Riding, sliding, and hiking

It's been a busy day.

It started early, with a 6.45 alarm call for 7.40 pick up. When I opened the curtains in my room I was confronted with bright blue skies, with nary a cloud in them.  The one cloud that was marring the view had decided to provide a halo around the local volcano.

A quick breakfast, and I was met by representatives of Athica, who drove me about 15 minutes out of Fortuna to their base of operations. Today was going to start with some horse riding.

I'd been anticipating this for weeks. I used to ride a lot when I was younger, going as far as competing in a few local show jumping events and doing passably well, but I haven't been on the back of a horse for at least 16 years, maybe more. I hoped that it would all come flooding back.

It did. Within seconds of being back in the saddle it felt as though I'd never left. It was a bit odd that it was Western style, which is much more relaxed, and not the English that I'm used to. I mean, what on earth are you supposed to do with a pommel on a ride like this?

Due, no doubt, to the earliness of the hour it was me and the guide on the ride. We started by riding up to one of the local look out points for the Arenal volcano. The weather continued to be perfect, and the volcano made an imposing backdrop.

That's me there on Mareno, just in case it wasn't obvious. I gathered that "Mareno" is the Spanish for "maroon" (or similar) due to some pointing and gesturing towards the colour of the saddle and other bits of tack.

I couldn't resist taking my own photo of the view.

From there we went off the beaten path, and on to slopes used for grazing cattle by local farmers. The horses proved sure-footed, and given that the terrain was rougher than that I'd negotiated the day before I couldn't help but think that these were the original all-terrain vehicles.

The half way point on the ride was the Green Lake, so called because of the algae that grows on the surface. We paused for a few more photos, before starting to head back.

Algae on the Green Lake
On the way the guide and I swapped riding stories. It turns out the dictum "You're not a real rider until you've fallen at least seven times" is known outside the UK, and he entertainingly described a recent fall where he'd been trying to rodeo some cows only to discover that he was heading towards a fence at high speed. His horse stopped, and the laws of physics intervened to send him flying overhead, landing in the mud. Laughing, he explained that the only thing he hurt was his pride.

We rode back to Athica's base, and stabled the horses. All told we'd been gone about an hour. It was time for part two of the activity.

Zip wire.

This is something else I've done in the past.  About seven or eight years ago a friend organised a trip up to Cumbria in the UK for an adventure weekend, and as part of that we took part in a zip wire event there.

For those not in the know, this is a cable strung between two points. You sit in a harness attached to a pulley on the cable, and slide down at speed, taking the opportunity to admire the scenery as you go whizzing past.

Athica have eight zip wires set up of various lengths; the first is the shortest at about 80 metres, the last is the longest, at about 750 metres. They also have a "Tarzan" swing, of which more later.

Again, I was the only person on this activity at this time of the day. We spent a bit of time getting the harnesses on and tested, and then the staff ran through a demonstration of what to do, and equally importantly, what not to do. Essentially you're clipped to the pulley by two different ropes on four different carabiners (two attach to different parts of the pulley, two to different parts of the harness).

Safety was emphasised multiple times during this, and this safety-consciousness continued throughout the rest of the event, with the staff being very conscientious about ensuring that I (and they) were attached to something solid at all times, by dint of only ever unclipping one carabiner at a time.

In short order I was flying through the air on the first wire, watching bits of green scenery go flying by.

If you were there you'd note that I was rapidly becoming much larger
The wire stations are generally linked -- the end station of one wire is the start point of the next one (with a couple of exceptions where there's a short walk), and it wasn't long before we'd gone around seven of the eight.

By way of an interlude the "Tarzan" swing is between the seventh and eighth. Unlike the zip wire this is a single long rope suspended over the middle of a gorge. There are two platforms, an upper and a lower. You clip to it, and launch yourself in to thin air from the upper platform, swinging back and forth as you go, getting a little lower each time. After maybe a dozen swings you're low enough to land safely on the lower platform.

This was probably the most adrenaline filled part of the event. With the zip wire you can see what it's attached to, sit in the harness and bounce on it, and convince yourself that it's very solid. You can't do that with the Tarzan swing, there's more of a leap of faith required to step off the top platform and go. But once you feel the rope take up the short slack and you're swinging out over some incredible views the fear just disappears.

I know it looks like I'm not moving, but the photo caught me at the top of one swing
And with that we were on to the eighth and final zip wire. I've got video evidence of this but at the moment my Internet connection is not really up to uploading a couple of 200MB videos, so that'll have to wait a day or two at least.

And with that, we were done, and back to the hotel. I spent a bit of time exploring some more of La Fortuna (although not too much, the heat was oppressive at this point).

At 2.45 I was picked up representatives from Sunset Tours for a hike around and through the forests at the base of the Arenal volcano.

This time there were nine of us on the tour, including another honeymooning couple. We started at the same lookout point that I'd ridden to earlier that day. By this point the weather was starting to turn, and clear blue skies were becoming altogether more cloudy.

We spent 20-25 minutes at the lookout point. As well as admiring the view our guide gave us an excellent overview of the history of the volcano, and the devastating effects of its eruption on July 29th 1968. Amazingly, before then no one had realised that this conical mountain was, in fact, a dormant volcano. This was to cost 78 people their lives when Tabacón, a nearby town, was buried.

The volcano is still active, regularly belching a mix of water vapour and sulphur in to the atmosphere, and I realised that much of what I'd thought had been thunder over the last few days was these mini-eruptions.

As if on cue, as soon as the guide had explained this we were treated to puff of smoke from the top of the volcano.

After ooh-ing and ah-ing at that we set off on a gentle hike through the forest. By this time the cloud and fog was closing in, and the first few drops of rain were falling.

True to form this rapidly became a downpour. I'd expected that we'd get some shelter once we were properly in the forest, but it turns out that although the canopy might block out a huge amount of light, much of the rain will just fall straight through and land on me. I was quite glad of the poncho I'd bought the day before, but put my camera away with some regret.

Much of the local wildlife appeared to be in hiding due to the rain, but we were fortunate enough to see a several Eyelash Vipers, and a pair of Toucans (is that a Fourcan?).

The hike was only a mile and a half or so, but what with stops to look at wildlife or shelter under vegetation it took over an hour before we completed the loop and arrived back at the bus.

The next stop was another look out point. This time though we were looking for lava flows from the volcano, which show up best at dusk.

Dusk fell with exceptional beauty.

Our attempts to view the volcano slopes were rather hampered by the fog that by this point was enshrouding the whole mountain. While we waited for it to clear we explored a little, and one member of the party, with exceptionally sharp eyes, noticed a family of Spider Monkeys in far-off trees. We all took turns viewing them with the telescope the guides had brought, periodically checking to see what the state of the weather was.

Well, it was improving. Now, at least, you could see the top of the volcano just breaking above the cloud. But nothing of the slopes.

A thunderstorm was brewing several miles over to the right of us, and the regular lightning flashes kept us amused while the fog continued to dissipate. Another five minutes of waiting and we had this view.

Better, you might agree, but notice the distinct lack of glowing red lava on any of the slopes that we could see.

We hung around for another 15 minutes or so on the off chance that something might happen, but tonight was not destined to be our night, and we climbed back in to the bus, and headed to our respective hotels.

This was probably the best day of the vacation so far. A combination of horse riding memories coming flooding back, the adrenaline of the zip wire, and the plethora of interesting information I picked up in the afternoon meant that I've finished the day very satisfied with how things worked out.

Being better prepared for the rain probably helped too.

Tomorrow I'm off to Costa Verde. Probably six hours on a bus to get there. Hmm...

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