The Night Hike and a Viper
Two evenings ago, Jon and I arrived at Arenal Observatory Lodge and Spa. It is the closest lodging that you can get to a volcano in the world. The hotel is famous for being the country´s first eco-lodge. It is a working, scientific, research center. Renowned for its observation deck complete with amazing view of the volcano and Lake Arenal, we spent the first evening checking out the sights. We tossed back a few happy hour drinks and ate another expensive yet mediocre meal at the hotel restaurant. Well, maybe the fruit or the veggies weren´t washed properly or maybe the ice in the piña coladas made me sick. Either way, whatever Costa Rica´s version of Montezuma´s Revenge is, took hold of us during the night. We politely took turns expelling our stomachs in the bathroom. Meanwhile, while our innards were settling themselves, Jon and I had seen interesting critters on a friend´s night hike in the Arenal region. Of course I was now desperate to go on a night hike to get pictures of green snakes, tree frogs, and tarantulas. Unfortunately, though, I didn´t really think the tour through properly.
As we bounced up the dirt road to Mistico Hanging Bridges, I thought more about the night hike and what a bad idea it was. A dizzy person should probably NOT go anywhere with slopes and suspension bridges in the dark in the jungle of Costa Rica. Especially if said person might have to regain her balance by putting her hand on a handle or banister without checking for venomous spiders and snakes first. Hahaha! So I put on my rain jacket, which was made for Patagonia and hot as hell, because I didn´t want any creepy crawlies leaping onto my head or arms. I lathered up with bug repellent and pretended to be brave in front of our intrepid group of five tourists, who had also decided they needed to see snakes and frogs. As the guide told us, it was a fairly easy hike of two and a half hours, through the forest, I gripped my new walking sticks even harder. I tried to do the path independently but I soon ditched the walking sticks with Jon, as they were too tall and definitely not helping me gain purchase on the rocky uphill path. Instead, I grabbed Jon´s hand and clung on for dear life. I was sweating profusely in my raincoat but I kept the hood on because I didn´t want spiders falling on my head.
The guide gave us each a flashlight, which made me feel better because at least I could see where I was walking. I could avoid brushing up on walls covered in wolf spiders and vipers. Well, after about an hour where we saw many species of frogs, spiders, and even a snake, I was ready to go back. My ear was starting to hurt very badly because of whatever sinus infection I had picked up from Jon´s kindergartners. I struggled along, but must not have been very quiet about it because Jon tried to hush me multiple times. I quit whining and tried my best to walk instead. Unfortunately, with the end of the trail nearly in sight, I wasn´t as vigilant at shining the flashlight on the path in front of us. I guess neither was the guide or woman in front of us, because they didn´t see it either. We switched to a potholed pavement and I started to lose my balance and walking rhythm. Clutching Jon´s hand, I lurched to the side and very nearly stepped on a Fer-de-Lance viper. Jon, luckily, saw the snake rear to strike my ankles, and pulled me back just in time. I screamed and jumped into Jon´s arms. Luckily he didn´t fall with my additional weight, the camera, my walking sticks, and giant water bottle. As we grew quiet, the snake recoiled on the right hand side of the path. We carefully skirted the snake and all I could think about was curling up safely in the car. When we reached the parking lot, the guide was very happy I did not get bitten since the snake was the most aggressive venomous snake in Costa Rica! And there you have the full story of Eli and Jon, intrepid night hike warriors… (I´m sure this story will only amplify when we return….)