¡Hola a todos!
It’s been a little while, hasn’t it? I have some catching up to do, that’s for sure. I have a confession to make: my last few posts were queued and posted automatically according to a pre-determined schedule. I know, I know, something about that just seems like cheating to me too, but it was necessary to prevent another post-five-times-in-four-days-then-post-nothing-for-weeks scenario. Grant and I just could not justify taking my computer with us on our travels, so I left it behind and left my posts in WordPress’ hands. Anyway, where was I?
Mum and I returned to San José fulfilled, satisfied, and ready for one last adventure – and she was going out with a bang! We had booked a half-day tour which would visit various locations just outside of San José, and we rose bright and early to begin by grabbing breakfast (rice and beans), coffee and a few titbits of information at Doka Coffee Estate. I must have learned more than I realised at the time, because I’ve been spouting coffee-related facts to Grant ever since!
‘Did you know that coffee is not actually indigenous to Costa Rica but was introduced by the European colonisers?’
‘Did you know that the low-quality coffee that’s not good enough to export is either used for fertiliser or sold in Costa Rican supermarkets?’
Mum had a chance to pick up some (export-quality!) Doka coffee to take home as gifts, before we pressed on to the main attraction: Poás volcano.
Poás isn’t as famous as Arenal, which is more active and just looks more volcano-ey with its conical shape; but hand-in-hand with the exciting lava that frequently flows down its active side comes the fact that it is dangerous – and in fact illegal – to climb. While Poás is part of a mountain range and therefore doesn’t stand out as much, and it doesn’t spout forth magma or rocks, it is possible to hike up to the top and look directly into its primary crater, which earns it several ‘cool’ points. So that’s exactly what we did.
The crater was the opposite of what you’d expect: still, calm and green. Mum and I were lucky enough to have spectacularly clear weather so not only could we see the volcano from the viewing platform (not a given at this altitude) but we also had a view all the way across to the Caribbean sea we’d so recently paddled in.
And the fun didn’t stop there! 10 minutes’ hike from the main crater was an extinct lagoon around which a whole cloud forest had had a chance to grow. We climbed up past ferns and squirrels to the beautiful, secluded pool.
As we were on a half-day tour and there was yet more on the agenda, we had to hurry along to the minibus where, despite the guide’s seemingly unnecessary dozen repetitions of ‘BACK HERE, 10:30’, we waited ten minutes for a pair of teenage girls to straggle in. From there we headed straight to La Paz waterfall gardens, which includes a butterfly garden, frog habitat, big cat exhibit, bird enclosures, hummingbird feeders and an impressive buffet lunch, quite apart from the waterfall trail.
My mother has always had a soft spot for two particular species of bird: puffins, and toucans. Easy to see why if you like one, you’d like the other; but while puffins are readily accessible in Scotland, neither Mum nor I had ever got up-close and personal with a toucan. Consequently, when we walked through (yes, through) the enclosures with the birds sitting staring us in the face; and especially when we spied the ‘late girls’ from the volcano sporting a chestnut-billed toucan on the arm… Let’s just say we became the ‘late girls’ and lost sight of the tour group as we snapped away delightedly at each other with our new friend.
We followed the path which we guessed the tour had taken to the butterfly garden: which was impressive, but also quite saddening. The moment I stepped in the door I saw two things: a squished, dead butterfly on the ground and a wall-length window covered in the poor things trying to escape. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love the experience of walking around amongst them and seeing them bob past me as if on invisible threads. However, some of the other tourists seemed to be enjoying the experience a little too much: I saw more than a few people grabbing stationary butterflies by their filmy wings and plonking them on their hands for photographs. As a result, many of the creatures were left wandering around with raggedy and torn-looking wings – just another example of the locust-tourists taking what they could because they could. Sadly, my own attempts to entice the butterflies to crawl willingly onto my hands by prodding my fingers into the rancid fruit from the feeders failed. Mum had disappeared off to the hummingbirds by this point anyway though, so there would have been no photograph: I just had to make do with my friend Elvis the toucan.
When I eventually made it out of the butterfly exhibit to find Mum with the hummingbirds, I quickly realised there were barely any photos to be had there either. The thing I’ve caught myself marvelling at most often here is the way things move – and the hummingbirds whirring right past my hair were yet another animal whose beauty in this respect my shutter couldn’t capture. Even still, though, the birds are beautifully bejewelled and majestic.
That was enough wildlife for a little while: we finally caught up with the tour group for the buffet lunch, which comprised an impressive array of local and international foods. However, I was feeling ill so unfortunately I had to stick to what I knew my body was familiar with: chips, ketchup, and garlic bread. Hooray!
The highlights of the day behind us, we took our time with lunch and headed on for an Edinburgh-Zoo-esque snake house, set of big cat enclosures and the impressive natural power of the two waterfalls.
I think the cloud forest is the most intense of the many climates I’ve discovered here in Costa Rica. Everything grows on top of each other, and greens are layered upon greens in a clinging, clamouring mass of drips and shivers. As I’ve said before, there are so many ways of surviving in such a climate, and here (though not only here), it was impossible not to marvel at the ingenuity of Mother Nature and the evolutionary journey.
Stay tuned for more adventures in the clouds: I’m writing this from the heights of Monteverde where I see mists rolling towards me across the trees before my very eyes!