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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Probiotics, an Escape Route, an Eruption

Volcan Arenal has been erupting continuously all morning

We are lying in our very comfortable room at la Choza, a high class backpackers ($28 a night) a couple of blocks and one very rough final section for crutches from the centre of la Fortuna a enjoyable if hot town with a lot of diverse adventure tourism overlooked by the active Volcan Arenal.

More funky San Jose architecture and street scenes

We came up yesterday from San Jose having first, thorough a bit of (hopefully) inspired lateral thinking, secured a promotional return flight from Managua to Guatemala at $357 dollars, less than half the one way price of $780. The aim of this is to have an outward ticket from Guatemala which we won't use to avoid being told they wont let us on the forward flight without a ticket out again, when we have a round the world ticket leaving from Mexico City which they won't acknowledge as valid after being told this very bluntly by the COPA phone representative.

We then had to make our way via an ATM that refused to work with my HSBC bank card to the Coca Cola bus station, so called because the district was first defined by its Coca Cola factory. And got two tickets on the 11.30 bus for la Fortuna.

Both the bus station and the bus are renowned for artful thieves, but the bus gave receipts for our stored luggage and we were given one of the disabled seats at the front, where there was room to hold our day packs securely.

A flying panorama of the hills above San Jose as we left leading to the Mountain of Death

The bus was an extended local that will pick up and drop off at any bus stop along the route which means time stands still and we were lucky that what was supposed to be 4.5 hours turned only into 5. After driving in and out of Alajuella it finally hit the road an hour later and went through a bewildering number of unmarked intersection before heading steadily up hill through small towns Naranja, Zocaro (with an odd topiary garden) finally hitting fog and torrential rain near the summit, before descending in gray oblivion into the valley on the other side.

These hills continue to dominate the skyline heading north

The road winds up into rolling hill country

Coming into the town of Naranjo

A snack shop en-route

Costa Rican coffee and bananas

Successive towns appear as we wind higher

The weird topiary garden at Zocaro

We were a bit dismayed that we might be heading to a town whose famed volcano we couldn't even see and sure enough when we finally arrived in the rain and fog at 5 pm after untold mysterious stops where the driver just sat there with no one getting on or off, but the couple of English speaking touts reassured us that it always rains late afternoon and pointed out that indeed the volcano was coming back into view as they spoke.

They were tour operators who immediately persuaded us into a deal for the jeep-boat-jeep connection to Monteverde for $18 each instead of $30 which we feared was a scam but seems to be holding good, after the proprietor at la Choza phoned up and double checked its validity.

Sure enough in the morning, Arenal was standing tall and green with wisps of steam coming from the side of the crater. We had a difficult night with the runs after we both had to take alkaloids to enable us to take the bus ride yesterday. This could be due to the antibiotic doxycycline we have been taking as an antimararial, so we set off for th farmacia to try to get chloroquine which is fine in Central America.

Eruption on cue!

Panorama of Arenal erupting over the central park of la Fortuna (click to enlarge)

But as we were walking through the little central park Arenal sent up a little eruption with a tall mushroom cloud and then another double eruption as we returned to the hotel.

The main street

Anyway just about expiring for heat and dehydration, we made it to the farmacia, and got our antimalarial and the pharmacist came up with probiotics - bacteria you take to correct the effects of prolonged anti-biotic use and we backed this up with live cultures from the supermercado.

La Choza a great place down a rough block

Now we are lying in till 12 checkout before taking the jeep-boat-jeep to Monteverde at 2.30.

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