The Road to Fortuna

Up at 7 and when checking my phone for the time, there was a message asking if we were OK. I unlocked my phone and there were additional notifications from friends and family sharing a story of a 6.5 earthquake in Costa Rica. I had to do a little googling to see what the story was and where exactly. It turns out the main quake and aftershocks hit around 8:30 while we were in our room last night. Epicentre was about 100kms away. Probably while I was writing yesterday’s post. We didn’t feel or hear a thing from our second floor room. No creaking, no rattling…nothing. I know the power went out for a while last night starting at around 12:30, but that was 4 hours later.

As if everything was the same, Melanie got ready and I did a little research to understand the bigger picture. Negligible damage. Many people felt it. Nothing to be really worried about since this entire part of the world is regularly hit with earthquakes. Tonight we are staying in the town at the base of a recently active volcano. It seems that the news can focus on a few details at times, and leave it up to the public to envision the worst. I was only curious to know if any of the roads were affected for our drive today. All roads were fine, so our day was to go ahead as planned…which was good because we now have 3 non-refundable nights booked.


Breakfast was quick, then I was off to pick up the rental car. This was a 10 minute walk across town which gave me a chance for one last look at Samara and the daily specials across the street. Happy hour at Lo Que Hay has been one of the better experiences on this trip, especially every day. Let’s hope we can find a few spots on the Caribbean to match that fun. I grabbed the car after adding a little extra insurance…just in case…and returned to pick up Melanie and the bags. We were on the road by 10.

Google maps outlined a couple options for us to skirt the nearby town of Nicoya and shave a good 20 minutes off our drive. We enjoyed the scenic greenery of the hills taking us inland and found our turnoff point. Nicely paved road lead to potholes, then no pavement…and a minor river crossing. Hmm…where was that highway? We didn’t go for the compact 4×4, mainly because it didnt seem as comfortable as the Yaris, and we were sticking to only main roads. The Yaris probably would have done fine with the 6-8 inches of water. We didn’t chance it though and backtracked to the other shortcut. This second shortcut took us down to what appeared to be an illegal garbage dump and shallow river crossing that only a real 4×4 should be doing, especially on the other side where the exit was a bit steep for any vehicle leaving the river. Two shortcuts shot down, we made our way through the city and the long way around.

We drove through Nicoya, then on to Pueblo Viejo de Nicoya, Quebrada Honda, and to the Pan American Highway. These are all 2 lane roads with no shoulder. Traffic was very light, so it was hard to keep to the 80km maximum and watch for the 60, 40 and 25km per hours zones. We got off the PanAm highway at Canas and followed a road that took us to Lake Arenal. All of these roads have numbers on Google Maps. The roads are not signed in the way that we might be used to though. At intersections you need to know what town is in the direction you want to go, then just point your car that way and drive. Keep your eyes on the road because people drive fast and there are no guardrails to keep errant vehicles from plunging down the hillside into either a house or the lake. Good roads, but not wide like what we might be used to.

We twisted and turned our way to a spot close to the lake and stopped for lunch. A microbrewery that claims to be the first in Costa Rica, therefore the most experienced. I am not sure if they think that makes them the best, or just the oldest. Regardless, I did have an IPA to test out their claims. It is the first microbrew beer I have had down here and I can say it is better than the macro brew options usually offered at happy hour. We washed that beer down with a bowl of chicken chili and another rice and beans Casado dish while taking in the lake view. A pricey bill for some OK food, but they likely need to pay a few staff that keep this place open. We wrapped things up and hit the road.

A couple hours later we arrived in La Fortuna. We stopped a few times to get some pictures from the side of the road. We detoured up an access road that leads you to the base of Arenal Volcano, but the number of potholes made driving the 2km in a bit tough on the suspension. Considering this is the biggest draw for people in the area, a few dollars can probably be diverted from replacing the arterial road (which seems to be in decent condition) to fixing up that mess leading to a national park. We arrived in town in one piece, 5.5 hours after departure, and checked into Hotel Secreto for the night. After dropping our stuff in the room, we made our way into town to see what makes this place great.

La Fortuna literally translates to The Fortune. Now I dont know if that means that someone at one time discovered buried treasure here, or if the tourist agencies realized all the money they could make by jacking up the prices on any kind of excursion by calling it eco. There is not much to this town, and all touristic restaurants seem to encase the Central Park. Prices are higher, food is the same, and not one place is advertising Happy Hour. Traffic is split between touristic buses, rental cars, and vehicles in serious need of emissions controls. I guess this is what city life is like, and is something we will have to adjust to for a few days.

On the plus side, we were able to find a Japanese place for dinner that wasn’t too expensive. A bowl of ramen with salmon and soba with shrimp was just different enough to satisfy our bellies. Ice cream from a shop tucked away down a street next to our hotel was also a nice treat. Walking back we could see lightning flashes in the distance, with a downpour of rain a few minutes after we got back. We will breakfast here and head to the east coast in search of a little solitude…and maybe that beachside happy hour.