Well, we got nicely settled into The Volcano Lodge and pretty much chilled for the rest of the day. Bright and early the next morning we were picked up for our 3 in 1 tour of Arenal through a company called RainForest Explorers. The driver’s name was Edgar and the guide’s name was William. He is pictured above. Both spoke excellent English. Since we would be together all day, we had plenty of time to talk. On one of our longer drives, William told us his story.
His full name is William Bogarin-Solano, but to everyone he is William. (We didn’t learn his full name till we Googled him when we got back.) William calls himself an Indian and his family is part of the indigenous people who are still found throughout Costa Rica, mostly in the Guanacoste region in the northwest. As a child he lived in a small village at the base of Arenal. When he was growing up, few people even realized that Arenal was a volcano. It had been dormant for 500 years, so everyone thought it was just a mountain. All that changed on July 29, 1968. For a day or so before that day, the ground around his village began to shake violently. There was a stream on his family farm where the cattle would go for a cool drink. Now suddenly the water was too hot for the cattle to get anything. On the morning of the 29th the mountain exploded. A huge cloud of dust and gas darkened the sky and boulders the size of cars flew as many as seven miles away, exploding where they landed. William and his family ran for their lives. Because their village was on a hill top, they escaped the hot gases volcanoes produce. His friends in a nearby valley were not so lucky and more the 80 people were killed that morning by the hot gas. That village is now at the bottom of Lake Arenal.
For years he would not go near the volcano, but in time he began to overcome his fear. Eventually he climbed the volcano and has now been to the top (strictly illegal in this day and age) eight times. Following the big eruption the volcano remained active, with regular lava flows, then it became quiet for a time. But in 2000, it erupted again, without warning. While this was a much smaller eruption, William’s best friend was hiking with a couple of tourists near the mountain. They were all killed by the hot gas. A few days later someone chartered a plane to fly up and see what it looked like up there. The plane crashed and 10 people were killed. William was part of the team who hiked up to recover the bodies. A few years later he climbed to the top and spread a blanket as a memorial to those who lost their lives.
William now keeps a laminated photo album of these events, which he shared with us on our drive. This is the eruption of 2000:
This is the site of the plane crash:
This is the memorial blanket he left at the top:
On a lighter note, the actor/rapper Will Smith filmed part of the movie After Earth in Costa Rica, where they spent six weeks in a $1,000+ per night hotel nearby. William guided Will’s family through the forest. Here is Will, Jada Pinkett-Smith and their son.
More about William later.
The 3 in 1 tour starts with a float trip down the Penas Blanca river, then a hike down to the La Fortuna waterfall, and, finally, a hike part way up the volcano. Now that’s a lot of hiking for us geezers, but William was unfazed. Along the way we stopped to pick up another couple, and that was it, just the six of us. We drove through the village of La Fortuna (more about that later) and then we were out in the countryside. Here is some of what we saw:
Those skinny little trees are tapioca, which is grown commercially in the area. The tapioca you eat comes from the root. Then there were these:
The is a field of pineapples, which are grown in many places in Costa Rica. It is, by far, the tenderest and sweetest we have ever had. And, every place we stayed served it fresh every morning for breakfast.
In time, we pulled into a staging area and William and Edgar filled the boats with air.
We were pleased to learn that the guy in the blue shirt, part of the other couple with us, had just retired from the Coast Guard. Always nice to have backup!
Soon William had us ready to go:
Before long we were cruising down the Penas Blancas! Dianne and I were with William and the other couple was in a boat with Edgar.
Those of you who grew up near the Killbuck Creek will remember that it often had a certain aroma, which was, shall we say, organic in nature. Well, the Penas Blancas could have been its twin. Still, it was quite pleasant cruising down the stream.
Soon William would call out a bird here, a tree of a certain type there, or a flower over here. It was one thing after another and, for some reason, I had a hard time picking out what he was seeing. But he was gracious enough slow down or row over for a closer look. In time I started to get the hang of it. Here are a few of the many, many things we saw along the way:
Wild bananas, which William pointed out, are much sweeter and smaller than the ones we buy. But they can’t be grown commercially because they ripen too quickly. Notice the red flower? The bananas are above it in the leaves.
Soon William spotted this guy lounging in a tree. Sloths, by the way, have few natural predators. The reason is, they are so inactive they have very little muscle mass. So, there’s not much there to eat.
William took a picture of a couple of tourists enjoying the cruise:
Then all of a sudden, he starts paddling toward the left bank. He had spotted some howler monkeys!:
And, even better, monkey babies:
We watched them for a while then William went over to shore a picked a fern leaf. He laid it against my sleeve and slapped it gently. Then he took the fern away. This is called a Tattoo Fern and the powder it leaves is made of spores.
A little farther downstream William stopped again. He left us, climbed a bank and went into some big-leafed plants a short distance away. When he came back he was carrying this guy:
This is the famous Blue-Jeans Frog. It is poisonous, but William assured us that as long as he washed his hands soon he would survive. He did a nice job of staging the frog to make it look like we’d found him in the wild.
In time, William announced it was time to stop for a snack. There is a farm nearby and they were expecting us. On the path to the farm we met this Iguana:
We also passed a star-fruit tree. You see these at Meijers sometimes. The fruit, not the tree.
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How fascinating! Thanks for sharing your experiences with all of us armchair travelers!