Costa Rica

Parque Nacional Volcán Poás

Today’s forecast: 30% chance of volcanoes!

Today, John and I took the bus to the Parque Nacional Volcán Poás, 38km north of Alajuela. Although it’s not that far away, the bus winds up and up and up for 1.5 hours into the highlands of Valle Central, the bus driver navigating the tiny twisting roads with expertise. They sure know how to drive a bus in this country.

Volcán Poás is an active volcano, although the last gigantic blow-out occurred in 1910. The reason there wasn’t a 100% chance of seeing it is because during the rainy season, the clouds roll in around 10am, covering the main crater. There are three craters in the 65sq km park, but the main crater is the headliner. It’s 1500m wide and filled with turquoise water that emits sulfurous gases from it’s milky surface. The lake in the crater is supposedly the most acidic lake on earth, clocking in with a ph value of 0.8…that’s more acidic than your stomach acid (ph 1.0).

We arrived around 11am and were treated to glimpses of the crater through the mist of this other-wordly landscape.IMG_1442.JPGThe stink of sulfur was heavy in the air at the viewpoint and the clouds threatened to obscure everything.IMG_1441.JPGWe left the clouds and headed into the cloud forest trail. These are not the soaring cloud forests of Monteverde, rather they are dwarf or stunted cloud forests. The ferns, vines and trees are kept short by the freezing temperatures and acid rain from the volcano’s mouth. It resembled a haunted, wicked wood…a wood where branches would reach out and snag your cloths and the rustling is always just behind you. IMG_1448.JPGAfter a while, the path became lined with more friendly fauna, the ‘Poor Man’s Umbrella’, the leaves of which are huge enough to hide under as my lovely assistant, John, will demonstrate.IMG_1446.JPGLadies and Gentleman, isn’t he lovely? A round of applause for John…

The trails were a flutter with hummingbirds, who would occasionally dive bomb your head with a buzz. While we didn’t see any other wildlife, we heard a lot of exotic bird calls echoing through the drizzle. We did happen to see the tiniest spider web, complete with a miniature spidey. This whole web was about the size of half a playing card.IMG_1440.JPGThe trail ran alongside one of the extinct craters, which is filled with an emerald lake, Lago Botos. By the time we reached the overlook, the clouds had covered the lake as well.IMG_1443.JPGIMG_1445.JPGThere’s one bus in and one bus out…and we had 2 hours before the bus arrived to take us home. We managed to fill the time with a combination of sandwiches and Galaxian.IMG_1447-0.JPGFor our last night in Alajuela, we decided to sample a local delicacy called Pizza Hut (don’t judge…sometimes the pizza siren’s call is too strong). I spent the next two hours struggling with the hostel’s wifi, trying to find out where to catch the bus that would take us to La Fortuna the next day. There’s no published bus schedule, you just have to scour travel forums or hope that the person you ask actually knows what they are talking about. There are also 3 bus terminals in Alajuela, so you have a 33% chance of showing up at the right one. We eventually confirmed the departure time for our bus, but got side-tracked by horror stories of bag snatching en route. Of all the things I worry about, theft ranks right up there…so as the wifi gods intermittently shined down on us, I searched the interwebs for tips to avoid luggage theft on the public buses. It turns out, you don’t ever put anything on the overhead racks and if you have to store your luggage under the bus, sit by the window and keep watch every time the bus stops. This was going to be a fun 4.5 hour ride!

Fortunately, I was happily distracted by my seat-mate, Antonio. Antonio is Costa Rican by birth, but now lives in Charlotte, N.C. and attends UNC. We chatted about N.C., our families, Costa Rica…he was visiting his extended family during the summer break. He assured me our luggage would be fine, but was a good sport about sticking his head out the window to keep tabs on our stuff. It’s always the people you meet that make a lasting impression!

Antonio left us about 1/4 of the way into the journey, so I took the window/look-out seat and stared at the scenery. After spending 1.5 hours climbing up, we finally started to come down through the clouds.IMG_1450.JPGOur bags and ourselves made it to La Fortuna, which was quite a relief. We are soon to be picked up by our shuttle bus to Rancho Margot, but we are killing time by eating delicious empanadas and drinking Cafe Tipico, which is brewed via a woven coffee condom. IMG_1451.JPG
Life is good!

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