For our last excursion, we all went on an overnight trip to La Fortuna, to see Volcán Arenal. The top is often covered with clouds, but we could actually see a lot of it when we got there. And the next morning it was perfectly clear, which is pretty unusual, I think. It's still an active volcano. You can't see the lava during the day time, because of the sunlight, but at night you can see flashes or streams of bright red heading down the mountain in the distance, or bouncing sparks as boulders tumble and collide.
The volcano itself is off limits of course, but the park surrounding it has some great hiking trails. The variety of terrain there is really interesting. We started off in an open, brushy sort of area, with sandy soil, and then it switched to forest. After that were the lava fields with lots of great rocks to clamber over, and then more forest. And that was just in about an hour of hiking. I would have liked to come back for a full day there to explore it more thoroughly. On the way back, we were caught in the rain and got rather soaked before we made it back to shelter. But that was about the only time on the whole trip that happened. For the most part, the raining happened when we were on buses, or inside, or only had to go a short way with our umbrellas. Pretty lucky for the rainy season of a tropical country, I'd say.
The next morning we wanted to go see a butterfly garden. Our guidebooks only listed some that were too far away, considering we had a bus to catch that afternoon, but we had seen signs for something that might be closer. Asking around town, we were pointed in the opposite direction of the signs (maybe they were decoys), where we found Eco Centro Danaus a few km down the road. Danaus is the Latin name for monarch butterflies, and they do raise butterflies there, but the whole thing is a beautiful little ecological preserve with lots of other animals and plants. When we got there, a batch of people were just leaving, and we were given a private tour for just the three of us.
The caterpillars of some of the butterflies there were amazing, being three or four inches long and looking like little dinosaurs. Some of the cocoons were interesting too, like the ones that seemed to be made out of gold. And the butterflies were beautiful. Some were large enough that you could hear their wings flapping as they went by, like birds. Among the non-butterfly critters we saw were sloths and poison dart frogs (both of which we'd seen before), a bat sleeping under a leaf, a boa constrictor, and some poisonous snakes (including a fer-de-lance). The dangerous ones were in enclosures, of course. There were some great plants there, too. Our guide pulled a few leaves off a tree and had us smell them. We couldn't quite place the smell, but as soon as we chewed a bit of the stem we recognized cinnamon. I could have munched that all day. Luckily we had it before the píper leaf, which is an anesthetic and turned our tongues numb with just a little taste. All in all, it was a very cool little tour.
After that, we headed back to San Pedro so I could get packed up and ready to leave the next day. Lacey's still down there, though, and presumably still having fun.