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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Rough Riding the Continental Divide

The green south-east side of Volcan Arenal

Today at 2.30 we set out on the afternoon 2.5-3 hour 'Jeep-Boat-Jeep' connection across the Continental divide between la Fortuna and Monteverde / Santa Elena. This has become a very popular trip between two key tourist destinations, particularly because the alternative bus trip by road is 8 hours of rocky roads.

The odd living fences and the low-lying plains of Fortuna

We had bought the trips for $18 each (instead of the Lonely Planet $30) from a couple of tourist touts before they took us to el Choza, which proved to be the actual agency (Eagle Tours) doing the overland connection, so we had a couple of finger biting moments while they confirmed that our receipts did correspond to a seat on the trip which had an absolutely packed consignment of 11 people on board.

The road passes through a conservation reserve

Jeep-Boat-Jeep is a bit of a misnomer because it starts out as a suave ride in air-conditioned comfort of a mini-bus from one's hostel along a sealed road around Volcan Arenal to Lago Arenal on the other side.

We both get the front seat view because of my crutches

Eventually the road crosses an earth dam and we stop at a precipitous little path down to the lake, where there is a small ferry boat waiting. We very slowly drove out across the lake, taking an hour and a half to cross to the connection point to the next land section.

The 'other side' of Volcan Arenal is all grey ash and scoria.

Two panoramas of Lago Arenal, including the volcano in the background (click to enlarge)

Looking to the other side

Another volcano on the far side of the lake

About 200 meters from the shore the boat pilot suddenly floors it to planing speed and we realize we have been left nearly adrift for an hour to save fuel.We all get off and transfer to gritty 4WD Toyota vans

Last view of Volcan Arenal

The next phase of the trip was truer to its name. We all piled into battered Toyota four-wheel-drive vans and took off up the incredibly steep road which was a mix of muddy potholes, coarse stones, one incredibly steep incline that had been rough patched with concrete, all at very steep grades requiring 4WD vehicles, particularly because it rains torrential virtually every day.

The road has to climb roughly 4000 feet in the space of some 25 kms to reach Monteverde from the low height of the lake, so the road simply wound up and up like a mountain goat trail.

There were increasingly altitudinous views as the road wound higher and higher above the lake surrounds

At each point where you thought you might have reached a plateau ....

the road simply wound around another turn and higher still ...

it then began to pass into the cloud forest layer ...

and there was torrential rain and some oceanic potholes ...

we wound in an out of the clouds through tiny farming hamlets with a little church and three or four houses ...

in and out of the cloud layers ...

passing through coffee plantations ... you can see the beans on this plant beside the road ...

till in the half dark we finally reached Santa Elena and crawled into the back of the Camino Verde Hostel to recuperate from a hideous case of the runs.

More on Santa Elena and Monteverde in the next posting!

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