Tag Archives: volcano

Masaya, Apoyo, Mombacho

Mas - first

Chapter 1 – Masaya

The chicken bus is waiting.

Conductor: Masaya-Masaya- Masaya!

They jog down Granada’s market street to where the battered yellow American ex-school bus is parked, and hop on. They are the only tourists. The conductor collects their fares – around $0.25 for the half hour journey.Mas - Chicken_Bus

Along the route, the bus slows frequently, the conductor hanging out of the open door, shouting over the cheerful music blaring from the radio, at anyone by the edge of the road, standing, walking or cycling. He drums up steady business.

Conductor: Masaya-Masaya-Masaya!

People are returning home having sold their produce – fruit, vegetables, bread – early that morning. The conductor hurls huge empty baskets onto the roof of the bus, and two bicycles.

D: So what’re we going to buy?

L: Don’t know – we’ll see when we get there.   But the book says Masaya Market has the highest quality crafts in Nicaragua.

D: Where are all the other souvenir-seeking tourists then?

L: Don’t know – maybe they all take the 25 dollar tour to Masaya instead of the 25 cent bus. Can’t imagine why. The bus is great!

D: Why’s it called a chicken bus?

L: I think sometimes the passengers include chickens. Or people are squashed in like chickens.

D: Oh. No chickens on it today though.

He looks a bit disappointed.

L: At least it’s chicken coloured.

D: Yes, there is that.

They reach their destination. The bus pulls into a wide open space – several acres of bare earth – and parks among ranks of other brightly coloured vehicles of a similar vintage. Most are emblazoned with a religious message: “With God we are Invincible”, or simply “My God”. It is not clear whether these messages of devotion act as protection for the passengers or are seen as a cost effective alternative to an MOT.

They look around. The large area serves several purposes. In addition to being Masaya’s bus station, to one side is the town rubbish tip. Sorting is in progress among organised lines of blue garbage bags and piles of waste, hampered by the breeze which swirls litter and dust across the yard. On the opposite side people are clustered in front of a wall of tin huts, around which vendors are selling produce.

The other passengers have melted away into the crowd. They look for clues on which direction to head for the town centre – a church tower or taller building perhaps, but there is nothing.

L: Which way, d’you think? I can only see trees and tin roofs in all directions. There’s no obvious way out.

They spot one other pale-skinned figure, and follow it, deeper into the ranks of parked vehicles, but it is soon apparent that he is lost too. They turn around and head back towards the huts. People mill around baskets piled high with plantains and peppers, carrots and cucumbers, plaits of onions and garlic, limes, melons, pineapples and mysterious gourds, sacks stacked like sandbags, of rice and beans and coffee, and cool boxes of chilled drinks. Smoke rises from street-food hand-carts.

L: Which way?

D: I’m looking.

L: I can’t believe we can’t find our way out of a bus station. I’m going to ask.

D: No need. I can absolutely find our way out. I’m just thinking.

L waits. D thinks.

L: Right, while you’re busy doing that, I’ll just go and ask.

She approaches a woman with a wide-based bucket balanced effortlessly on her head.

L: Desculpe señora, which way to Masaya Market?

The woman looks uncertainly at her. This IS Masaya Market.

L: El Mercado Artesanias.

She nods, and points them towards a narrow alley between breezeblock walls topped with sun-warmed tin.

D: (muttering) Precisely where I was thinking.

They venture in, snaking through the slow-moving mass in single file.   To each side are vendors, with baskets of ripening tomatoes shaded under beach umbrellas, stalls stacked high with bags of aromatic spices, and tiny shops selling clothes, plastic kitchen equipment, and bottled drinks. Elsewhere, unrefrigerated meat lies displayed on trays.

They reach a street. Here, larger shopfronts are festooned with multi-coloured goods – as though all their stock is hanging from the front wall like a great curtain of dustpans and dustbins, T-shirts and tablecloths.

L: Now which way?

D: I’m thinking.

L looks longingly at a veranda in deep shade, displaying a collection of hand-made rocking chairs, each subtly different, each equally inviting.

D: OK, follow me.

They turn left, lured away from the traffic by a newly painted footbridge leading to a quiet residential street. At the footbridge they are approached by an unsmiling youth.

Youth: Where are you going?

D: The town centre. El parque central.

Youth: Not that way.

D: No?

Youth: It’s dangerous.

D looks in surprise at the tidy street leading them temptingly away from the tangle of people and stalls and heat and noise.

D: Really?

Youth: Yes.

D: Surely not.

Youth: Yes. There are bad people and drugs that way.

D: It looks fine.

Youth: It’s dangerous. You should go right, then left along the main street. There you will be safe.

He shrugs, giving up on them, and walks off.

L: This would all be a bit bewildering for a lot of the tourists staying in Granada. Maybe that’s why   they take an expensive tour to the Artisan Market rather than just hopping on the bus. I’m a bit bewildered.

D: I suppose, if you think about it, the two towns are just really different.

L: They’re both the same size. Ish.

D: Yes, but Granada’s absolutely dependent on its tourism and so is incredibly visitor-friendly. It has to be. Whereas Masaya is an agricultural and industrial town and is just getting on with its life. It simply happens to have a tourist attraction in the middle of it.   Don’t be bewildered.

L: OK then, I won’t. Which way?

D: I’m just thinking.

They step out of the way of a reversing truck.

L: Are you bewildered?

D: No. Follow me.

Mas - marketThey about turn and, heeding the advice, leave the residential street behind and instead take a parallel route on a busy main road lined with electrical and clothing shops. After a kilometre or so, they reach the distinctive Gothic-fortress style walls of the Mercado de Artesanias. Inside, a hundred dark little stores and stalls are crammed with Nicaraguan craftwork, each merging into the next. There are hammocks and hats, handbags and jewellery, paintings and weavings, leather goods and woodcraft, and a multitude of ceramics.   They are greeted but not pursued by stall holders, left to wander calmly through the maze. At 10.30 in the morning, there are no other tourists. They have the place entirely to themselves.

From the Artisan Market, they walk west, towards the lake. The residential streets are empty of people. Even the traffic seems to have stopped. They pass front yards and open garages displaying hammocks for sale – vivid happy stripes of colour with decorative scalloped edges.   Mas - volcanoThe buildings peter out at a sweep of gravel. To the right is the town baseball stadium, to the left a couple of restaurants, quiet at this time of day, and an empty playground. Ahead is the lake, view framed by slender trees, bare during this time of tropical winter, dry leaves crunching underfoot. A walkway and a sun-bleached balustrade provide perches for half a dozen couples, their backs to the view, entwined. Graffiti speckles peeling paintwork – declarations of loves past and present.

They pick a good sized strip of unoccupied balustrade and look out across the crater lake. The Laguna de Masaya is below them, encircled by steep wooded slopes dropping straight into the water, and on far side, a thick plume of smoke rises from the summit of Volcan Masaya.

D: (cheerfully) That pumps out more poisonous gas than any other volcano in Nicaragua.

L: Yikes.

D: And there’s lava bubbling away in the crater, though I gather it’s difficult to see through all the gas.

L: Difficult for who? Presumably no-one goes near it, if it’s that dangerous.

D: Oh yes, there are daily excursions. You can drive right up to the crater rim. They know how to do things properly here – none of this letting health & safety get in the way of a good volcano.

L: Don’t all the visitors get gassed?

D: They don’t seem to. Though there was a splendid eruption in 2001 which had rocks half a metre wide flying half a kilometre high. Squashed a few tourist vans I think. But only one person was injured.

L: (nervously) Do we have to visit?

D: I’ve tried quite hard to get us on to a tour, but sadly, everything’s booked up. Drop a few hints that it’s way too dangerous to visit and people can’t get enough of it.

L: (happily) Well, that IS a pity. Good marketing strategy though.

 

Chapter 2 – Laguna de Apoyo

Sometimes one comes across a place which is just outstanding for the simple reason that nothing happens there at all.

The Reserva Natural Laguna de Apoyo is one of those places. Between the bustling Nicaraguan towns of Granada and Masaya, is a steep sided crater filled with lush woodland and a deep blue lake of pristine clear water. And that’s it.

Mas - apoyoA punishingly steep paved road drops from the lip of the crater to the lake shore. There is a small charge for vehicle access but pedestrians may enter freely.   At the bottom, a pretty lane meanders its way along the shore, shaded by trees, giving glimpses of deep blue water and lighter blue sky between vivid green leaves.   There are half a dozen discreet hotels and hostels tucked away, a few luxury villas, and some locally owned shacks, each with their own little piece of waterfront heaven. There are no shops, no bank, and not much public waterfront access. Visitors can pay a day-rate to enjoy the low key facilities of one of the hotels – a shaded beach chair, a wooden dock to swim from, a stretch of sharp volcanic shingle beach, towels, bar, restaurant, restrooms. Some have kayaks.

Once there, there is nowhere to go, no bars or restaurants or entertainment or nightlife. Just the deepest, cleanest lake in the country, and the protected woodland harbouring orchids, monkeys, anteaters, jaguarundis, falcons and hummingbirds. And an enormously steep hill between you and the rest of the world. It’s a secret oasis. It’s a little bit of paradise.

 

Chapter 3 – A Funeral Procession

In a small rural village, the taxi comes to a halt. It has encountered the tail end of a funeral procession moving slowly along the road ahead. A great mound of greenery and flowers has been built atop a truck, which is being driven at half-walking pace. A hundred or more mourners walk beside and behind the vehicle, spreading the full width of the road. Oncoming traffic halts, and the procession flows around it and on. However from behind there is no question of passing. Cars, taxis, buses and motorbikes tuck in respectfully at the back of the procession, where they remain for an hour as they all make their way gently along the road. At the front, beside the truck, a lone trumpet plays poignantly. Adults and children come out of their houses and watch in silence as the gathering passes slowly by. The taxi driver says the funeral is for a little girl.

 

Chapter 4 – Volcan Mombacho

Mas - sloth 1If you get a chance to visit Volcan Mombacho, do. I think you’d like it.

There’s a lost world crater, bursting with animals and birds and orchids and never accessed by man, not even scientists. I like the idea of that. You may not see them, but they’re there.

There are awesomely awesome views – of Lake Nicaragua and the 365 islets spat by Mombacho into the lake, of the town of Granada, the Laguna de Apoyo, and of smoke rising from Volcan Masaya. You really can see for miles.Mas - sloth 3

And there is my friend the sloth. He’s on the right, close to the path, only just above head height, towards the end of your circuit. You can’t miss him – he doesn’t move much, so will probably still be there when you go. He may be asleep when you find him, but pause for a while. He will wake up, and yawn, and stretch, and smile at you.

Mas - last

Rincon de la Vieja National Park

Rincon - Cangreja Waterfall 1

L: I wonder what it means.

D: Rincon de la Vieja? “The Old Lady’s Cranny”.

L: The Old Lady’s WHAT?

D: Sigh. I said Cranny. Cranny as in nook and cranny, or corner.

L: Thank goodness for that. I thought you said….

D: I know what you thought. I didn’t. Obviously.

L: No. Right. Anyway, it should be called “Rincon de las Rainbows.” They’re everywhere!

They drive slowly along empty tarmac lanes skirting the foot of the wooded hillside, under a bright blue sky. Way above, where grey clouds are obscuring the volcano’s peak, it is raining, and the buffeting wind carries a mist of sparkling water droplets. Shimmering rainbows, large and small, spring from the road, from gullies, from valleys, and arch over their heads.

The Parque Nacional Rincon de la Vieja is surprisingly wild. Although less than an hour’s drive from Costa Rica’s second city of Liberia, the roads leading to it are mostly unpaved, and the landscape in between is dry, dusty and empty. There is no town to host visitors when they arrive, just a few isolated hotels and lodges, hidden away in the forest.   There is a feeling of unpredictability about the place – of uncontrolled energy. The perpetually strong winds feed an extensive windfarm on the barren uplands between two volcanic peaks, and the land within the park bubbles with hot springs, boiling mud and sulphurous gases. A number of geothermal plants have been established to capture some of this unharnessed power.

The park is divided into two sectors, each with their own ranger’s station, 10km or so apart. The main one is Pailas, on the north-west edge. They arrive at a building site, crammed with parked cars and buses. A huge white visitor’s centre is half-finished – workmen with bandana-wrapped faces turning their backs to the wind to keep swirling clouds of dust from mouths and eyes. A ranger is manning a tiny wooden hut in the middle of a field.

Ranger: Buenas dias – welcome! Here’s a map. I’m afraid some of the trails are closed for construction. There are two you can do – here and here, both out and back. No, the volcano summit trail has been closed for four years – it’s very active. Every day.

D: Excellent! I like my volcanoes a bit lively.Rincon - hot mud pot

They choose Las Pailas, a 1½ hour walk through thick woodland, over a rickety chain-link bridge, and out into the open. A maze of half-built concrete paths criss-cross the trail, broken plastic ribbons of “Don’t Cross” tape snapping in the wind. There are whiffs of rotten egg, and a number of muddy pools. The whitish-grey mud is dry in some places, or steaming gently from yellow-crusted fumaroles, but in others is bubbling thickly, gurgling and spitting like an enormous pan of sauce on an over-hot stove. Las Pailas means “Cauldrons”.Rincon - boiling mud

D: (happily) Look – read the sign. We could be scalded and gassed at any moment.

He waits eagerly for a catastrophe, but remains unscathed.

At the far end of the trail, they reach a pretty stream, crossed on a wide log. They pause. L bends to wet her hands.

L: Weird! Feel this – the water’s warm.

 

Their second walk is longer – 2 hours each way – to reach the Cangreja Waterfall.   They check with the ranger that the water will be flowing, despite the dry season, and set off, through deeply shaded woods.

D: I think I’m being bitten by something.

L: Here – put on insect repellent. It’s called “Deep Woods”. It should be perfect.

They stand in the twilight of the forest floor, listening to the wind sweeping through the canopy above, and to the isolated call of an unseen bird. The path ahead is wide and flat, criss-crossed with innumerable tree roots.

D: It should be known as the “Forest of the Stranglers.”

L: Err…why? Are there murderers?

D: No. Well, actually, yes, in a way.

L: Seriously? Have people been strangled in these woods?Rincon - strangler fig

D: Not people. But look. A lot of these trees are strangler figs. They grow in dark forests like this, where they need to reach the light fast to survive. It’s clever evolution.   Their saplings sprout half way up trees, from seeds left by bird droppings.

L: That’d give them a good head start on anything growing up from the forest floor.

D: Exactly. The saplings shoot quickly upwards to get their heads into the light, and downwards to get their feet into the ground.

L: Which explains all these damn roots I’ve been tripping over.Rincon - fig roots

D: But all that frantic growing tends to strangle and kill the original tree.

L: Poor tree. That’s a bit evil. Is that why some of the trunks are hollow?

D: Yes, the cavity’s the space left by the dead tree. And see – sometimes the figs grow these great buttress roots, so that when the original tree dies, they don’t just fall over. Ouch. I think I’ve been bitten by something.

L: You can’t have been. You’re covered in bug-spray. It’s psychosomatic.

Rincon - path to waterfallThey walk on, and emerge into open grassland, the path now sloping gently downhill, giving far-reaching views down towards the coast. The strong breeze ensures that even in the midday sun they are not too hot. Occasionally they are “spritzed” with a mist of water blown down from the hilltop.

L: It’s a long way for a waterfall. It’d better be worth it.

D: We’re nearly there. I can hear it.

L: I bet there’s 300 people and no room for us to sit.

D: I can see it. There aren’t 300 people. There are……seven.

A final rocky descent through woodland leads them to a large clear pool fed by a white curtain of water cascading from 40 metres above.

L: It’s absolutely beautiful! Definitely worth the walk.Rincon - Cangreja Waterfall

D wades in. The water is refreshing, but not painfully cold. He swims lazily across, climbs out and stands happily under the fall, which pummels and needles the top of his head. The water is colder here. However, on the other side, in a little corner, a small stream trickles down a boulder and into the pool. The water from this stream is as hot as a bath.

The following morning…

L: Sorry. Not my best choice. But at least we had a bed.

D: Which was too small. You pushed me out.

L: And a bathroom.

D: With no hot water. And bare wires poking out of the shower head. It’s a miracle I wasn’t electrocuted. And dinner was horrid.

L: What are you saying? The pudding was tremendous!

D: There’s nothing tremendous about rice pudding. Unless you’re a very small child.

This morning they are driving to the other Ranger’s Station, at the south-west corner of the park, known as Casona Santa Maria. The 3km track is barely passable in places and they weave their way around boulders and in and out of deep ruts as though on a 4WD obstacle course. Eventually they arrive at a flat manicured grass clearing surrounded by forest. To one side is a dilapidated barn, which is empty apart from a small desk and a filing cabinet in one corner, on top of which are several decomposing snakes in glass jars. A cheerful ranger appears, shakes hands with them, and signs them in.

Ranger: There’s one trail – 3km out, the same back. No, not steep, but it can be a bit slippery in places. Have fun amigos!

They set off along a broad path in the woods. Their first stop is at a waterfall.Rincon - waterfall

L: Gosh – I don’t think we’ll be swimming here!

They admire a torrent of angry white water crashing over a 10 metre drop and into a swirling, frothing pool below.

L: I read somewhere that 32 rivers have their sources in the park. It’s a really important water catchment area for the region, because most of Guanacaste’s so dry.

D: Oh. Fascinating. Can I have the insect repellent? I’m being bitten.

He sprays himself carefully and thoroughly.

Further on, they encounter a large family group, arguing noisily in French.

Teenage boy: We’ve had to turn back. There’s a river to cross and no bridge and our parents wouldn’t let us wade it. You could do it, but you’ll get wet!

On they go.

L: That doesn’t sound right. The ranger would have mentioned it, surely. He just said things might get a bit slippery. They must have taken the wrong path.

D: Umm….Oh.

The broad track stops at a wide, fast flowing river. There is no bridge. Downstream it drops steeply over boulders.Rincon - wading river

L: I expect this qualifies as “a bit slippery”.

D: It’s not so deep.

L: Let’s wade it then.

In the middle, the current tugs at them, the water swirling around their thighs. They stagger across and out, slipping on wet rocks, and carry on, feet squelching. After a while they stop to wring out their socks and air-dry their feet. Then continue.

D: Oh.

L: Another stream. This one’s smaller though.

She wades straight in and across.

L: Shall we squeeze out our socks again?

D: Yes, but hurry up. If I stand still I get bitten.

L: That’s impossible. You’ve sprayed. You’re imagining it.

Further on, they descend to a wide shallow river bed giving off a strong smell of rotten eggs. Rocks have been arranged to form a cluster of knee-deep hot-tub-sized pools. The water flows in clear and peaty-brown, and out white and silty. They wade across the first pool.Rincon - hot springs

D: Cold.

And into the second.

L: Freaky! It’s properly hot, like a bath. And seriously eggy. Where’s the heat coming from?

They sit in it for a bit, trying to work it out. The third and fourth pools are tepid, fed from the hot pool flowing into them and then cooling. However this pool must be being heated from the ground.

D: Well, we’re sitting on volcanic magma – molten rock.

L: Are we? That doesn’t sound awfully safe.

D: Cold water seeps into the ground, and when it reaches the magma, it’s heated up and pushed upwards and back out. Either as hot water, like here, or as steam like in the fumaroles we saw yesterday.

L: What about mud pots?

D: That just happens when the hot water gets mixed up with mud or clay underground and so breaks through the surface as bubbling hot mud.

L: Have you been reading about volcanoes again?

D: Yes. I like them.

When they get out their skins and swimwear smell of eggs.

On the way back, they detour, following a small meandering path through the forest, promising “cold water pots.” Rincon - cold water potsAt a deserted clearing edged with dead trees, is a wide muddy area with water trickling through it. The stream is cold, and yet vigorously bubbling away. Here the fumes are heady, nauseating, almost overpowering. They explore, in places finding holes within which the water is boiling fiercely as though from a jacuzzi on full power.

L: I don’t understand. How can the water be bubbling and cold?

D: It looks like a spring – I reckon cold water is emerging from the ground here, but there are volcanic gases escaping too, through the water, making it bubble.Rincon - cold water pot

L: What sort of gases? Poisonous ones?

D: Umm… carbon dioxide, and the stink is hydrogen sulphide I think. Which is very bad for you.

L: Oh.

D: We’d probably better go – I think my eyes are melting.

L: I thought you liked your volcanoes a bit lively.

D: I do. But now I’m feeling queasy. And I’m sure I’ve been bitten.

L: Do you think you’ve got a neurological disorder? Maybe your imaginary itches are a form of Tourette’s or OCD. I’ll book you an appointment.

They reach the car.

L: Ah.

D: What?

L: I think I might have been bitten.

D: Ha!

Despite all the insect repellent, they are both covered in swollen red bites.

Rincon - Cangreja Waterfall 2

Volcan Arenal National Park

Arenal - volcano 1

D: I refuse.

L: (patiently) You refuse to go to Arenal National Park. Why?

D: Because everybody else goes there.

L: There might be a reason for that. Maybe it’s really worthwhile.

D: So, what is there to do?

L: There’s the volcano.

D: But the volcano’s broken.

L: Umm….yes. Yes it is.

D: It sounded excellent in our old guidebook. You could see it exploding and glowing red every night, and my brother Tom said it spewed so much ash and cinders all over them while they were on a walk, that their guide got really worried. I want all of that.

L: Well, I’m afraid it’s stopped. Hardly a puff or a grumble since 2010. It could start again at any moment though. Today even. It was perfectly calm for nearly 500 years until suddenly in 1968, it woke up, and produced several huge explosions and a gigantic lava flow which wiped out two villages, killing 80 people and 45,000 cows.

D: Blimey. How awful. I don’t want all of that.

L: No. You certainly don’t.

D: But if it’s now dormant again, why hasn’t that stopped the tourism? Why do people still go there?

L: Well….firstly, the volcano itself is an enormous perfect cone rising out of a gorgeous landscape, so it looks really iconic. Secondly, there’s lots to do. We could go for a walk at the foot of the volcano, or on some hanging bridges through the forest canopy, or wallow in some hot springs, or go to a waterfall, or ride a horse or an ATV. And thirdly, the Laguna de Arenal is the biggest lake in Costa Rica, and is one of the best places in the world for windsurfing.

D: I hate horses – they bite. I’m rubbish at windsurfing. And there are hanging bridges at Monteverde.

L: (tactfully) Gosh, is it that time already? I had no idea it was so late. Let’s have a big drink. And some peanuts.

D drinks a glass of beer, and urgently eats peanuts, in intense silence, for a few minutes, and then grins.

D: Thank you. Better now. It seems I was a bit thirsty. And hungry. What were we talking about?

L: Your enthusiasm for Arenal.

D: That’s right. It all sounds splendid. When shall we go?

Three days later….

They drive to Arenal. The journey takes four hours. Although at only a couple of hundred metres above sea-level, and therefore hot, the surrounding landscape is green and lush, with crops and rich pasture land sprinkled with cattle ranches. They are now on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica’s central mountain ridge, which gets plenty of rain. Ahead of them, a rugged range of lowish mountains rises from the plain, with Arenal standing impressively at one end.

L: Lovely. I didn’t realise that the volcano was part of a range of hills. It always looks as though it’s on its own in the photos. Pity that the top is in the cloud.

D: Not to worry – it’ll clear in a bit.

L: Rather than stay in town, I’ve booked the most basic room in a posh hotel near the lake. It won’t have a volcano view. We’ll probably have a view of a wall. Or the bins. But there’s a pool, and nice gardens. And it’s close to the things we might want to do.

They drive through the little town of La Fortuna and out the other side, towards the volcano. And on past other hotels. And on past the National Park entrance. And on, until they begin to worry that they are leaving the area altogether.

L: There! On the right. There’s a sign. And a barrier. And a man with a clipboard.

They are scrutinised with some suspicion. L wishes that the back seats weren’t draped with drying underwear. The security guard shakes his head, but then reluctantly lifts the barrier and they are through.

D: Crikey – this is one of the worst roads I’ve ever come across!

He changes into 4WD and carefully picks his way up the impossibly steep drive, paved and yet riven with potholes and erosion channels and loose rocks. Two kilometres further on, they are greeted by a cheerful hand painted sign: “You’ve Made It!”

They park, brush biscuit crumbs off their fronts, and walk into reception, where they are greeted effusively.

Reception guy: Welcome! Long journey? First time here? You are from where? England! I just love the English accent! It’s so fancy.

D: (seriously) Ah yes. The way I speak certainly is rather fancy.

L snorts.

Reception guy: One night? Let me just check. Oh. Oh dear. I’m so sorry. Your room isn’t ready yet.

L: Never mind. Maybe we could just leave our luggage and come back later?

Reception guy: Hold on. Just a moment. Let me speak to my manager. Yes? OK. Follow me please. We do have a different room, which just might be suitable. It’s an upgrade. Come and see if you would find it acceptable.

He leads them past a sign saying “Matrimonial Suite” onto a private terrace, and through a door into a wood-panelled sitting room. Beyond is a king-size bed next to a huge picture window looking directly across the gardens to the volcano, which is still wearing a little hat of cloud. To the other side, a door leads to a cavernous bathroom and dressing room.Arenal - room with a view

Reception guy: What do you think? Will it do?

L: Really? Can we really have this one? Are you sure? There’s no mistake? Oh, yes please!

D: (holding L back) No, you don’t need to kiss him. He’s just doing his job. Really well.

Having emptied the car, they head out again reluctantly, as though if they take their eyes off the room it will disappear. They negotiate the drive once more, which is even more adventurous downhill.

L: Stop, stop!

D: What? Rock? Pothole?Arenal - coati

L: There’s a fluffy bottom on the bank with a really long tail.

The bottom turns and a pointy nose and pair of beady eyes assess the car curiously.   The coati decides that they are no threat, and potters on along the bank, paralleling the drive, in full view. Car and coati continue on companionably side by side for a while, until he spots something interesting in the undergrowth and scampers off.

They cross the dam at the foot of Lake Arenal, which sparkles enticingly in the sun. Small boats are tied up to a quay.

D: (knowledgeably) Rainbow trout.

L: What?

D: (spotting a fishing trips sign saying exactly that) The boats take people out fishing for rainbow trout.

L: (surprised, thinking D knows nothing whatsoever about fish) If you catch one, d’you get to keep it?

D: No idea. I know nothing whatsoever about fish.

They follow a dusty, pot-holed dirt road until they arrive at the Parque Nacional Volcan Arenal.

The walk they have chosen takes them along a sandy path through tall groves of sugar cane and then low growing dry forest.

L: What’s that rustling?

D: Quite a big animal, I think. Hang on, I can see it. It’s a sort of giant pheasant.

L: Where? Gosh, it looks like two different birds stuck together. Its body is a lovely chestnut brown, but its long tail feathers and fabulous head crest have black and white stripes. How curious!

(They later identify her as a female Great Curassow.)

On they go.

D: Stand still – you’re about to do it again.

L: What?

D: Stand on a snake.Arenal - snake

L: Yikes! Oh, he’s pretty.

They take a step back to admire a small brown and cream snake, beautifully striped.

(Note – we have failed to identify it. Does anyone know what it is?)

On they go, passing an elderly tour group watching a family of capuchin monkeys feeding in the canopy.

L: Here we are. At the foot of the volcano. Standing on volcanic rock.

They look up. The summit is still in the cloud.Arenal - volcano danger zone

D waits for a few minutes, hopefully, on the wrong side of a wooden sign promising “Danger – Area of High Volcanic Activity”, but nothing happens.

D: Now what?

L: To the end. I think there’s a viewpoint just along here.

They climb a flight of wooden steps to re-meet the tour group, who are resting, perched on rocks thrown down by the volcano. From here, there are spectacular views across the Laguna de Arenal, ringed by blue hills.

L: Imagine, there are a couple of little towns under there. They were flooded when the dam was built, in the 70s. I can’t see anyone windsurfing.

D: I think it all happens at the other end, where it’s windier.

American lady: Would you like us to take your picture?

D: No, that’s OK. Oh, well, yes, alright.

He climbs onto a volcanic boulder, and pulls L up to stand beside him.

American lady: Oh my – will you look at you nimble young things!

D overbalances, staggers backwards off the rock, and falls into a bush.

L: Congratulations. Neatly done.

D: Thank you.

The Americans are all watching politely. Nobody laughs. Except L.

D climbs back onto the rock.

American lady: Ready? There you go. Say “rice and beans!”

They thank her, and reclaim the camera. They check the photo. They both look like chumps.

On the return walk, L suggests they seek out some thermal springs.

D: Why would I want to pay to sit in a thermal spring with a bunch of strangers when our hotel has an outdoor hot tub? And piña coladas.

They head on back. The hot tub is on and has views straight across to the volcano. Which is still in cloud.

L: Do you think we’ve come all this way, to not quite see the iconic Volcan Arenal after all?

D: It’ll be clear in the morning.

The following morning….

L opens one eye.

L: How was your run? Yuck, you’re impressively sweaty – you are actually dripping onto the floor.

D: It’s raining.

L: (shooting up in bed and turning to look out of the window) It’s what?

Beyond the garden there is nothing. Just grey sky. Not a hint of a volcano.

L: That’s that then.

D: We’ve still got a beautiful drive along the lake shore this morning.Arenal - Lake

Two hours later…

L: D’you think it’s going to pour all day?

D: It’ll clear up in a minute.

L: Funny how much it looks exactly like England. We could be in the Lake District.

Arenal - Laguna

 

 

Volcan Poas & La Paz Waterfall

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Lush green meadows below Volcan Poas

 

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.

L: Sorry.

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.

L: OK.

D: Good. In you get. I’ll drive.

L: (muttering) Forty dollars…..!

D: Sigh.

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: Wow.

D: Cool.

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.P1020129-small

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?P1020140-small

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.

D: Oh.

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.P1020150-small

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.

L: Miles?

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.

 

P1020169-small

Laguna Botos- Volcan Poas