Saturday, May 03, 2008

04/23/08 Day 3

Wowza, what an INSANE 36 hours. Yesterday we got our car and were out of the San Jose/Alajuela area by around 11 or so. We drove to the Arenal Volcano by a fairly scenic route . . . we detoured first to the Poas volcano, which is about 30 minutes to an hour outside of San Jose.

The scenery along the way was AMAZING. The rolling mountain sides in the Central Valley area were covered with fern fields (1st picture below) and coffee plantations (2nd picture), and everything was such a vivid green. Brad and I stopped several times along the road just to take pictures.

Driving in Costa Rica has been interesting, to say the least. Very few roads here have names, and even those that do have street signs. The only way to navigate is to follow the directional signs along your route to the next town along your chosen path. We didn't have much trouble getting to Poas, but the rest of our journey to Arenal was insane. More on that in a bit though.

The Poas Volcano was really something to see--its an active volcano with a crater lake (see the picture at the beginning of the post). The lake itself is acidic and HOT. What looks like steam around the lake is actual gases vented from the fumeroles around it. Imagine rotten eggs, but worse. The National Park office had some interesting scientific papers on the formation of the crater lake and the increased activity of the volcano in the past few decades. At one point, it was so active that the lake evaporated completely. Fascinating stuff!
Wider view of the Poas crater

Gases from the fumeroles meeting clouds passing over the mountain.

We also hiked the the Botas Lagoon, which is a cold water lake that has formed in a dormant sister crater to the Poas Volcano. Although the water here is cooler, it still too acidic for most animals. Park information said that only a few microorganisms and species of algae could survive there. There was a nice trail that went from Botas Lagoon back to the parking lot, so we got to do some nice birdwatching. Then we got a bird book, so we would know what we were seeing. The birds of Costa Rica are pretty colorful, and completely different from what we see at home. The most interesting little guy we identified was a yellow-thighed finch, who hopped along with us on the trail for a while.

From Poas, we headed to Arenal. We made the mistake of not finding out where our hotel was, so getting to it was quiet and experience. Just getting to La Fortuna, the town near Arenal, took longer than expected (remember, no "Route 5" signs, just a left for town x, right for town y). Since the roads have no names, there are also no addresses. The description we were going off of while looking for our hotel was "8km south of National Park entrance". Okee-dokee then! As it turns out, our hotel was down a long, incredibly bumpy unpaved road. It was getting dark as we were bumping along that road, and we had yet to figure out how to use our cell phone (side story there, will get to that in a minute!) As it turned out, the bumpy road was worth it, just like it is to get to Little Paradise in St. John. The hotel we are staying at, Hotel Linda Vista Del Norte, has been fantastic. The view is amazing, despite pesky clouds covering the top of the volcano and a bit of rain.
View from hotel room our first morning at Linda Vista.

Brad and I hiked an approximately 1 mile nature trail the hotel has on their property that went by some of the surrounding homes and down into the forest. Even though it was raining on us, we had a fantastic time. We saw several male Passerini's Tangers along the way--they have colorful red rumps (picture is about half way down on the link--I wish I had been able to get a good shot of these guys). The hike through the forest was indescribable, we heard (and saw) so many different birds.

We spent the next few hours eating breakfast and planning the rest of our trip. The bird watching was phenomenal from both our room and from the dining room. In a few short hours, we saw several grey headed kites, crested oropendolas, and a variety of martins and hummingbirds. By 10, we were off to Arenal National Park. Along the way, we spotted a White-Throated Magpie Jay. Not something we see at home!!

Arenal upclose was FANTASTIC. The clouds even parted a bit to give us a brief look at the volcano in all of its glory. From the National Parks viewing station, we could see and hear huge boulders flying down the side of the volcano . . . the sight, and sound, was nearly indescribable and just plain ole' unforgettable. I've never been that close to something like that! We then hiked a trail that crossed the lavaflow left by an irruption in the 1990s. While there we sighted a pizote. Arenal was just amazing, and not something I will forget anytime soon. This is one of those places where there aren't really enough words to describe it, so pardon the picture overload!!

Arenal volcano from the viewing area at the national park.

As close as we could get with our camera to zooming in on the rocks flying down the mountain.
Every time they landed, you could see ash rise.

Lake Arenal from the hiking trail

Arenal covered by clouds.
You can get a feel for how the vegetation changes up the volcano with this--the green stuff closer in is where life has taken back over. Higher up, recent activity has made the volcano devoid of vegetation.

Pyroclastic flow from 1990s eruption.

I'm terrible at remembering to get pictures of the 2 of us. This is the only one we had someone else take, with Arenal and a rock formation from the lava flow as a backdrop.

Best picture of the entire volcano during the brief period that the clouds lifted.
The most active area of the volcano is just slightly to the right of center--you can tell by changes in coloration.

After the national park, we came back to our hotel, switched rooms, and lounged in the pool for the remainder of the afternoon. Tomorrow we are off to Montezuma for waterfalls and beach time. We'll definately be back to this area, and the hotel again. The only complaint I have is that the dining room is too expensive. But the staff and view are fantastic. Too bad the clouds moved back in tonight--it doesn't look like we'll get to see the pyrotechnic display we were hoping for, but we sure have had a blast so far!

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