Costa Rica June 19: Arenal Volcano National Park

Today we got up especially early because we had to get on the road to go to Volcano Arenal, near the town of La Fortuna. A long winding drive took us past a local elementary school, Escuela Las Brisas, a one-teacher, one-room schoolhouse, where there were 15 or so students from first to sixth. We stopped for a visit and to deliver a bag of school supplies.

After some formal introductions, we sang a Spanish song “Ojala que Ilueva Café” and the American song “Lean on Me”. The children responded with a cute song-and-dance number. We then exchanged questions about favorite music, sports and foods. The children were delightful and we had a fun yet awkward time talking to them. I didn’t understand much Spanish so I focused more on how they were different than us. They may have only been in elementary school but I realized they were active and only somewhat shy. They were also friendly to each other despite age differences. I remember in middle school I really only talked to pther students in my grade.

After taking a group picture, our group headed off to the famous volcano where our tour guide Mario explained the history of Arenal. The volcano is considered young—only 4,000 years old. It had a major eruption in 1968 after being dormant for hundreds of years. Between 1968 and 2010, Arenal spewed lava every hour, making it one of the most active volcano in the world in the last two decades—something that tourists found very attractive.

Our group toured the lava flows and saw the ecological succession of the area since 1968. The vegetation included fig trees and giant elephant-like grasses that were twenty feet high. We ran into a coatimundi, a spaniel sized mammal belonging to the raccoon family. It was digging for insects and roots. We also climbed the slope of the volcano to investigate a flow of huge rock that occurred in 1990.

After our midday hour hike, we drove to our second school, Escuela El Castillo, a school located in a very rural area where George School students have done many service projects in the past. We did a quick tour, dropped off supplies, sang the previous songs mentioned, in addition to the song “YMCA.” The school was incredibly close to volcano on the side where there is not much tourism.

We then traveled back into La Fortuna, where we had a nice lunch at a traditional restaurant under a huge thatched roof. Many of us had been groaning about not eating for many hours due to the long distances traveled. At the end of our meal we experienced a real tropical downpour!

Finally, with full stomachs, we headed off to our new hotel Arenal Paraíso. Though different from Montaña Monte Verde hotel, I think this hotel is second best out of the three we stayed at. The hotel was still very nice with the main attraction as a bunch of pools collectively called the hot springs. The lower level pools were cold and as the level ascended, the pools were hotter and hotter. All of us joined together for a final late night swim in the hottest of pools.

Thus ended our second long travel day.

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