Squinting through the Disillusioning Mists of Volcán Poas

The WarrenWell, that Lisa certainly was a coy bird, wasn’t she. When I finally learned of her master plan to brutally drag me kicking and screaming all over Costa Rica by bus I was furious. Alright, I suppose that I wasn’t quite furious, but I did realize that she had gone completely loony tunes and needed a little talking to. So as we returned to San Jose from Puerto Viejo, I told her how it was going to be, and from our list of destinations, Volcán Arenal got scratched. I mean honestly, with only five days left to go, four destinations scattered across the far corners of Costa Rica, dreadfully long bus rides in between, and two volcanoes on our list, something had to give. Add to that the fact that we already had to return to San Jose before heading anywhere else, and would once again need to revisit that not-so-precious jewel of a city if we visited Arenal, and the deal was sealed. However, what neither of us had anticipated was that even our new lite-plan was still about to take us for a head-first slalom through our fickle and not so lucky future.

When we finally arrived in cheerful little San Jose once again, after the luxuriously sweaty four hour safari ride from Puerto Viejo, it was (of course) a drearily rainy day. Although we had come up with the brilliant plan of not going to Arenal, we had not figured out what the heck we were going to do once we arrived in the city. The problem was that by that point it was already afternoon, Volcán Poas was the nearest destination and yet still over an hour away, and the weather seemed to be hypnotizing us into a state of sloth (not to mention that you don’t see a bloody thing on a mountaintop in Central America on a rainy, overcast day). So, in keeping with our plan of carpe dieming our time in Costa Rica, we headed back to our little backpacker hostel over on tranny roe and snuggled in for the afternoon.

The following morning we were the ones that were up with the chickens, and, as Lisa and I like to do, racing willy nilly across town searching desperately for a bus station of which we had no idea the location, and thinking that we were on the verge of receiving the blessing of another few hours in San Jose. But, thanks to my excellent navigational skills and cartographic memory, we were soon on a day-tripper bus to Volcán Poas, about an hour and a half away. When we arrived, the bus driver was kind enough to inform us that we would have the following three hours to fully explore the national park area and Lisa and I only hoped that that would afford us enough time to soak in all of the majestic sights that we were about to experience.
As we bumbled off of the bus and searched for some kind of signage to point us in the right direction, somehow we ended up in the visitor’s center (a small Jurassic Park-like visitor’s center compound) as opposed to headed towards the summit. Once we had backtracked and discovered the proper route (apparently the one with the signs that said “crater this way”), we realized that we were way behind all of the other Costa Rican suburbanites on their way to the top and agreed that we couldn’t paint ourselves the reputation of lazy gringos. So we raced forward, speed-walking in the most subtle manner that we possibly could while only stopping when necessary, like for a brief fashion shoot of Lisa in front of Elephant ears with a cup of Costa Rican coffee. But as we snapped back into reality and remembered out priorities, we began to panic at the thought of the long arduous hike that surely lay ahead of us and whether we would indeed have the fortitude to still reach the summit before the others.

Lisa and her coffeeNevertheless, once again, we bolted forward, this time nothing could stop us as we made for the glorious crater. Five minutes later (for a total of about ten minutes walk time) we had reached the end of the neatly manicured path to the crater and came face to face with look-out point (hmm, so much for that long hike). Lisa and I were practically shoving one another out of the way to get ahead of one another and get the first sighting of what breath-taking and unforgettable sight lay below. Well, I suppose that it was indeed unforgettable, however not so much in an aesthetic type of way, but more of a “we came all the way out here for this?” kind of way. Beyond the wooden railings which lined the look-out point was pure, impenetrable, snowy whiteness. I can’t be completely sure, but I would imagine that it was quite like standing in a cloud.

Poor Lisa! I could see the look cross her face of “no! this can’t be! I came all the way here for a volcano and instead I get this?!” Well, since I had already been roasting marshmallows over pools of hot magma and dancing over crispy lava rock less than a month prior in Guatemala, I wasn’t quite as crushed as Lisa and felt that it was therefore my duty to console her. I pressed her weeping eyes against my shoulder and tried as best I could to comfort the poor, frail thing (ok, well, it wasn’t quite that dramatic, but she was at least slightly disappointed). But as we stood there, peering out into the whiteness, desperately hoping to catch some glimpse of the crater down below, no matter how faint, I felt that this would most certainly be the most appropriate time to play with Lisa’s emotions.  Discreetly turning my back to Lisa and pretending to look off over the cliff’s edge, I rapidly scanned for something nearby of which to take a quick snapshot and settled on some faded etchings on the wooden railing under my hands. I quietly popped the shutter button then excitedly turned back to Lisa and exclaimed “Wow Lisa! Look at this shot of the lagoon down below that I caught with my zoom!” Elatedly she snatched the camera from my hands, hoping to find redemption in my viewfinder, but after the initial moment of curious uncertainty she quickly sobered up and brushed my foolishness away with a quick chiding.

Alright, so that was over, now what? Well, if we can’t see the crater from up here, how about we hike down the few hundred feet into it and get a better view. Ppht, as if we were going to let rules and fences and park rangers stop us. So as we inconspicuously backed slowly away from the crowd, and back to the path from whence we’d come, we saw that there were indeed some places in the almost solidly thick underbrush where small, three foot high holes had been hacked away. With one final glance over our shoulders we jumped stealthily forward like Alice into the rabbit hole, and were instantly lost within a brambly, wicker-like world. We cautiously made our way forward, wondering just how much time we could be held in a Costa Rican prison just for wandering off the path at a national park, not to mention the gram of cocaine in Lisa’s pocket (kidding!). But then again, we were just clueless gringos, and we could always just play the “we got lost!” card, I mean anyone could have made the same mistake as us… thinking that these animal trails were the proper path.

Wicked ForestSadly though, we didn’t make it far, as the path ended abruptly in a dense bracken-like outgrowth backed by dense, impenetrable branches. Well, at this point we were completely stumped and unsure of what to do, but I informed Lisa that we hadn’t come all the way out here just to leave empty handed, and so we did what any logical tourist would do and prepped ourselves for a deep-woods photo-shoot. Since we could only couch (well Lisa at least, I was practically crawling) it turned out to be quite a fun and interesting shoot, as we got into character and pretended to be wild animals defending our burrows. But once the novelty wore off, we were once again met with the question of what to do, and so we again slyly emerged back out from the den and onto the main trail to see what more there was to see. Fortunately, there was apparently also a lake somewhere in this park, and as so far we had only used about a half an hour of our three hour slot, we thought it might make for a nice diversion. To our satisfaction, this hike had a little more body to it, and only moments later we were racing a geriatric couple up the slopes and pleasantly winded from the experience. The path was grown over by a low arch of twisted, mangled, finger-like tree branches and it made for quite a wicked forest ambiance. But alas, this was no Appalachian trail either, and not quite fifteen minutes later we had arrived at the mountaintop lagoon.

It was pretty. I mean, nothing to write home about, mostly since they fenced you off about 200 yards away, but at least it gave you a sense of satisfaction for having reached some significant point. We lolled and relaxed and paced about for some time enjoying the scenery before deciding to carry on. At first we had thought that we were to return by the same path with which we had arrived, but thanks to my horseplay, we inadvertently discovered an alternate route and were instantly on a new adventure, winding away through the forest. This time we had learned our lesson, we knew that there were no other landmarks to see here and we still had almost two hours left before our ride outta here, so we decided to slow down and smell the flowers. Occasionally I would excitedly point to some point off in the trees and inform Lisa of a rare wildlife spotting, but she quickly became accustomed to my farces and we instead settled into conversation.

Painted PoasAlthough this return path had been longer than that with which we had arrived at the lagoon, when we emerged from the wood, we realized that it had also spit us out almost back at the visitors center. With nothing left to do but go pretend to spend our gringo dollars in the visitor’s center, we finally surrendered to our destiny (did I mention that they charged us ten bucks to get into the park and Costa Ricans only one dollar? Well, that’s ok, I got savvy to that little game a few days later…). After an hour and a half of dawdling about in the cafeteria, absent-mindedly strolling through the old-fashioned high school science fair style exhibits of the museum, and staring at the rain pummel down during a torrential downpour, it was almost time to go. I had only one more opportunity to pull the wool over Lisa’s eyes before we were back on the road again, and therefore showed her the spectacular shot of the crater which I had gotten earlier and forgotten to show her (fortunately I’d found quite a realistic looking painting of the crater in the museum and decided to photograph it).

Once we were back on the bus (finally, thank God!) and had only narrowly escaped Costa Rica’s plot to strand us in one of their tourist money laundering facilities, we began to plot the route to our next destination. The plan was to head halfway back to San Jose, to the nearby municipality of Alajuela, and from there pray to the heavens that we would (very) narrowly catch the last direct bus to Monteverde. Well, I do believe that I had mentioned earlier that lady luck was not on our side this week, and that, as she would have it, was how we found ourselves on the excruciatingly drawn out collectivo (local-stopping bus) ride to the charmingly seedy and unrefined town of Puntarenas, only narrowly avoiding our own double homicide in the process.


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