We spent two and a half days at Arenal Observatory Lodge, which is in the forest less than 2 kilometers from the summit of Volcán Arenal. The volcano used to be erupting quite frequently, but since 2010 it has been dormant.

Feb 24, 2013

We arrived at about noon from the boat trip across Lake Arenal, and our first impression of the lodge was “Wow”. Despite the volcano being in clouds, the views looking down Lake Arenal were spectacular. The grounds were meticulously kept and the restaurant looked lovely. Our room wasn’t ready yet so we stashed our bags at the reception desk and went out exploring. There was a deck outside overlooking a bird feeder with bananas and watermelon, and there were a lot of oropendolas and tanagers working on it.

Since the rain showers had stopped, we decided to go for a walkabout. We passed by the pool, where nobody was swimming at the moment. Just round the corner we saw a large black bird on the grass, a male Great Curassow. This was quite an unexpected find, especially since it was out in the open and not skulking in the forest. Next we came across a vervain bush which was buzzing with three kinds of hummingbirds. Another couple was observing them, and they pointed out some howler monkeys sleeping high in a tree.

Outside the gate we turned onto the Waterfall Trail, a nice walk downhill through the forest. Usually it’s hard to find birds in that kind of forest but here there were several undistinguished-looking little birds hopping down the trail in front of us. They turned out to be Buff-rumped Warblers, which are related to the brightly-coloured warblers we get in the trees at home. The waterfall itself was quite lovely with a refreshing mist blowing towards us.

Back at the lodge, our room was ready. It was in La Casona (“The Big House”), which was about 500 metres down the road. So we collected our bags and walked down there. We were in Room 1, which had two large windows, one looking straight out at the volcano and the other looking straight out at the lake. We settled in and had a lazy afternoon doing laundry and showers and watching the birds in the garden there.

About 5 pm we decided to go up to the lodge for dinner. We were waylaid by some birds, including some Long-tailed Tyrants and a Golden-olive Woodpecker which was peeking out of a hole in a tree. The walk back to the lodge was about 10 minutes. The hill was steep, but despite that it wasn’t too bad of a walk. We noticed that they had guanábana on the menu to drink, and we remembered how good that was when we had it in Ecuador, so we had some of that and ordered pork chops from the menu. The pork chops were excellent and we were very happy with the meal.

Feb 25, 2013

Today we decided it would be a sleep-in day, and as it was still raining when we woke up, that was fine. Except that breakfast ended at 8:30 am, so we had to get going. We put on our raincapes and headed for the lodge. We noticed that the raincapes smelled like wood smoke, and finally we realized that was because we had hung them up to dry last year in a smoky room at Sandysike Farm on the Hadrian’s Wall Path! Breakfast was the expected buffet, and the selection was very good. The rain continued to fall so we decided to do the “Old Lava” trail which started next to the restaurant.

After the short paved section it plunged steeply downhill over roots and muddy sections. In some places the trail had had steps, but erosion had wiped them out so it was quite treacherous in sections. When we got to the bottom we were very disappointed with the “old lava”. It was only a narrow section of sandy lava with a small creek flowing through it. Not really worth the trouble. Climbing back up was easier, as there was less danger of slipping.

It was still quite early so we decided to walk some of the paved garden paths. By now we were so wet that the rain made no difference. We were the only ones out there, so this time we were lucky enough to see a female Great Curassow on the trail. Finally we decided to head back to our room to dry off.

After lunch the rain had stopped, so we set out for a walk again. The first part of the way took us through the gardens where many birds caught our attention. Oropendolas were building nests in one of the trees, hummingbirds were feeding on the verbena hedges, but finally we got through the gate and out onto the roads. They ran through the farm fields, some of which were still occupied by cattle, but there were lots of birds in the fields, too. There was a couple from Quebec who we had met at the bottom of the Old Lava trail, and they were birding the area as well. The walk was very pleasant and took us most of the afternoon. Near the end of the walk we checked out a viewpoint behind the White Hawk Villa, and there in a tree not far away was… A White Hawk!

After dinner we noticed that the clouds were clearing away and we could see the stars. And the top of the volcano was clear of clouds for the first time, so Rosemary tried photographing the volcano by moonlight.

About 8 pm we heard an owl outside, so we ran out to look for it, and so did the couple from Quebec. With our super-bright headlamp we quickly located it in a big leafy tree nearby, and it turned out to be a Black-and-White Owl.

Feb 26, 2013

This morning we decided to go on the free guided walk which left the lodge at 8:30 am. Our guide was Cristiano and there were about 18 of us in the group. As we went along he showed us different plants, and then he riled up the howler monkeys by hooting at them. We went off the trail into the woods a bit and the monkeys came swinging through the branches right above us. They have a habit of throwing poop at invaders in their territory and some of the group (not us!) found out about that the hard way. After that we went down the Waterfall Trail, as we had on our first day. It was a good thing we went all the way to the bottom of the trail because sitting on a log across the river there was a Fasciated Tiger-Heron, a very striking bird to see. The walk ended about 10:30 am at a farm building, where we all climbed into a wagon which was pulled back to the lodge by a tractor. It was a nice way to spend the morning.

After lunch we sat down by our room and relaxed for a while, then decided to go back up to the lodge for another walk. But now some dark clouds started rolling in and rain showers started to fall. We took cover in the lodge for a while, and then when the showers lightened up we headed down to the room again. The new people in room 5, who have a baby, turned out to be from Winnipeg.

When it was dinner time we made a dash up the road to the lodge. Unfortunately the rain came back when we were halfway there, so we had to dry ourselves off when we got to the lodge. We sat with Charles and Marie-France, the couple from Quebec, at dinner. It was nice to have some other people to talk to, and after dinner we got a ride with them back to La Casona.

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