- Fea­tured Ad­ven­ture: Road to El Castillo

Ex­plor­ing Lake Are­nal’s South­ern Shore by Land Rover

Howler Magazine - - Featured Contents - Story and Pho­tos by Michael Rudd

My wife, Breck, and I se­cured our pad­dle­boards onto the roof rack of our Land Rover De­fender 110, left Playas Del Coco and headed to­ward La­guna de Are­nal via the In­ter-Amer­i­can High­way. Two hours later we reached the turnoff at Cañas in our well-equipped rig, ea­ger to head into the much cooler high­lands. We had our Waze set for Tron­adora, a small town on Are­nal's south­ern shore where we hoped to find pad­dle­board heaven.

Over the years, we have pad­dled ev­ery­thing from surf breaks in Hawaii to high-alti­tude lakes in Colorado but had longed to SUP on Costa Rica's largest lake, lo­cated be­neath Vol­cán Are­nal. We got out of our Land Rover, glanced at the washe­d­out bridge on the road to El Castillo, and re­al­ized that get­ting there was all part of the ad­ven­ture.

We had set up the ve­hi­cle rental three weeks ear­lier, and when we landed in Liberia our Land Rover was wait­ing in the park­ing lot. We loaded up our gear and headed to the beach, only 25 minutes away.

We rolled into Playas Del Coco and quickly found our reser­va­tion at Café De Playa, a hip bou­tique ho­tel, just in time for happy hour. The next morn­ing we had break­fast at Soda Jardín Trop­i­cal, a lo­cal fa­vorite, then hit the beach for some amaz­ing pad­dle-board­ing in the bay. Af­ter a cou­ple of days in Coco we de­cided to head for a cooler cli­mate and set our GPS for La­guna de Are­nal, where we had planned to camp and pad­dle for the next few days.

Costa Rica is a rel­a­tively small coun­try, roughly the size of West Vir­ginia. Even though it ac­counts for only 0.03 per­cent of the earth's sur­face, it con­tains nearly 5 per­cent of the world's bio­di­ver­sity — more than 500,000 species in all. The var­ied ter­rain shifts be­tween forests, val­leys, moun­tains, vol­ca­noes, plains and wet­lands, mak­ing it one of the best places on the planet for ex­plo­ration and ad­ven­ture.

La­guna de Are­nal is rated one of the best wind­surf­ing spots in the world, so we knew it would be a stretch to find calm wa­ters for our SUPs. Af­ter study­ing a map of the lake, it was ap­par­ent that the south­ern shore near the vol­cano could of­fer the calmest wa­ters. What we didn't know then was that the road along the south­ern route was rugged, not well marked and fre­quently closed due to treach­er­ous river cross­ings.

We ar­rived in Tron­adora, stopped to get our bear­ings and then headed east to­ward the small vil­lage of El Castillo, where we had planned to set up camp. A wrong turn set us back sev­eral hours as we found our­selves lost in the moun­tains head­ing to­ward Mon­teverde. We re­traced our tracks from a cat­tle ranch high above the vil­lage of Río Chiq­uito and asked a lo­cal for di­rec­tions. He

& AD­VEN­TURE We shifted into 4-low and eased into the rag­ing cur­rent.

ex­plained that the road was eas­ily missed and pointed in the di­rec­tion of what looked like a con­struc­tion site. We turned onto the road and re­al­ized that the bridge had been washed out, hence all the heavy equip­ment. If we wanted to make it to our camp we had no other choice but to cross the river. We shifted into 4-low and eased into the rag­ing cur­rent. Our approach was slow and steady and we made it to the other side with a sigh of re­lief.

Back on track, we fol­lowed the shore­line to the east and kept our sights set on the pic­ture-per­fect con­i­cal shape of Vol­cán Are­nal. We stopped for lunch at a beau­ti­ful cove and took in the breath­tak­ing scenery. As we en­joyed our snacks we no­ticed a few howler mon­keys in the nearby trees and won­dered if they would join us.

Af­ter lunch we con­tin­ued on to­ward our camp, which we guessed was roughly an hour away. We were sur­prised to find two more river cross­ings along the track and no­ticed that they were flow­ing heav­ily. Luck­ily our Land Rover was well equipped with 33-inch BFG All Ter­rain T/A K02 tires and an ARB Sa­fari snorkel. The fi­nal cross­ing ap­peared ex­tremely deep and swift and we couldn't clearly see the bot­tom. We de­cided that one of us should at­tempt to wade across us­ing a wooden staff to gauge the depth. The wa­ter

line was just below the bot­tom of the door of the truck, so we de­cided it was safe to pro­ceed as long as we took it easy.

The De­fender han­dled the river with no prob­lem and we made it to the other side with suc­cess. As we con­tin­ued along the lakeshore, we passed through some of the most beau­ti­ful and re­mote rain­for­est in Costa Rica. The trees were home to troops of howler mon­keys and a beau­ti­ful ar­ray of bird species.

We ar­rived at the tiny vil­lage of El Castillo just be­fore dusk, de­ployed our GEO Ad­ven­ture Gear rooftop tent and set up our camp on the edge of the lake. The two of us en­joyed our room with a vol­cano view and agreed that life was good!

The next morn­ing we awoke early to clear skies and calm wa­ters, which we were cer­tain was a gift from the vol­cano gods. Break­fast had to be put on hold, since we agreed that we should get on the wa­ter as soon as pos­si­ble. Within minutes, our SUPs were fully in­flated and our dream came true as we pad­dled across the glasslike La­guna de Are­nal, with Vol­cán Are­nal loom­ing over us.

The weather held out for most of the morn­ing and we pad­dled to our hearts' con­tent. Af­ter­wards, we de­voured a well-de­served brunch and then pad­dled for an­other hour be­fore the rain set in, forc­ing us to call it quits. We hung out in our rooftop tent for the re­main­der of the after­noon, fan­ta­siz­ing about our next pad­dle­board­ing trip ... pos­si­bly to the Golfo Dulce. We marked a date on the cal­en­dar and drifted off for a nap, de­spite the un­set­tling cries of the howler mon­keys.

Our ad­ven­ture in Costa Rica ex­ceeded our ex­pec­ta­tions. We ex­plored re­mote back­roads by 4x4, pad­dled the largest lake in the coun­try and left with a deeper un­der­stand­ing of what the lo­cals re­fer to as “pura vida” — pure life.

In­set photo: We were not the first Land Rover on this road, as Castillo has this fine yard art.

One of three river cross­ings on the road to El Castillo.

With our set-up, it was easy camp­ing and pad­dle­board­ing on La­guna de Are­nal. .

We took a wrong turn and ended up in the moun­tains above El Chiq­uito

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