Living near a volcano  

Title: Living near a volcano
Location: Heredia, Costa Rica

The central mountain range of Costa Rica is made up of a line of volcanoes. Not far from our house is Volcano Poas, a 6,500 foot high cone with one of the world's largest active craters - a must see. Since early January, we had made plans to make a day trip to the volcano and nearby La Paz Waterfalls. Unlike the tourists here on a quick vacation, we had the luxury of selecting the right day for the excursion. If the weather isn't just right, the top of the volcano is swathed in clouds and the view consists of only the rocky path in your immediate vicinity. On three or four occasions, we had woken up early, ready to head out on our adventure only to be disappointed by the thick clouds blanketing the sky. Finally, a couple of weekends ago (yes, we're still not keeping up), the morning broke with a bright blue sky to the south and east -- the directions we can see from our house. After a quick walk around the block, I could see there were some clouds to the north - the direction of the volcano. I called Lukas, our driver, to see what he thought. His reply, "The weather is perfect!" So we packed our picnic lunch and by 7:15 we were on the road (it is recommended that you get to the volcano early, as clouds and clouds of tourists often form by late morning). Where we live in Heredia, the climate is pretty close to ideal (at least for now - we'll see what the rainy season brings) - warm sunny days in the high 70's or low 80's, dropping down to a comfortable mid-60's at night. Although we are in the tropics, except down at the beach, the air is not tropical at all. As we wound our way up the central mountain range, however, we could feel the air changing. It was like we were driving into a crisp fall day. We were glad we'd brought our sweatshirts. In addition, the landscape was changing, too - through coffee farms on the lower elevations to pine forests and dairy ranges. The vistas and weather made it clear why this area is often compared to Switzerland. The drive to the top takes about 2 hours. (Naturally, due to the windy roads, we had to make a quick pit stop to settle the kids' stomachs.) As we drove, we could see the clouds were covering the top of the mountain. Undaunted, Lukas kept saying, "You'll see, the weather is perfect." Frankly, I had my doubts but I just kept nodding in agreement. The good thing about Poas is that you can drive virtually to the rim of the crater. As we pulled into the parking lot, we could see the thick clouds hanging over the top of the volcano. The 1/4 mile walk to the observation area was cold and windy. The view from the edge was as if we were looking into a dirty cotton ball. So much for the beautiful view. The cold, wind, dampness and lack of view encouraged us not to hang around for very long. We decided to take a side path over to a small lagoon to check out that view and pray that the clouds would burn off or blow away. The short path twisted and turned through a dense scrub forest that protected us from the wind. Not surprisingly, the view of the lagoon was covered by fog, as well. So we rested there for a little snack, still hopeful that the clouds would clear. Marco sheepishly apologized and hung his head. As we sat munching on our dried pineapple (one of our favorite Costa Rican snacks), it was as if a giant eraser was rubbing out the gray fog and the edge of the lagoon came into view. Gradually, but perceptibly, the clouds rolled back around the shoreline like a second hand circling a clock face. Before long, the whole picturesque lagoon, with its dark blue waters, was visible. We admired the view, snapped the requisite photos and headed off to see if the same magic had worked on the crater. As we retraced our steps down the path, we took a quick detour down a side path that provided a glimpse of the crater. Sure enough, we could see the swirling clouds rising and revealing some of the pale green rocks surrounding the pool at the bottom of the crater. Encouraged by this view and not wanting to miss an opportunity in case the clouds closed in again, we hustled back to the observation area at the edge of the crater. When we arrived, we could see down into the crater and about halfway across the steaming pool at the bottom. There, as at the lagoon, we could see the clouds rising, unveiling the striated layers of rock leading down the steep slopes into the huge crater. Thin streams of stream wafted from small vents called fumaroles on the slopes around the pond. It is really an incredible sight - almost like a gigantic witch's cauldron. Eric's words at this point about summed it up. He shouted gleefully, "THIS IS SO COOL!" As we stayed there for a while admiring the view, the clouds burned away and the sky turned blue. Then we headed back to the car for the quick trip to the waterfalls. Unlike our last ill-fated waterfall adventure, this one was great.

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