Fresh and green are the pastures…

I learned a valuable lesson a few years ago from my good friend GM. Cut your losses. If you’ve paid to see a movie that turns out to be complete shite, leave. Write off the money and save your time.

We woke to dark clouds and thunder. It had been a stormy night, knocking out the electricity and playing symphonies on the tin roof of the cabin. We had one more night to spend in Puerto Viejo, all paid for. But why waste a day when we had a mammoth cross-country journey facing us on Sunday. So we packed and left, hitting the road about 7.30am for what Google promised to be a 5 hr 25 min journey over to Lake Arenal. A quick check online and we’d booked a room at the fabulous Ceiba Tree Lodge. All sorted.

We retraced our steps, back on Route 36 to Route 32, hanging a left at Limón. We had to make a pit stop at the cemetery as I’d been intrigued by the tombstones on the way in but hadn’t wanted to stop. I’m now even more intrigued by the whole section reserved for the Chinese dead.

The container parks that lined the road testify to the roaring dockland trade that issues from the city. But it was all a tad depressed looking. As we passed through Banana land, even the direst looking shack had a satellite dish on the room. Outward appearances don’t matter in Costa Rica. It’s what’s inside that counts – and they have their priorities.

We hung a right on Route 4 and headed north into Pineapple country. And things started to pick up. The lawns were manicured. The fields cleared. The houses bigger and brighter. As we passed through valley after valley, a line from the 23rd Psalm came to mind.

Fresh and green are the pastures where he gives me repose.

It is magnificent country. Agriculture abounds. The wealth is in the land. Forget the toucans and the sloths. My new favourite animal is the Brahman cow. They’re the most common type of cattle in Costa Rica as they have sweat glands and can better adapt to the climate than, say, your average Friesian. They’re plain gorgeous. If I could put a couple in my bag to take home, I would. The souvenir lot are missing a trick – there’s a notable absence of soft cuddly Brahman at the souvenir joints.

We were making good time driving through villages like La Virgen (am still amused at how stuff simply doesn’t translate – particularly the signs) and La Union (I was waiting for La Bachelor on the far side but no…) so we headed over to the Arenal National Park only to find that we were too late to get in. It opens from 8 to 4 but as it takes about 2 hours to hike in to and out from the volcano, last admission is around 2pm – but I suspect this is decided by the look of you.  Not that it’s explained anywhere. This was our third time to strike out with a volcano. We  had to content ourselves with a view from afar.

We headed back to La Fortuna, to the fabulous El Nuevo Rancho de Perla restaurant for a steak dinner (I’ve been living on steak since I got here) and a round of the local artisan shops. We passed spa after spa after spa. But who in their right mind would visit a hot springs in 30-degree weather? Although the guide book says that the area around Lake Arenal is the least developed in Costa Rica, it’s by far the poshest and more tourist-oriented place I’ve seen so far. And the guide book is current. The mind boggles.