one, rearing its ugly head in Panama was a little more cause for concern.
La Fortuna waterfall lies around 6km outside of town and we decided to walk there and were the only people doing so. We may have been hiking but we weren’t following conventional hiking rules. No rucksack, only a small bottle of water each and in terms of fuel for the road. Energy bar? Or even some fruit? Nope. A horrible dry cake that tasted of washing up liquid for me and Costa Rica’s answer to Frosties for Brendan. The first kilometre or so was just through the outskirts of the town, then the rest was uphill past a few houses and restaurants. It wasn’t too strenuous walking because it was all along a well paved road, quite a contrast to our waterfall hike on Isla de Ometepe. Once we arrived we were appalled to find out the price was now $14 instead of $10 so we scraped together what we had and went through the gate. There is a cafe, visitors centre and toilets once you’re through but we didn’t come for any of that so we went straight for the waterfall. If you have an irrational fear of steps then this isn’t the place for you. There are a fair few. Once at the bottom you can admire the waterfalls impressive power from many angles, most of which are obscured by other tourists, who had opted for a tourist shuttle bus from town. We were impressed by the waterfall but we thought 14 dollars was a bit steep, much like the steps. Feeling hot and wanting a swim we headed for the area that we were allowed to swim in (the river not the waterfall due to its strength), only to find that the water was hardly visible due to the number of people paddling. So back up the steps we went, at the top panting uncontrollably, we headed for the viewpoint which to be fair was incredible. It showed the waterfall plunging into the verdant basin with the rainforest and volcanos seen far into the distance.
There are lots of companies offering whitewater rafting and other adventure activities in La Fortuna, however in the interest of saving money, but more importantly having a good time, I had done some research. Desafio adventure tours was the company of choice and we opted for the highest stage of rapids available in this area (class 3-4). Now, I know I mentioned whitewater rafting in Montenegro and it paling in comparison to this and it couldn’t be further from the truth, this is some extreme rafting and a ridiculous amount of fun.
We got to the river after a great journey through the countryside with Choco our guide and Ramon our driver. Ramon could spot an iguana in a tree while being spun round, wearing a blindfold and playing blackjack I wouldn’t subject Ramon to this frankly inhumane treatment but it demonstrates his incredible animal spotting skills. At the river itself we met a man who can only be described as a Costa Rican doppelgänger of the actor and rapper Ice Cube. He was to be our boat leader/guide, unfortunately he didn’t lay down some fire bars but he could steer a boat so he was halfway to greatness.
After our brief about how to paddle and such, we got into the boat and set off on the gentle pools at the beginning to get used to it. After this is was action packed. A schedule of going down enormous drops and crazy rapids followed by mirror-like pools then slowly bringing up the energy to do it all again. A few hours down we reached lunch of fresh fruit (the best pineapple I’ve had in my life without a doubt) followed by a jump of the river cliff. Back in the boats and off down the river to lunch at the end, but not before more incredible views of the indescribably dense and intricate rainforest. It was full with the sounds of howler monkeys and life in general. There was more getting soaked to the bone thanks to my prime spot at the front of the boat and finally more uncontrollable grinning.
La Fortuna has a very helpful lady who helped me with my card issues. It also has an impressive waterfall. And it did give us the opportunity to hurtle down a river fearing for our lives. Could you ask for much more? Well yes you could.
La Fortuna isn’t a nice place. It’s not a quiet place. But, it is a fun place if you play your cards right.