It’s day two. I wake up wondering why I feel like I’ve done 500 crunches and lifted ten times my body weight. Then I remember yesterday. But let’s step back a day or two to what’s led me to feeling like I’ve been hit by a bus…
Hola Costa Rica! It took a three hour journey to Gatwick, an overnight stay at the Crowne Plaza and an eleven and a quarter hour plane flight to get here, but finally we’re setting foot on Central American soil. By the time we get through immigration and I show the entire baggage hall how to wee (locks on doors, Costa Rica, are an amazing thing, particularly when that door is the only thing preserving your modesty from all of the disembarking passengers from two simultaneously landing TUI flights), we’re ready to meet our tour guide Andres, driver Alfredo and fellow Grand Tour travellers – our family for the next week (next two weeks as it turns out as we’ve all opted for the same beach hotel too).
Sun sets early in Costa Rica, and with an extra six hours added to our day we’re all pretty ready for our beds when we arrive in darkness at our first night’s accommodation at the Borinquen Resort in the Rincon de la Vieja National Park in the north west of the country. Except it’s only 5:30pm Costa Rican time. There’s a set menu available for us at the special “jet-lagged-arrivals” restaurant at 6:30 and it’s time to get to know our new “Grand Tour Family” a little better. Except we’re all tired and about to nod off into our rice and beans. We try and follow the jet lag rules of trying to stay awake until a reasonable time but it’s a futile effort and we’re in bed by 9pm.
In recognition of our inevitable tiredness the Tui itinerary gives us an early start the next morning, and after pinging wide awake at 4am we’re grateful for a 6:30 breakfast and start. We all pile into the bus, Mr Fletche then has to get back off the bus when he realises we’ve failed to check out and still have our room key in his pocket.
Our first stop this morning is Hacienda Guachipelin for the adventure part of our trip. Included in our tour is a 45 minute horse ride and then an hour and 15 minutes tubing. I only have the vaguest of ideas what tubing is, and I decided not to Google for fear of what horror stories I may find.
With my short legs I find mounting my horse a challenge. It was a bit like that time I got on a bike and promptly fell off the other side in the White Mountains. But with further to fall. Luckily the staff are fully prepared to tug on my leg to get me back into the right position. I call my horse Polly. I have no idea if this is it’s name, or even if it is indeed a “she” but Polly seems to fit. Polly does not want to start with the other horses, preferring to stare off into the distance contemplating life. But when we finally get going Polly proves to be competent at being a horse, if a little pushy when there are other horses blocking her way. Polly and my relationship comes to an end all too soon, and I awkwardly dismount, sliding down Polly’s flank into the arms of a Costa Rican.
Now it’s time to shed our outer clothes, swap a helmet for another helmet, sign yet another waiver confirming that we’re happy to partake in another activity which may cause death and get life-jacketed up which involves more intimate interaction with a Costa Rican. The tubes are huge inflatable doughnuts with a seat inside and most importantly, two handles to hold on to. There does not appear to be a seatbelt available. The bit they don’t advertise is that you have to carry this tube down a winding, steep and pretty narrow pathway to the river. Me and my noodle arms are not built for this, and as I have had to relinquish my glasses I have to concentrate doubly hard not to miss a step and go careering down the hill. Although I suppose I could use the tube for a soft landing.
There’s no easy start. As soon as me and my short legs have managed to get into the tube, I’m off with a face full of water to greet me. It’s bloody cold for a river on the foothills of a volcano. And what follows is an hour and a bit of complete exhilaration, with the occasional face full of water. I have wedged myself into a V shape with my feet up in the air and this means that against all odds I am not flung into the river at any point. Many of my fellow tubers – including Mr Fletche – are not so lucky and find themselves staring at the wrong side of their tube. I do occasionally find myself wedged between rocks which require a “rock-the-boat” motion to extricate myself, and at one point I am in a completely still pool of water watching everyone else float past me and I require manual intervention from a Costa Rican. Of course what comes down must go back up, and I’m almost too exhausted to carry my tube back up the hill but eventually I make it and I’m stripped of helmet and lifebelt, making me feel ten stone lighter. I have no idea where Mr Fletche is but I’m sure he’s alive and well somewhere. (Actually, he had been wedged half a dozen times, submerged once and then had a crippling attack of cramp as he tried to get out.)
Our tour guide Andres runs a tight ship and no sooner have we emerged then a towel is being thrust in our hands and we have a matter of seconds to dry off, get changed and get back on our bus. Mr Fletche is unsurprisingly one of the last to limp back up the hill, still clutching his cramp-addled limbs and barely has time to pat himself dry before being bundled into the bus.
This is one of our longer bus rides, thankfully broken up by a lunch stop overlooking Lake Arenal, the largest lake in the country. $16 gets us a traditional Costa Rican lunch, which of course includes rice and beans. It’s another hour and a half along bumpy twisty roads before we reach our home for the next two nights. The Arenal Springs resort and spa is nestled under the volcano and is a beautiful, leafy resort filled with plants and trees – Andres sets our expectations by pointing out this is the fanciest place we’ll stay on the tour.
We locate our room and find there are “Happy Anniversary” banners on our door, and a swan towel basket resplendent with a bottle of red wine and glasses. It’s a week early to celebrate but we’re not complaining. We actually get to unpack a little as we’re here for two nights – Mr Fletche has revealed himself to be quite the master packer this holiday although I’m still a little more of the haphazard variety. Tonight is a “fend-for-yourself-for-dinner” kind of night, and wanting something a little light after our rice and beans feast at lunchtime we book into the Italian restaurant. This will be the most expensive meal of our holiday at $50, although after tomorrow all the meals on the tour (excluding San Jose) will be included. We’re still fighting jet lag so after an early dinner and a quick beer/cocktail propping up the bar with fellow tour guests Paul and Hayley we’re ready for another early night. This time we make it to 9:30 before lights out.
Tomorrow we’re sticking around the Arenal area visiting the hanging bridges, a cultural farm and the hot springs on what will soon be termed “Wet Wednesday”