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  • Writer's pictureMariya Galochkina

A Weekend Playing Tourist

After our first full week of gravimetry fieldwork and working with our respective mentors, we decided to take a weekend trip to Volcan Arenal, which is one of Costa Rica’s most famous volcanoes. After over three hours of driving down a very windy yet incredibly scenic road, we finally reached a small town called La Fortuna that sits by the base of the volcano. My favorite part about the drive was having the opportunity to see the countryside of Costa Rica and how quickly we alternated from one microclimate to another. La Fortuna was significantly more hot and humid than San Jose, and (unfortunately), there were a lot more bugs. I’m trying not to take the ability to keep our apartment doors wide open and not have any bugs fly in for granted.

For being a very calm and clean small town, La Fortuna was surprisingly incredibly touristy. Every hotel, restaurant, shop, and nearby attraction was marked in English, and most of the town seemed to be comprised of English-speaking tourists and backpackers.

We had all planned on visiting the Cataratas de Fortuna, which consisted of a hike leading down to a waterfall with a swimming hole. However, when we arrived, it began to rain heavily, and we were told that the conditions were too dangerous and decided to go back into town. There, we spotted a group of tourists crowded around a street corner, all pointing up, so we joined them and were surprised to see a sloth with her baby climbing across a tree.

The sloth tourist trap.

Sloth mama and baby sloth.

Not knowing how the weather would progress through the evening, the six of us decided to go to Baldi Hot Springs, a one of the many waterparks/attractions in the area built on the geothermal springs of Volcan Arenal. There, we lounged around in various hot pools, went on their water slides (where I learned that water slides without tubes are much more terrifying and probably not worth it if you care about the health of your spine), and managed to view the entirety of Volcan Arenal when the clouds finally let up.

The next morning, Jenylee, Sarai, Jesus, and I woke up early to go ziplining. After my adventures with the water slides from the evening before, I was a little bit apprehensive of doing anything remotely exhilarating. I’ve never been particularly scared of heights, but I was desperately trying not to fall while climbing the first set of stairs to the zipline. However, that was the scariest part of our time ziplining. Ziplining was amazing; we got to fly through the jungle canopies and above the Rio Arenal and saw a faint glimpse of the volcano by us. I also braved my hatred (fear? dislike?) of swings and reluctantly did the Tarzan Swing, and I’ll admit it was my favorite part of the morning. I also forgot my rain jacket for the second time this trip, and I’m beginning to think I need to have it tied to my body at all times to keep me from repeating this a third time.

We met up with the rest of the group and Vadim at the hotel and drove through some very pothole-laden roads down to the Arenal 1968 Trail. The trail was incredibly muddy, sticky, humid, and strenuous at parts, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so sweaty in my life, but it was incredibly worth it. I got to live my childhood dream of hiking through a jungle and my geology major dream of seeing a volcano (although I didn’t find any peridotite inclusions anywhere). We welcomed the downpour of rain after the 2.5-hour hike.

An almost clear view of the volcano.

On the way back to San Pedro, we made a detour towards the small town of Tilaran to pick up one of the scientists we are working with on our research. The entire stretch from La Fortuna to Arenal was a lush, winding highway populated by various expats from America and Europe (once again, every sign was in English and I’m not sure how I feel about that). We were also fortunate – this morning, we woke up to the news that part of the road we had been driving on collapsed. The ride back was calm, yet very laden with Costa Rican traffic, which is somehow exponentially worse than New Jersey traffic.

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