Day 9: Nuevo Arenal & a Plush Jacuzzi Suite
When you visit Arenal in the wet season, (May-November) you expect a bit of rain, but this morning's howling winds and light chop were enough to postpone my fishing trip on Lake Arenal. Over a 5 a.m. wake-up call, the captain and I decided to cast a line another day.
I savored another free morning on my terrace and watched the storm slowly dissipate. After a healthy breakfast at the inn, I was loading my bags when Kristian, one of the friendly staff, noticed a nasty oil leak under my car - the joys of owning an 18-year-old 4x4! One of the advantages of living in Costa Rica is that all Ticos seem to know somebody who can fix your car, motorcycle, or kitchen sink, and they are always a quick phone call away.
Kristian recommended a local guy in Nuevo Arenal, an eight-mile drive down the potholed road from La Union. Just in case, he drew me a map, explaining the exact location of "Alexander the oil man's" workshop. Alexander welcomed me with a toothy grin and dropped whatever he was doing to find the source of my problem. A little Teflon, some elbow grease and a new quart of oil and voila, the leak was fixed. Ten minutes and $3 later, I was on my way.
I cruised around Nuevo Arenal, getting a lot of curious stares from locals. It seemed a point of transit between La Fortuna and Tilaran, and not really a destination in itself. Originally located in the area now occupied by Lake Arenal, the town was moved to higher grounds when the lake was flooded and expanded by ICE (the Electrical Institute) in 1974.
Nuevo Arenal had a commercial strip with several restaurants, a bank, gas station and hardware store, but lacked the landscaped parque central that defines most small towns. I noticed several tourists stopping for lunch and picking up supplies, all en route to further destinations.
Confident that my car would not overheat and die, I followed the rutted road back to La Fortuna and stopped briefly at the Arenal Dam where fishing and tourist boats clustered on the lake.
I was on my way to a relatively new five-star resort, Arenal Kioro Suites and Spa. Built in 2005, the plush hotel is situated on a ridge less than three miles from the volcano. As its name implies, all of Kioro's rooms are suites, equipped with indoor Jacuzzis and fantastic views of Arenal.
It became clear that my ancient 4x4 was something of a novelty when I pulled into reception. Next to the gleaming new rental cars, my weathered truck was a sore thumb. Nevertheless, I was treated with great care and attention by Kioro's staff that wanted nothing more than to please me.
My suite had floor-to-ceiling windows, a perfectly-heated Jacuzzi and fluffy cotton robes. Kioro was designed with volcano views in mind. The bellman pointed out that even my shower boasted a fabulous peek at Arenal. I could see the looming giant from every angle in my suite except the loo, where privacy took precedence.
Here, my hedonistic tendencies could be indulged, but first I wanted to visit Titoku, Kioro's hot springs. The resort offered free shuttle service, but I drove the few kilometers myself as I wanted to stop in town for a few things.
Titoku had eight thermal pools, each with hydro-massage jets. Even though my glasses steamed up, I chose the hottest pool at the top and relaxed with a few other guests.
I returned in time for a fine dinner at Kioro's restaurant, Heliconias. With three waiters all to myself, I enjoyed a cream of pejibaye soup (which tasted like a cross between a chestnut and potato) and herbed penne pasta in white wine. Back in my suite, I soaked away the calories in my Jacuzzi, scouted the mini-bar and crawled under soft Egyptian cotton sheets.
Volcano watching is practically a sport in the wet season. And with my window open, I could hear my neighbors ooing and aaahing as the clouds rolled away, revealing glimpses of Arenal.