I had always imagined the top of a volcano was a gaping hole that dropped into an endless abyss where lava occasionally explodes. So I was surprised to peer into the top of the Poas Volcano (located near Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose) to see what looked like a lake, though the gray water reeked of sulfur and steam intermittently wafted from the surface. Out of all the places in the world, Costa Rica is definitely one of the most “green” countries. The Central American country boasts more than fifty national reserves, and 28% of Costa Rica’s land is dedicated to national parks and wildlife reserves.
The drive up to the viewing site of the volcano was not an easy one. On more than one occasion I didn’t think the bus was going to make it up the alarmingly steep roads. We passed dozens of houses and school children on the steep slopes, and then stopped at a local coffee plantation to learn a little bit about coffee beans and the production process. The owner of the land rolled the aromatic beans roughly together is his hands, then held his palms open face up for us all to breathe in the rich fragrance. The volcanic soils on the mountainside offer the perfect growing climate for the beans, which is why coffee production is one of the largest sources of income for the country. Movie production may be another source of income—this volcano was a filming site for the movie Congo.
After the bus could go no further, we hiked the rest of the way up to the crater which contained the dark gray water—which looked like a poisonous draught due to the never ceasing bubbles that emanated from the surface. It turns out that the view we caught was an unusual one; constant clouds generally cover the top of the mountain, but we were lucky to have a brisk wind blow them away. Unfortunately, the wind was not strong enough to blow away the unmistakable reek of sulfur, which stank of rotten eggs, but the view of the surrounding mountains in a misted shroud was worth it.
After taking pictures posing in front of the crater, a few others and myself decided to take the long way back to the bus—through the jungle. We jumped over mud puddles, dipped under low branches, and took pictures inside the cavities of hollowed out trees that were big enough for two to duck inside.
On the breathtaking journey back down the mountain (the majority of the time we were teetering on the edge of the road with no guardrail), we stopped several times to spot wildlife, which included a monkey and her baby in a tree, a couple of sloths sleeping in the canopy, and my favorite: We made a stop at a souvenir shop where the bus driver insisted there was a “large cat.”
We all stumbled over each other off the bus in excitement and anxiety as we crept around behind the store expecting to see a jaguar or some other large predatory cat that we assumed our sharp-eyed driver had spotted from the road. Armed with our cameras and ready to shoot at a moment’s notice, we rounded the corner of the building and came upon what can only be described as a badger. It was clearly tame because it just stood there, waiting for food (or it was just extremely photogenic). After giving up trying to convince our guide, Javier, that this animal was not a cat, he finally conceded and named it a raccoon. Laughing, we all piled back on the bus for the bumpy ride back down the mountain.