Altitude adjustment See you crater

Tell you what, jet lag is great for blogging at a time when there's nothing else to do. It's nice not to be in a hurry, what with it being just gone 5am. Yesterday this was not the case, however; the abrupt end to the previous chapter was due to my being in a very great hurry, as we were on a strict schedule.

Before that though, another great breakfast. The hotel has a few other guests but also seems to be used as staff canteen for some local businesses, which if true seems like a pretty decent perk. I went for the tortilla EspaƱola and it were lovely.

But then, yes, a hurried shower - without anywhere near as much temperature trouble - and then quickly write up the previous day and out, out, out. Our destination for the day, spoiled in the header photo, was Volcan Poas. Our book and various websites gave us the impression there was only one bus a day, at 9:15am or even 9:00am, so we had to navigate the bus stations and find our place.

First, though, we run into a man asking if we speak English. Says he's just sold all his worldy posessions apart from the stuff in his rucksack - house, guns (he's from Texas), car, etc - and left the USA for the first time in his life. He's had a shitty night in a shitty hostel and is wondering what to do, where to go, etc. He's heard about the bus station, and we're going there so he can join us. Privately we're worried he'll be a bit of a horrible hanger-on, especially when he mentions his credit card got cancelled, but this proves unfounded.

At the bus station we immediately find the bus, already with a fairly decent sized queue despite it not leaving for 40 minutes. The man from Houston - I'm loathe to use his real name, but the only nicknames I can think of are "Whitney" or "We Have A Problem", which seems a bit off - strikes up conversation elsewhere and we shake hands goodbye. He doesn't really want to go see a big hole in the ground, he's starting a new life damn it.

Taken by Helen on her Pixel. I'm so jealous of how much better her phone's camera is than my iPhone SE.

The bus station is not exactly salubrious, but neither is it a bustling chaotic mess that stereotypes of central/southern America (or, for that matter, experience in SE Asia) might lead one to expect. And the queueing makes us feel very comfortable still.

1090 colones each are handed over and we get a seat at the back. Mr Houston gets on the bus anyway, sitting in front of us and saying he's doing it due entirely to a lack of ideas. And then, away we go.

Once we leave central Alajuela we start heading uphill, and continue to do so unabated for over half an hour. There are a few nice views of the valley and some coffee plantations, and after about 300 yards on the flat we head upwards again. And then it stays like that. Apart from the odd small bridge over creeks, we're driving uphill for another hour. Speed bumps seem sensible on the other lane but not on ours.

With a few kilometres to go there's a 15 minute stop, which gives Helen time to vape, both of us the chance to take photos of a scruffy cat, and Houston the chance to get scare stories from another, taller, American man who is dishing out advice like "use TripAdvisor", "don't put your bags down for even a second", and saying something about having visited a Shaman. I'll call him Shaman Jim.

Again, photos taken by Helen.

At the entry to the national park we all file off the bus and pay our entry fees, then board again for the short drive to the car park and entrance. It's about 1045 now, and apparently we're at a volcano. Helen's been awake since 4am all giddy and excited 'cos she's never seen one before.

The first thing we see is a big sign telling us what to do if the volcano erupts. It's pretty much the same as we would've come up with ourselves, except for the bit about staying calm.

There's a visitor's centre and souvenir shop and cafe but this is no time to dilly dally. Other people's blogs, plus common sense, dictate that you have to be fairly lucky to get a decent view of the crater here because, well, it's a volcano. You're up high and there's clouds and weather and fog and all kinds of frequent reasons why you might not see much. We don't really understand the relationship between sunshine and our chances, but it was sunny so we thought we'd head straight to the crater.

It's a half kilometre or so walk along a paved track, on which we are overtaken by an ambulance. Ooer. We're surrounded by verdant forest, very unlike the last volcano I went up. It's noticeably much cooler up here than down in Alajuela, though that changes when we reach the viewing platforms for the crater and are engulfed in sulphourous mist. Hello, Poas.

It's spectacular, but brief. The mist is rolling around, very fast, and after we ascend to the top platform just in time to get the above photo there's around half a minute to contemplate what we can see before it's entirely hidden by a thick pure white mist. Well, at least we got to glimpse it.

So, what now? First, I get very annoyed by someone having littered - we're in a protected ecological wonderland for fucks sake - so I pick it up and put it in the very nearby recycling bins. Self-righteousness complete, we head off on one of the other trails here: it starts at the crater and forms a 60 minute loop through forest and taking in more viewing platforms of a secondary, dormant, crater which is now an acidic rainwater lagoon. The forest is amazingly atmospheric.

It's a fairly long walk, and literally breathtaking. It's paved, but almost constantly uphill or stepped, and combined with the altitude I am getting pretty damn out of breath. But it feels like exercise, rather than shortness of breath trouble requiring my inhaler. It's good.

Fairly suddenly, the lagoon is upon us. Hello, Laguna Botos.

Blimey eh. Very much worth the walk. There's a small information board but nothing else. The continuation of the loop is closed off, which goes some way to explaining why so many people had been walking towards us as we'd come here. Some of the tame forest squirrels come out to beg for food. The pamphlet you get on entry mentions this will happen, and absolutely not to feed them. Various people ignore this, which is emotionally conflicting: I want to see the squirrels being cheeky and cute, but I don't want them to fucking die thanks to wilful ignorance. Sigh.

No choice but to head back through the creepy forest, we spy another squrirel tracking us. Back to the main crater in case there are better views... nope. If anything, they are worse. A few other people are hoping for the best too.

So, we go to the cafe. Helen's inexplicably starving anyway. It's a pretty disappointing experience: there's a very poor selection of food in a small shop, next to an incongruously large seating area. They could do so much more here. We get a pastry and some cake, mine is the driest slice I've ever had and I need immediate water.

I also get grumpy. I've come over tired, possibly due to the altitude and exercise? Dunno. But more than that, Helen loves our selfies but I'm horribly self-conscious about my smile and, bleh.

The exhibit comes next. It's small, but pretty informative and interesting. There is excellent scientific insight.

So now it's 1pm. The bus leaves, we think, at 2pm. There's one other trail we've yet to walk, but apparently it's just a forest walk and it doesn't seem like we'll see anything much different to that which we saw en route to Laguna Botos. So, I make an attempt at persuading Helen we should go back to the crater. It's not far, we did get a glimpse but perhaps we'll see more, and anyway it's free steps towards the daily 10k etc.

My persuasion wins. 8 or so minutes later we're back at the crater and, oh! It's visible! Score!

We get, like, one photo, and then go up a couple of platforms to get a better view and, damn it, it's gone again. A few people give a round of applause, thanking nature for the glimpse. It's a nice feeling.

I have a hunch that the mist moves so fast, if we hang around we might get another go. And I'm right. The mist rolls through, entirely hiding the crater and then everything's visible and clear again, for about 15 seconds, and then it's gone - and I'm really glad to have captured it in a time lapse video. You really do feel lucky whenever you get a chance to see it. A rare occasion when the word 'awesome' is entirely apt.

Well that was excellent. We're both ecstatic to have seen it. Back at the visitor centre we bump into the Americans again, who didn't get a chance to see the crater at all, can't be bothered with all the walking, and are taking the sign's advice that if you're out of breath, stop doing stuff. I get some mild ribbing for wearing a fitness tracker. Pfft.

So by now it's about 1.45pm. We think the bus is at 2pm. It's still parked where it dropped us off, and there are 5 people hanging around, not yet queuing. More and more folk arrive as we wait, and wait, including a couple the lass of which runs off and never comes back. Odd.

We're entertained by some brightly coloured robin-esque birds flitting about in the trees. Eventually the bus driver appears, apparently from a slumber on the back seats. I hand over almost all the coins I have to pay for the journey back, and at 2.30pm we're pretty full and almost off. Shaman Jim is sat directly in front of Helen and keeps banging his seat into her knees. Later in the journey he gets to be vindicated about his "everyone's out to steal from you" fearmongering advice from earlier, as he discovers a credit card he's left in a hostel locker for a week has had $600 of fraudulent transactions made on it.

The journey, being entirely downhill, is much faster. The views are pretty good.

This place is very proud of the peaceful nature of Costa Rica.

Blurry on the move.

We're back at Alajuela before we know it. Well, no, we're back exactly when we know it. The hostellers are deep in conversation so we scoot off without so much as a goodbye, and walk back to the hotel. There's dancing going on in the main square, for no obvious reason that some people like to play music and others like to dance. It's nice. Not one person is taking photos and neither of us want to be That Person.

Back at the hotel I have a warm beer and a late equaliser, as we avenge Coventry's 90+6 earlier in the season with a 90+3 of our own. Game sounded shit though.

We head back out at about 5pm and this time think of eating in the local vegan place, but it's shut, so opt again for JalapeƱos Central. Different food to yesterday: a Super Taco and an enchilada. Also cheesecake.

We had no booze at lunch, but the margaritas are so strong that Helen's half pissed on just two of them. We pay, with brief worry about whether we'd get any change, then go to the supermarket for a 6 pack of beer and some water. This time I pay with a card, just - initially the till guy wants some ID. What?

Next to the supermarket is a branch of McDonalds. Not so surprising, but what is impressive is that is has open air balcony seats upstairs. Almost makes me want a Big Mac. There are still hundreds of shoe shops, and we now realise there are no tobacconists or off licences or newsagents. None. Zero. Perhaps because of that, we also realise we've seen barely anyone smoking at all. It's bizarre.

Back at the hotel there are beetles on the floor and I am freaked out by this. So a DEET boundary is formed and they disappear. A cold beer, another cold beer, and before long we're both out cold. Goodnight.

Created By
Darren Foreman

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