It's easy to take a place like Lapa Rios for granted especially since it's in such a beautiful part of the world you'd assume would be just crawling with tourists. Well, until you've experienced the tour we did today you don't know the meaning of the word "tourist". A large tour bus picked us up at the our hotel in San Jose this morning and stopped a couple more times after that to round up more tourists wanting to visit the Arenal volcano and the nearby Tabacón hot springs. Well, that would have to wait as our guide/emcee Hermón had other plans for us. The first official stop on today's tour: a gift shop! I kid you not. We were to feel privileged that our stop in the little town of Sarchi would take us to what is basically an outlet store for all the trinkets you could get in San Jose but at a lower cost complete with a framed, hard wood, three dimensional Last Supper. The isles were loaded with crap, crap and more crap and all Sarah and I could do was laugh! This stop was to be no more than 30 minutes but, shock and surprise, it turned into nearly an hour. This is like a horrible bit of product placement in what was a critically regaled movie.
Anyway, we [finally] moved on and wound our tubby bus on some seriously small, mountain roads to a town that sits about 1700 meters above sea level near the continental divide between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. At the center of this town was a cheery Catholic church with some strange, sculpted hedges in front of it. I don't remember if we heard a story about them but we were allotted a generous ten minutes to see the church and the hedges. I can truly see where their priorities are. Too bad the church didn't have a gift shop because we'd surely have been given two hours here if that were the case! The church was definitely an upbeat one since the alter glowed pink from the surrounding glass, a large sign draped in front of the alter read "El Señor es mi luz y mi salvacion" or "Da Man is my light and my salvation", and (yes, I'm going to hell) they had a statue of Jesus playing air saxophone. Oh, and to top it all off this church come complete with faux, Sears vinal, brick-patterned siding!
We wandered through the hedges outside in a little less than a minute-and-a-half. The story here is that a bride and groom would walk up to the church on separate sides of the abstract tunnels then meet together at the end. Touching, but we have to get back on the bus to head to lunch. Then we ate lunch. And left for the cloudy side of the country and wound down in elevation until reaching the area of the Arenal volcano. Finally! We'd see what I endured all the rest of this stuff for. The glorious -- what? It's usually covered with clouds and we might not even see it?! Yes, all we saw today of the active and supposedly spectacular Arenal volcano was a Mt. St. Helens sized chunk while the peak was shrouded in clouds. Ack! One stop we made before the hot springs did afford us a pretty spectacular view of what portion of the volcano we could see and we were able to see smoke and dust rise from hot rocks tumbling down the mountains flanks.
So, now to the hot springs. The story I heard was that a town used to sit on the northwest side of the volcano (probably called Tabacón) and was wiped out in 1968 by that same volcano only to have a resort built in its place to pamper folks like us. Well, whatever its history this is a pretty impressive place. An entire river of 120+° F water is channeled and moved into all sorts of waterfalls and pools for tourists to bake in for no more than fifteen minutes at a time. The water flowing from these springs doesn't smell of sulfur yet is rich in minerals that heal, seal, moisten and poly-coat to the health of all who bath in it. Sarah and I enjoyed ourselves but, lo, only had two hours in which to do so before having dinner and driving back, on those same windy roads, this time in the dark, to San Jose. Before we left we made one last stop at that lookout for the volcano in case we might see some glowing rocks but, my only photo is of Sarah pretending to be the great Arenal. Thanks sweetie. ;)