Arenal Volcano went dormant in 2010 after almost a century of activity. The La Fortuna resort and tourist area that built up around here was based in part on the attraction of daily smoke plumes and nightly lava flows that could be seen from all points on the map.
It must have been pretty cool to sit in a hot springs and watch red streams of lava a few kilometers away. But the area has a lot more going for it than one volcano. Today we will head down the Rio Balsa river on our first Creekmore-family raft trip.
By Creekmore standards, it’s an easy morning. We still get up early – one can’t help that with the birds being so loud. But we can eat and hang out for a few hours because we don’t have to be at the river until 11am.
Lily has a little fever and diarrhea. It explains some of her crankiness over the past few days. She’s upbeat about it and wants to go rafting anyway, which is unusual for Lily who tends to dramatize her illnesses, real and feigned. She’s growing up.
The Rio Balsa is a class 2-3 river with a minimum age of 6. Costa Rica has dozens of great white water rafting rivers, but most are around class IV (out of 6) and that would be a little much for tiny lily. It’s not so much age, but weight, strength and the ability to follow directions that matters. In the US, it’s rare to allow kids to go rafting before 12 on any class.
I went river rafting with my Brooklyn family in Colorado when I was about Lily’s age. But the white water side of the family is definitely Trish’s, who has been a dozen or more times, many with her sister Paula who was once a white water guide.
Trish and I used to raft before kids, and we miss it a lot. Going with our girls down a river, even one 2 feet deep, is a real milestone.
It’s Easter week in Costa Rica, which is the busiest of the year. Our outfitter, Wave Expeditions, puts in at least 10 boats. We seem to have the runt of the litter – a smaller red boat with lots of patches. It needs to be refilled with air before we leave. If this were serious whitewater, I would be nervous.
Our guide is named ‘johnny’ and he reminds me of Roberto Benigni, which is what I prefer to call him. We are alone as a family except for ‘Nancy’ a solo traveler to Costa Rica and school teacher from Kentucky. Nancy is either hung[-over or scared (or both) because she doesn’t talk (or paddle) most of the trip.
The river is very, very low. We are at the end of the dry season, and they haven’t been releasing much water. In most places you can’t even swim if you fall out, and the raft gets stuck on small rocks a lot.
Lily, despite being a little sick, and holding a paddle that a foot taller than she is, keeps her oar in the water most of the time and giggles with glee at every small rapid. She definitely loves this.
It’s the girls’ second time. They went with my parents last year in Colorado for a short trip and loved it. They confidently tell Roberto that they definitely have whitewater experience when he asks.
But mostly it’s just a beautiful ride on a really nice day. There are a few sloth and many birds that Roberto points out. We end up way behind the pack after getting stuck on rocks a few times. There are spots where it’s only us on the river, which is nice.
Our last hot springs.
The hot springs tour is coming to an end today. We have done ‘The Springs’, ‘Tabacon’ and today, ‘Ecothermales’.
But it is much less busy than the others, especially when we arrive at 4pm, in between the lunch and dinner crowd. For a few minutes we are the only people here.
And though it’s not professionally landscaped, Ecothermales is in the natural jungle with a high canopy and the deafening sounds of cicadas. Trish loves that. They also don’t charge for non-alcoholic drinks – it’s included in the price. It’s a nice experience overall.
We were all ready to give Eco termales our ‘best of’ vote until the dinner. It’s terrible. They serve us the worst rice and beans of the trip. (Basically canned black beans in a bowl with sticky rice.) and the chicken in cream sauce has a watery sauce and dry chicken. How can they mess up mess up Chicken, rice and beans so badly in Costa Rica!
Our bedtime gets earlier and earlier. I think the kids are out by 7:30pm tonight, which is good because tomorrow is our make0up day for hot air ballooning very, very early. I can’t wait.