D: We need to get there as early as possible, before the cloud rolls in, or we won’t be able to see into the crater.
L: Nearly there – look – “Volcan Poas 12km”.
D: It’s so lovely and green up here. And meadowy. It looks just like Wales.
L: It must rain a lot. Uh oh. All the cows are lying down.
D: The air’s so fresh. We’re at about 2500m I think. That’ll be why.
L: The cloud’s building. Drive a bit faster.
D: It’ll be fine.
L: We’re in the cloud.
D: It’ll blow though and clear in a minute.
L: We’re still in the cloud.
D: OK, we’ll try again later. Shall we go and find La Paz Waterfall instead?
Half an hour later, at the Waterfall Gardens entrance…
L: HOW MUCH?
D: Stop shouting.
L: Sorry. It’s the shock. FORTY dollars? Per PERSON?
D: You’re shouting again.
L: Sorry. But FORTY dollars?
D: Still shouting.
Ticket office woman: Here’s a map. You can walk down through the gardens, visit the hummingbird enclosure, the butterfly enclosure, the snake enclosure, the frog enclosure, and view the waterfalls. The circuit takes about 2 hours.
L: But, FOR…….
D: (Interrupting and steering L out of the door) Thank you very much. We’ll just go away and think about it.
L: That’s more than the Cotswold Wildlife Park. Which takes all day to see around. They’ve got a RHINOCEROS for chrissakes!
D: The guidebook says the La Paz Waterfall is really close to the road. Let’s just carry on down the hill a bit further and see what we can see.
D: Good. In you get. I’ll drive.
L: (muttering) Forty dollars…..!
The road winds steeply downhill for a few hundred metres, and then hugs the near vertical walls of the hillside as it crosses the head of a gully on a clattering steel bridge. And there, right there in front of them, a fierce cascade of water tumbles 120 feet down the cliff from above, to a rocky pool, and then under the bridge and away.
L: (indignantly) You wouldn’t even have been able to see it from the Gardens.
D: Yes you would. I can see a sort of viewing platform right up at the top. Anyway, let’s go and look.
They walk down to the pool at the foot of the falls. The slippery rocks are hazed in a great mist of spray being thrown up by the force of the water. They make their way back up to the car, where two other vehicles have also pulled off the road.
D: But the book says you can walk right behind the waterfall.
They look around.
L: Well, any path there was has clearly disappeared. There was a really bad earthquake here in 2009. People died. The path must have fallen. No-one else is expecting a path – they’re just taking photos from the bridge. Wherever are you going?
D leaps nimbly across a muddy ditch by the road, and sets off along an almost invisible and very narrow ledge half way up the cliff. Water trickles down the face of the rock wall and the tiny path is crumbly underfoot, and slippery with spray.
L: What are you doing? Come back! It’s too dangerous! You’re going to fall! I can’t watch! Oh, hang on, stay there, let me take a photo. Go right a bit.
The path widens and D finds that he can walk easily to a spot right under the falls, watching the immense angry curtain of water cascade over his head and down into the pool 60 feet below him. He beckons to L who disappears, re-emerges, and makes her way cautiously along to him.
D: See, it’s not so bad. The first bit’s the trickiest. What on earth happened to you? You’re covered in mud.
L: (grinning). This is fantastic! Oh, I fell in the ditch.
Later that day….
D: I think we’ll be OK. The cloud’s much higher than this morning.
L: Nearly there. “Volcan Poas 3km”. We need to get a move on – the Park closes in half an hour.
D: We’ll be fine.
L: The cloud’s coming down.
D: It’s not. If anything, it’s lifting. We’ll be fine.
They reach the entrance to the Volcan Poas National Park. The gates are still open. The woman at the ticket booth is eating a sticky bun. They wait politely for her to finish. She smiles gratefully and licks her fingers.
Woman: Do you want to go in?
D: Is there still time?
Woman: Yes, but you won’t see anything. The crater is full of cloud.
Woman: It’s better in the mornings.
D: Except this morning.
Woman: Yes, except this morning.
D: We’ll try again tomorrow morning.
Woman: We open at 8.
The following morning….
D: Look, it’s a beautiful morning.
L: Yes, but for how long? Hurry UP! This is our third and final chance to see the volcano. Run!
D: There is no point whatsoever in running to breakfast. It doesn’t start until 7.30.
They pack the car, check out, and are at the breakfast room door at 7.25.
L: The door’s locked.
D: It’s not 7.30 yet.
The door opens and they rush in and sit down.
L: OK, eat fast. We need to be out of here at 7.40.
The proprietor turns on the coffee machine and begins to cut up fruit, very slowly. At 7.35, cutlery arrives, followed by glasses of fresh strawberry juice.
L: I cannot believe that this is happening so slowly.
D: The strawberry juice is very good. They grow them up here.
Fruit arrives. They eat it. And wait.
L: Shall we go?
D: What about my scrambled eggs? They’re included.
L: Am I the only one who understands that this is an emergency?
The eggs arrive. And toast. D munches happily. L fidgets.
L: There’s a puma in the garden.
D: It’s a goat.
L: Oh. Have you finished yet? The cloud’s building.
D: There are no clouds. D’you need any more of that jam?
Eventually they leave, drive up the now familiar road to the Volcan Poas park gates. They arrive at 8.20.
D: Told you. Still no clouds.
L: Well. They could be hiding just around the corner.
They walk along a broad track towards a look-out point over the edge of the crater.
L: Holy moly.
D: Very cool.
They lean over the wooden railing and gaze across a mile wide crater below them, complete with a milky turquoise lake at the centre, from which steam is gently wafting. It looks huge, and beautiful, and dangerous.
L: Did you notice the evacuation instructions on the board back there?
D: Yes. This is one of the world’s largest and most active volcanoes. Every so often it gets a bit lively and they have to close the park.
L: How d’you know?
D: I’ve done my research. If I wasn’t a translator, I think I’d be a vulcanologist.
L: Since when?
D: Since yesterday. Ask me anything.
L: Does it spit fire?
D: No – sulphuric acid. It makes acid rain and acid fog – you can see over to the left, which must be downwind, how bare the hillside is, and how brown and stunted any vegetation is. Apparently every now and then it damages the nearby coffee and strawberry crops.
L: It looks pretty calm today. Can we go down into the crater? Are there any paths?
D: No – no-one’s allowed down there. Too much acid in the air. It’d burn your lungs. And your eyes. It might look calm, but it could shoot a massive geyser of hot sulphuric steam miles into the air at any moment.
D: Well, maybe not miles. A couple of hundred metres. But we should be OK up here – the crater’s 300 metres deep.
L: Alright then. Go and stand by the edge, and I’ll take a photo. And another one. Hold me while I stand on the railing. Just one more. Oh, and one from over there.
D: Get on with it. D’you want to go and see the other crater?
L: Definitely. Is it like this one?
D: No. The other one isn’t active – hasn’t been for 7,500 years. It’s got a good lake though. Here’s the sign – Laguna Botos. Follow me.
They follow a paved path winding uphill, for about a mile. Overhead, dwarf cloud-forest vegetation closes over their heads, creating a twilight tunnel. They overtake an elderly American couple in matching sunhats, holding hands, stopping to breathe. A little further up, they suddenly emerge into dazzling sunshine, and in front of them is a deep blue crater lake surrounded by lush green forest and flowering shrubs.
L: It’s so beautiful!
L shades her eyes from the glare of the mid-morning sun reflecting off the clear, cold water. The American couple reach them and sink gratefully onto a bench.
Man: I’ll sell you my hat if you like. A hundred dollars.
L laughs. He grins, holding out his floppy sunhat. His wife pats his knee fondly.