By Bob Corbett
I was taking off from La Fortuna today and had two options -- the quite inexpensive public bus, or the little mini-van. I chose the expensive option of the mini-van for two reasons. The long trip of the bus was one. The bus goes by regular road, and has to back track a long way. Then one has to change buses and there was more than a two hour layover. Secondly, and the main reason, is safety of bags. A young British woman I met at Casa Ridgeway had her camera stolen off the bus. Now it does seem to me pretty dumb to put a camera in the overhead compartment, but she only got off the bus for a couple of minutes to go to the bathroom. However, later she had a worse experience. She went into a hostel to check about a room and see it. She set her bag down to do this and someone passing by ran into the hostel and took the bag. It had her passport, all her money and credit cards and all her clothes, just everything. She was waiting at Casa Ridgeway until her mother could send her documents, some money and such from England.
That was why I chose the mini-van. The luck of this Irishman I speak of is that I had no idea in the world what the alternative route was, and thus walked blindly into one of the best travel days of my whole life.
The bus picked me up at 7:30 AM and I was again the only passenger. We took the road around the volcano, and that was exciting because on the backside, where I had not been, you could see the lava flowing down the side. Awesome, and the heavy black smoke coming out of the volcano. However, we did them stop at a simply luxurious resort and filled up the bus, I think 8 of us. Then we pulled up a while later at a huge lake.
Our bags and us were transferred to a launch with a cute canvas top with tassels, and seats for about 18. Another mini-van came and we were filled and took off. The lake was among the most beautiful sites I've seen in all my travels which have been considerable. It is 15 miles long, oblong like a pencil, and about 1 mile across. There are rolling hills surrounding it, the greenest of greens, EVEN MORE GREEN AND DIFFERENT COLORS OF GREEN THAN IRELAND. I never thought that was possible. What was so stunning and magnificent is that there isnít one single house or road or anything on that lake. Just trees and grass and whatever lives in the forest. It is another Costa Rican national park and it is just magnificent. The woman on the boat told me (she first gave the spiel in Spanish, and I was the only English speaker on board, so I got the private lecture) that there were 28 species of fish in the lake. I said how would anyone know, there are no boats or fishermen. She said, not so. Every morning the lake is open to small three person fishing boats from 5 AM to 8 AM, but the boats must be off the lake by 8 AM. There are just the 6 ferry launches allowed to use motors. No other boats, and again, no PEOPLE OR HOUSES OR ROADS. Nothing.
We got to the other side and the boat got a good run at the sandy shore and ran right up on the sand, We all got off and carried out bags about 100 ft. to go to two waiting vans. Off we went.
The next 2 1/2 hours ranks up there with the most awesome things again for me. We were in large mountains now, steep hills and a very muddy, rocky, hole filled road. Slippery and difficult. Some of the folks in the van were quite frightened. I just loved it. We drove for more than an hour before we saw the first house, but had seen lots of cows out on the road itself and often we had to stop for them, even on slippery and muddy hills. The hills sides were just an endless mass of coffee trees. It was well over any hour before we saw the first house with electric wires going to it. But not many houses at all and no cars. WE did pass 1/2 dozen carts being pulled by two oxen.
Next the road mainly disappeared to sight except for me and the driver (I lucked out to get the front seat next to the driver.} We came into the cloud forest and the clouds just enveloped us and the driver was going quite slowly and slipping and sliding and it was raining fairly hard. But, it was so magical and beautiful, I was just gasping at the grandeur or it.
I figured anytime now we have to come down out of the mountains and to a paved road. Dreamer!!!!! Eventually we came to a cross roads and a sign St. Elena which is where my hostel is, Pension Sanai. (The people at my hostel in La Fortuna had recommended this place.) But, we were still on the mud road. I was a bit unhappy. I thought good grief, how far out of town am I that I'm on this mud road and the mud was a sickly mustard yellow sort -- hate to be crude, just being descriptive -- but like sickly diarrhea.
I went into the this large hostel, no idea if they had any rooms or not, and resolved that even if it's a couple miles to town, I will stay a night. A young man greeted me in English, showed me to a simply beautiful room with private shower and bath. This place is JUST WHAT I WANT. As large a Casa Ridgeway, large kitchen, even larger rooms, multiple, for reading, TV and such. And there is free internet there. I'm not using it now since the place is crowded with backpackers and I don't know how much time we get so I came into town.
I put my bags in the room, got my rain coat -- it's pouring -- and asked where is the town? The young man looked at me strangely. This is the town. I said, but restaurants and stores -- Oh, he said, just about 40 more feet down the hill. And there it was, about 50 feet down the road, some CONCRETE!!!!!!!!!!! But at the tourist center I mentioned it and the woman said, oh that, it ends just up at the end of the town. They don't allow paving around her to keep the forest from being exploited. There is ONE SHORT BLOCK of paved road in St. Elena.
I found a simply lovely upstairs restaurant overlooking the one and only street. I feel like Iím in an old western town in a Gary Cooper movie of the 1940s, or that I am 150 years back in time.
There are two huge cloud forests here near the town, and in a day or so, I'm in no rush, Iíll check them out. I think I am really going to like it here, I will figure out all that and get to walking.
Folks, today you should envy me, honestly. I saw some of the most beautiful natural sights this planet has to offer, and I think I haven't even scratched the surface. It sum, by the way, the trip van -- boat - van from hostel to hostel was 4 1/2 hours.
Bob Corbett firstname.lastname@example.org