Bait and Switch: Travel Style

Whimg_0608en I decided to escape from winter, I coordinated events quickly not certain if I wanted a sit-on-the-beach-sipping-fruity-drinks kind of experience, a cram-in-as-many-things-as-you-can experience, or perhaps somewhere in between. After a day or two of just relaxing in the sun, taking long walks on the beach, and playing in the surf, I decided it was time to stray from the tranquility of the resort.

I had heard great things about the Arenal volcano, so it seemed a reasonable place to start. Off to the tourist desk I went and signed up for a trip the following day to Arenal and Baldi hot springs. I paid little attention to the mention of hot springs. They seemed a side note to the majesty of the volcano. But I played along, wearing my swimming suit and packing a change of clothes and a towel.

The following morning I met Ronald, the driver and guide for the day, in the lobby and off we went with two other women. We turned our backs on the coastline and  headed northeast back toward San Jose and the interior of the country. The drive is 2.5-3 hours, depending on traffic, road conditions, weather. We made a single stop at some lovely gardens that naturally included a souvenir shop, bathrooms, and coffee samples Рrather delicious, I must say.

As we headed further into the clouds, the once clear skies turned from fog and mist to an angry downpour. And that’s when it dawned on me why the hot springs are included in the trip…the chance of actually getting a glimpse of Arenal, much less a full, unencumbered view was relatively low. Somewhere between being hit by lightning and winning a Powerball.

The drive was great though. We went through a few small towns, so got to see homes, schools, bus stops, roadside stands, grocery stores – all the everyday sights that make traveling such a rich experience. Our drive was slow during some of the periods of heavy rain when navigating potholes ranked among the most steely-nerved of Olympic sports.

To their credit, the hot springs are lovely. There are 25 different pools, a few cool, but most warm. It was an excellent place to relax and imagine the skies lifting and Arenal making an appearance. During the few hours we were there, it looked like it could happen once or twice, but, alas, it was not to be.

It reminded me of my trip to Japan a few years ago when several of us piled into a bus to go to Mt. Fuji. About an hour into the trip, the guide mentioned that the mountain could only be seen once every three to four days. But then, we saw it. It was more amazing than I’d expected. At each level we stopped, we got a slightly different view. It was windy. It was cold. No one cared. Because on that day, our 25% chance had skyrocketed to 100% and it was like we’d been struck by lightning.

I should have known better than to think it might strike again at Arenal, but you don’t know if you don’t try, you always have the hot springs to distract you, and now there’s even more reason to return to Costa Rica!

 

Escaping Winter

So there I was on the first day of the year, contemplating life, holiday-induced cookie consumption, and the cruelty of single-digit temperatures, when it dawned on me that I didn’t have to passively watch the season take root. More importantly, I recalled that I had an airline credit that was about to expire and was generous enough to take me almost anywhere I’d like to go.

Within minutes, I’d booked a flight to Costa Rica for five days later, found a hotel right on the water, and secured transportation to and from the airport. For someone who’s general nature is to plan and research, and perhaps plan some more, this frenetic but focused activity was a bit of a jolt to the system.

Sometimes less planning is better though, and this happened to be one of those times. The less planning I do, the less expectation I’ve created that things will (must?) go a certain way. I’m more open to just take things as they come, play it as it lays.

And that’s how I found myself with nothing more than carry-on luggage (you have to love the low profile of summer clothes) and my passport on the evening of Epiphany, heading to the airport and putting piles of snow and ice in my rear view mirror. The flight, while delayed, was uneventful, other than it acted as a reminder to me why I try to avoid red eyes at all cost. I chose it because it was either that or arrive in Costa Rica quite late at night with an hour or more drive to the hotel in Puntarenas – not that I was going to do the driving, but since I’d never been to Costa Rica before, the better bet seemed to arrive early in the day, be able to see the surroundings while on the road, and have time to get my bearings rather than losing the day to air travel.

Nice hotel – check! Good food – check! Friendly people – check! I couldn’t have planned it better. Escaping winter has never felt so subversive, and I still have a few more days to explore, relax, do nothing, or do everything. Dealer’s choice.