Monday, January 11, 2016

Costa Rica: Day 4

Friday was our last full day near Lake Arenal and guess what? It stopped raining! I can't say I minded the rain (we are staying in the rain forest, after all), but it sure was nice to see the sun. We woke up around 6:00am to birds chirping outside our windows and howler monkeys screeching from the trees. Apparently, we weren't the only ones rejoicing over the sunshine.

Our family ate breakfast in the main building of Nepenthe's bed + breakfast once again. We're not staying in the bed + breakfast in the typical sense since we've rented the owner's private house, but it's been lovely to meet other guests staying on the property and converse about everyone's daily adventures. The kids love to chase and play with the owner's dog named Jaz.

Agustin, Nepenthe's property manager, has been helpful in offering suggestions for things to do in and around El Castillo. We considered visiting an animal rehabilitation center near La Fortuna on Friday morning, but at the last minute decided to go for a hike at the nearby Arenal Observatory Lodge. On a clear day, the Observatory Lodge provides up-close views of Arenal Volcano and we hoped to catch a glimpse of it if the rain held off. It cost $10/pp (our kids were free) for entrance into the Observatory Lodge, but we found it well worth the cost for all there was to do.

Andi, Janie and I were immediately taken by the beautiful lodge grounds. The large property includes a hotel and spa, observatory viewing room, restaurant, pool, hiking trails, waterfall, two hanging bridges and a farm. There was so much to see there, we could've spent the entire day exploring.

First, we decided to hike to the waterfall. We'd heard the Arenal Observatory Lodge trek was a shorter and more kid-friendly trail than the popular waterfall hike in La Fortuna and hikes leading to Arenal Volcano. We were pleased to find mostly flat and well-maintained paths at the Observatory Lodge perfect for the kids to navigate. Tory and Aden walked the entire distance until the very end when Andi and I carried them down 100 stairs or so to the waterfall below us. We could hear the rush of the water in the distance and a wonderful sight presented itself as we descended the staircase.

We made it!

Tory and Aden were absolutely amazed by the waterfall. "Wow!" we heard each of them exclaim at least a dozen times. The five of us stood at the base of the falls, water misting on our faces and the roar of the falls flowing nearby, for at least a half an hour. We had the whole place to ourselves. It was perfect. 

Next, we decided to hike to the Dante hanging bridge. This trail was also well-marked and easy for all of us to walk along. We took our time and enjoyed the beautiful trees and flowers surrounding us as Aden and Tory picked up sticks and rocks along the way. As soon as Aden spotted the hanging bridge, he bolted toward it without an ounce of fear.

I'm not exactly sure how high the bridge was, but it was ... high. I didn't realize just much until I ran after him. Oh, Aden boy, what are we going to do with you?

We continued along the trail in search of the Observatory Lodge Farm, but decided part-way to detour for lunch at the restaurant instead. Things got a little dicey toward the end as the kids' legs grew tired and their bellies hungry. Andi and I ended up carrying Tory and Aden most of the way back to the main lodge -- we definitely got our workouts in that morning!

All was well once we arrived at the Observatory Lodge restaurant and Aden and Tory got their daily strawberry smoothie fix. The five of us sat on the restaurant patio at the base of the Arenal Volcano in absolute awe of its sight. Now, if those pesky clouds would've only moved out of our view ...

There was much more to do at the Observatory Lodge, but Aden was growing tired and ready for his afternoon nap. We headed back to Nepenthe to drop Janie and Aden off so he could rest, then Andi, Tory and I headed back into El Castillo for an afternoon yoga session. Andi arranged a private yoga class for the three of us, and Tory was absolutely over the moon about it. This was her very first "official" yoga class.

Our yoga instructor's name was Dani and she led Andi, Tory and I through an hour long session. Her studio was on the third floor of a warehouse she'd just bought and began to renovate, and it had the most perfect view of Arenal Volcano through the windows. Dani was sweet with Tory and led us nice and slow so Tory could follow along. Toward the end of class, she asked Tory if she had any favorite yoga moves. She invited Tory onto her mat to do some tandem yoga poses by balancing Tory on her feet and hands. Tory beamed from eat to ear from all the personal attention. She loved the experience, and Andi and I did too.

Afterwards, we headed back to our house at Nepenthe for rest time. We were tired from hiking and yoga, so we lounged around the house for a bit before dinner. Without the rain, it was the perfect time to sit poolside and enjoy the amazing view of Lake Arenal.

We'd planned to drive into El Castillo for a nice family dinner that night, but as we drove past the restaurant on Nepenthe's property we changed our mind. The half-mile drive into town was bumpy and steep, and staying closer to our rented house seemed easier with the kids. Plus, the food at Agustino's was very tasty and it looked like we'd have the entire restaurant to ourselves. Janie, Andi and I shared ceviche, guacamole and steak with chimichurri sauce.

What an amazing day in Costa Rica's rain forest around Arenal Volcano. Today, I was so impressed with the manicured gardens and pathways at Arenal Observatory Lodge, and the friendly welcome our yoga instructor, Dani, gave Tory, Andi and I. I think we're all sad to wake-up and say good-bye to this place tomorrow morning.    

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