Monday, July 6, 2009

A Day on the Lake

Costa Rica's largest lake (man-made), majestic Lake Arenal, is surrounded by rolling hills of pastured and forested land, the imposing cone of Volcan Arenal dominating its eastern view.

At 5,436 feet, the youngest and most active of all the volcanoes in Costa Rica, it put on quite a show for us the three days my husband and I stayed in the area in early Sept ‘08. We discovered that many tourists, including Costa Ricans, have visited the area more than once and still haven’t seen the top of Arenal -- usually obscured by clouds -- let alone eruptions.

We got the whole shebang: molten red lava bubbling up from the top and spilling down the southwestern side (spectacular at night, watching from the lanai of our aerie perch at the Lost Iguana, glass of Chilean wine in hand), as well as a couple of big reverberating explosions (one blowing out of the side of the volcano). And from the Arenal Observatory Lodge* we could see hot cinder blocks rolling down the mountain side as we had a beer and a hamburger.

The mostly dirt road around the northern side of the lake was a great example of -- as the locals say -- a “Costa Rican massage.” Full of deep potholes and, since it was the rainy season, nearly washed out in places, nonetheless the road afforded us lovely slow drive, time to take in many exotic flowers, critters and birds.

I had also been looking throughout Costa Rica for one of the elaborately carved balsa masks,** a specialty of one of Costa Rica’s indigenous tribes, the Baruca, to take home. At a tiny gift shop on the lake I found “the one,” now adorning our ‘barzebo.’ Then, towards the western end of the lake we enjoyed an unexpectedly fabulous lunch in a tiny restaurant with a nearly obscured view of the lake, melting into the mist.

* home to Smithsonian Institute and Earthwatch research teams

** The Boruca are an indigenous people of Costa Rica. Their masks are important in the annual ceremony of La Danza de los Diablitos, which has been celebrated every new year since colonial times. The dance depicts the fight between the Diablitos (the Boruca people) and the Spanish conquistadors – with an unusual twist…the Boruca win.

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