Vulcan on the volcan?

Trip Start Apr 08, 2012
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Trip End Apr 13, 2012


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Where I stayed

Flag of Costa Rica  , Province of Alajuela,
Monday, April 9, 2012

Okay, I'll admit it, the Vulcan was to get your attention (There was a German man with a t-shirt of the "live long and prosper" sign on the bus with us to the volcano, so I wasn't making it up!). Volcan is volcano in Spanish, so we went to Volcan Poas today.
The volcano is an active composite volcano (built up over time with layers), which has spewed ash and gas during large eruptions in the 1950s. Now it has releases steam and gases on a regular basis. It is 8,860 feet above sea level. You can visit two calderas, which are depressions at the top of the volcano. One is active, the other has a lagoon and is surrounded by forest. It is like going from a moonscape to a landscape!
Our travels began on a local bus to Alajuela, which we caught just across the highway from our hotel. Poor Emily, who speaks Spanish best, always gets pushed forward to pay the bus driver or ask for directions. She has been a great guide so far! Alajuela is quite the bustling city, with a very busy bus station. We met a retired teacher and her husband who live outside of Cambridge, England when they are not globe-trotting for months at a time. The bus up to the National Park winds its way up the side of the mountain on a rather narrow road for two-way traffic. The views of the Central Valley are breath-taking. The homes at the beginning of the journey are close together, have metal grates over the windows and gates around the parking areas as well. Businesses have rolls of barbed wire around the edges of their property. Most of the roofs are metal, and many of the homes are colorful. As the altitude increases, the defenses around the homes decreases, but most homes still have some kind of gate/grate arrangement.
The land itself changes to agricultural as you ascend - coffee plantations, cattle farms, flower plantations, and strawberry growers are all visible as the bus chugs and swerves towards the top. Often, there are eroded banks along the road, and towards the top a smattering of tourist shops. There was definately something to see out the window at all times! The bus driver only seemed to know the English phrases he needed to communicate at each important point in the process. He actually made a volcano by putting his index fingers into a mountain shape while saying "Volcan" to let us know we had the right bus. If you ever take the bus, I'd suggest sitting in a window seat on the side which is not directly behind the driver, making sure to be in a spot where the open window will be in your space - good for the breeze and for photo opportunities out the window! We had a stop on the way up at a souvenir shop/fruit stand where we bought fresas fresca (fresh strawberries)l met a friendly dog, and watched the neighbor across the street lead his cow on a rope.
The day was picture-perfect: sunny and breezy. The walk to the volcano is paved, and lined with tropical plants, the most notable being the huge-leafed "Poor man's umbrella" plant. The forest of the park are protected. There are 4 main habitats: cloud forest, rainforest, stunted forest and areas with scarce vegetation around the crater. The gases released from the volcano are very acidic - you can smell the sulfer at the edge of the crater- and act to kill vegetation or stunt its growth just as concentrated acid rain would.
Our first view of the active caldera was amazing - although it often gets obscured by clouds combined with its own steamy emissions, it was totally clear and in the sun. The landscape inside the crater is without vegetation, but the colors and textures are varied. There are reds, dark greys, touches of yellow, white and red. The pool of water is a unique turquoise blue, and the steam coming from its side is snowy white. Textures range from the puffy steam cloud and smooth water surface to eroded areas that look like the sand tray experiments in our classroom. It is as amazing a piece of earth as I have ever seen!
We climbed the steep, concrete path up to the lagoon, passing through our first bit of trail through a forested area. Here we began to see epiphytes - plants that grow on other plants, taking advantage of sunny spots. There is lots of moss, and all kinds of ferns and delicate plants. It actually gets quite dark on the trail in spots where the non-leafy branches of the trees close in over you.
The lagoon itself is a bit of a tease - after a hot walk up the trail, it looks like such an inviting place to swim, but, of course, is off limits. Instead we found a spot for a picnic lunch (who knew how much the kids like corn tortillas?), where some very persistent and pesky squirrels got bolder the longer our food seemed to be available. At one point, when Bob was trying to shoo the squirrel with his foot, he actually kicked it by mistake and sent it scrambling through the air straight at Emily. With that, we packed up our lunch prematurely! Tourists in national parks who feed wildlife the world over create pests!!!
We saw some interesting birds (none cooperative enough to pose for my camera) including hummingbirds along the loop trail back to the visitor's center. I fell in love with individual trees and small patches of vegetation which would be the envy of many a gardener. I really did take too many pictures to post here, but I will upload some. I'm a bit sad about the ones of epiphyte-laden trees that appeared wherever there was an opening in the forest - the tropical sun was just too bright for my camera.
Speaking of the sun, we were happy to notice that even the sun tells us that we are not at home. Since we are much closer to the equator here, the sun is just about directly overhead at noon. We took some photos of our very small shadows to show what it is like where the sun is closer to a 90 degree angle in the sky.
Today is the 85th birthday of a very special man. I'm pretty sure your day wasn't as spectacular as ours, Dad, but we're glad to have seen you so close to your special day.
Tomorrow? Off to the rainforest, this time in a taxi-bus-taxi travel extravaganza!
Slideshow Report as Spam

Comments

wendy on

love your blog with my morning coffee each day. how do you find the energy to write (well and coherently) at the end of such a fun-filled day?! love, w

ithacabelle
ithacabelle on

It is my devoted reader that keeps me going! Actually, the sun sets at 6 and we don't partake of the night life, so.....
Last night while I was writing, Bob and Emily met a woman who paints murals in hotels around the world for airfare and room/board. She was painting in this hotel, which is quite decorated!

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