Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I wanna see the volcano: Costa Rica, Part 2

Those of you who read my last post (made this morning) was kind of like me viewing an active volcano… Sorry, I was working on this and obviously posted nothing, but it posted! This is my second post from my trip to Costa Rica. The craziness of my life has calmed down so maybe I can get back to posting on a more regular basis. The photo of me was taken at the lodge I refer to in this post.

We meet the group working in La Carpio at San Ramon, a town on the old Central American highway known for cigars rolled from the tobacco raised in the surrounding hills. It was only 5:30 PM, but the sun had set and darkness was fast descending as we set out in a caravan (a small bus and a van) toward La Fortuna. The narrow road snaked and twisted through the mountains, climbing steeply only to descend just as steeply only to end at a tight bridge. I wished it had been light as I would have enjoyed the scenery. The ride was uneventful with one exception. At the bottom of a hill, on a hairpin turn, a semi pulling a 53 foot shipping container cut the turn too sharp. Our driver slammed on the brakes, stopping the snub nose bus just inches from the trailer. It was shocking from my viewpoint, just behind the driver. I thought for sure we’d hit the trailer and we were close enough that I could have stuck my hand out of the driver’s window and touched the trailer. Our driver slowly back up, watching for the van with the rest of our group that was behind us. The truck was able to navigate through the rest of the turn and we gave a round of applause to our driver.

A few minutes later, we stopped at a roadside dinner. There were only a few customers who were overwhelmed by a group of 26 hungry gringos. There seemed to be just one guy working, but I think he called in his wife to help out and soon we were all fed. I ate a fried rice and shrimp dish which was delicious. A little later, we were back on the road and our driver informed us that if it wasn’t for the clouds, we could see Arenal, an active volcano west of La Fortuna that rises above the plain, to 1600 meters. One of my bucket list items has been to see an active volcano and I was excited at the possibility. For most of the history of Costa Rica, Arenal was inactive and considered to be a safe mountain. Then, in 1968, following an earthquake, the volcano woke up and has been providing constant fireworks ever since. With a flashlight, I serenaded my fellow passengers with stories from the guide book, embellished slightly and with references to Jimmy Buffet, of the volcano erupting and swallowing to villages. (I don’t know where I’m a gonna go when the volcano blows…) Some of them were not amused and may not have slept well that night.

Our hotel was Jardines Arenal Lodge, a nice place that had been closed for the end of the rainy season. The proprietor, Hernan Blanco, was a friend of someone who was a friend of the guy who ran the place in Esparza, and had agreed to open up for us as we nearly filled his lodge. He said he’d closed the lodge because tourism has been way down (it’s always down during the rainy season but since 2008, he can’t afford the staff to keep it open. For $25 a person, we got a nice bed and room and breakfast and excellent hospitality. Most of the rooms of the lodge faced the volcano (or so we were told) and I was up several times in the night to see if I could see the fiery mountain, but it stayed cloudy. Once, at about 3 AM, I went outside and could see a few stars but saw nothing in the direction of the volcano. We weren't even treated to an earthquake or rumble coming down through the fog.

Daylight comes early in Costa Rica. At 5 AM, it was just beginning to lighten up, when a group of us met to take a morning hike. Hernan had recommended an old dirt path that had been the road into La Fortuna. It was warm and humid and we walked for a number of miles, stopping to admire the cows (this is cattle country) as well as the trees and the flowers and the fruit. Having just finished working with my daughter’s leaf project before traveling, I found myself looking at leaves on trees that were so big that they couldn’t have fit into a suitcase without being folded. There was one oak looking leaf that I figured I’d need a sheet of plywood, cut in half, just to press it. The country has such a diversity of plant life that I wondered if we hadn’t somehow found a backdoor into Eden. Rain came and went, but it was too warm to bother us; I just had to keep my camera dry.

We got back in time for breakfast at 8 AM, and to pack up. At 9:30 AM, a group of us headed out to rain forest “canopy tour” at Ecoglide. We were given harnessed and a safety lesson and then hauled us on an over-sized truck bed up the side of the volcano, where we spent the next hour or so zipping down wires through and above the trees. There was even a Tarzan swing that wasn’t nearly as scary as I’d been led to believe. Our guides were good natured, joking that this was their first day on the job. We had a blast. However, I do wish our guides had been able to tell us a bit about the natural sights we were experiencing.

Afterwards, we met up with the rest of our group at Bali Hot Springs. The water for these pools is heated deep within the volcano. In the wet midst, it felt good to soak in the warm water and to stand under water falls letting the warm water fun down my back. The guide book said that on clear nights, one can soak while watching the volcano spit cinders up into the air and spew lava down its side. I’d loved to seen it; instead we saw clouds.

That night, we made it back to Esparza, having never seen the volcano. I assume it was there, up in the midst and that all of this wasn’t some big joke on me.

Below is a photo of the volcano in the clouds....


  1. those are really cool pics...and neat trip...never seen a volcano up close...bet those hot springs were nice to soak in...

  2. Actually, I was rather impressed with the last post.

    While reading this post, which is delightful by the way, running in the background of my mind was a story about a farmer that found a whisper of smoke in one of his fields. This sometime in the 60's. To-day there is a huge mountain sitting over his fields.
    How true the above is I've no clue.

    I viewed the area in the Goo-earth, how truly magnificent. That walkway is a good idea for a tropical site, flowering trees and so forth. And Gorgeous Hibiscus. And and amasing that you found a spot where the shirt was the quietest thing in miles.

  3. Wow, beautiful pictures! Did you get to go in the hot springs? Seems like a really fun trip! :)

  4. I've seen several volcanoes but never an active one. I remember seeing Mount Pinatubo some dozen years after its famous 1991 eruption and still amazed at how much ash and damage could be seen miles from its base. Perhaps that is why seeing an active one never made it on my bucket list.

  5. I've been on one of those hair-raising bus rides in Guatemala. Never again...Great description of a memorable trip.

  6. Ah, you're making me homesick for Costa Rica. I really enjoyed my time there - and I didn't see the volcano either.

  7. Hi there. Now Sage, if thats you in the flowery shirt, you are a much younger man than I pictured. That is a compliment! ALso, I would luv to know what brought you to COsta Rica. xx

  8. Sage, if Michaela like that photo, maybe you should repost the one of you shirtless. ;-)

    I have zero urge to see an active volcano but I wouldn't mind seeing one that is dormant.

  9. Oh I envy you! What a marvelous trip, and all these amazing sites, your photos are lovely, and wow volcanoes is something I've only experienced in photos, videos...etc. You have an amazing life and are so in touch with nature and all the gifts it offers..crowded diners are my favorite when the gang is happy! Keep safe, take good care!

  10. Great photos and story. I hope you took more pics.


  11. Brian, I love natural hot springs (I really like them when they are natural and you can hike to them as opposed to a resort)

    Vince, I think you were recalling the eruption of Parícutin, in Mexico, which "came forth" in the 40s? The poor farmer lost that corn crop!

    Hula, you bet you, I was in the hot springs!

    Ed, I really don't want seeing a volcano to be the one where I "kick the bucket"

    Ron, I think the roads in Costa Rica may be better than Guatemala. They're certainly better than Honduras.

    Kenju, we'll have to go back (or go to Indonesia)

    Michaela, that's me--and I am 53--and it was a mission trip

    Charles, it was!

    Murf, it's somewhere in the archives!

    Karen, life has been good! And I have been blessed with being able to spend lots of time in nature.

    Randall, yep, and I'll share more!

  12. Kind of a bummer you missed the volcano. But you obviously still got to see some gorgeous sights.

    Like many of your travel posts, this one made me wish I was there.

    And speaking of huge leaves, I saw some the other day while on a short hike in the forest that made me say, "Sage would know what these were."

  13. I wish you'd host a blogger retreat or something.

  14. Wow. It sounds absolutely fabulous! Were the mosquitos really, really big??

    'Cause you look like you've got a huge bump on your head in that photo...or is it just me?

  15. What a lovely trip. I've always wanted to go to Costa Rica. I love the description of everything and sorry you never got to see the volcano.

  16. Bone, I don't know every tree (I'm actually not very good at naming plants, outside of the basics)

    TC, when and where?

    Kathryn, that's a cyst that I've had for a few years, it's benign but ugly

    Lynn, it's a nice country to visit

  17. Thanks for sharing some of your experiences on the trip. Make me want to travel. :)

  18. Costa Rica waterfalls and morning hikes with gringos. I'm missing out! Thanks for sharing the details of your trip. I need to get out more...and I've only heard wonderful things about Costa Rica.

    PS - It's me, the chica from Miami...with a new name and blog. Hope all's well with you!!

  19. Good stuff Brother- GOOD stuff!!!!

    High Five and the waterfalls pic was a Killer as always!!!


  20. How nice of him to open up for you guys! Sounds like you had a great time.

    I didn't make it to the volcano in Hawaii, either. One more reason to go back!

    I've got a bunch of half-written posts and ideas plugged into a blank page...I hope none of them post prematurely. Yikes!