Thursday, May 31, 2007

14. Poas Volcano (5/31/07)

Thursday, May 31, 2007
We started the day with a birdwalk at 5:30 AM, but then decided to check out the internet available at Selva Verde Lodge. There were two old desktop computers of unknown brand, and when booted up, everything was in Spanish! It was easy enough to find the right icons, but it sure was slow.
At 8:00 AM we boarded the bus for a day-long field trip! We would be traveling from 328 feet above sea level to 6,000 feet.
Rural Costa Rica
We headed into the foothills and into the mountains, seeming to make a big semicircle around the "candy bar".
"Candy Bar"
That is what Jimmy called the red and white striped columnar tower that was the water leveler for the power generator using the water from Lake Arenal.
Passed a truck that was tipped over in a ditch. Boxes of pineapples were being transferred into another truck. Apparently accidents happen all the time on the narrow winding mountain roads that were not built for truck transports. 
Saw pure white angel trumpets and quinine trees. And a White Hawk (Leucopternis albicollis).
Passed the El Angel Corporation, whose workers are given and proudly wear white boots.
At 4,000 feet we began seeing the Poor Man's Umbrella (Gunnera insignis) which grows only in a narrow band at this altitude. Above them are the elfin forest and then the timberline. Passed greenhouses for roses, daisies, and ferns. Covered plots of strawberries. The people tended to have red cheeks from being out in the mountain sun. The dairy cows here were the European breeds of Holsteins, Jerseys (more fat), Guernseys, and Brown Swiss. In order to make pastureland, the forest was cleared and grasses were introduced.
There were orchards of apples, plums, and peaches. The higher we went, the more stunted the trees were due to sulfuric acid damage from the volcano. We were near the Continental Divide, where on one side the waters flow to the Caribbean Sea, and to the Pacific Ocean on the other side. Golden Day Lilies (Hemerocallis sp.) and Gorse (Ulex europaeus - a primitive yellow daisy).
Gorse (Ulex europaeus)
Also pagoda-like (Escallonia myrtilloides) trees and Cranberry (Oxycoccus palustris) bogs.
A fungus is wiping out the Mexican Cedar (Cedrela odorata), but it is rare for wildlife to nest or feed in conifers. 
We passed the La Paz Waterfall,
La Paz Waterfall
the lowest of a series of waterfalls which we were to visit that afternoon. There was a wooden bridge buckled beneath the bridge we drove across at the waterfall.
It was getting foggier and foggier as we climbed to Poas Volcano. Parque Nacional Volcan Poas (Poas Volcano National Park) is one of the most accessible and highly trafficked parks in Costa Rica.
One can drive almost to the rim and peer into an active volcano. Poas is 11 million years old with its last major eruption in 1910. In 1953 there was an increase in lava flow and in 1959 it shot ash one mile into the sky. But it seems to have a relatively open passage from its magma chamber to its crater, so a devastating eruption is not expected. The park is sometimes closed due to sulfurous emissions which combine with steam to make sulfuric acid. Its summit is at 8,883 feet and the crater is 4,342 feet wide, the widest in the world. It is 985 feet deep and the bottom has a lake of milky turquoise water. The water level has dropped recently which may indicate some activity will take place soon. For now it is a bubbling, steaming cauldron that often belches geysers. However, it is often covered in clouds, as was the case today.
We stopped in the small museum with one wall covered with a variety of wood pieces,
Different kinds of wood
looked at old photos of past volcanic activity, and at a diorama of the area.
We then hiked in pouring rain up to the rim of the volcano, past many Poor Man's Umbrellas! The leaves are huge to catch windblown algae.
Brynne using a Poor Man's Umbrella
When we looked over the rim of the crater, we saw nothing but white fog.
What we were supposed to see!
(Kent) and Brynne at the rim
Disappointing, but we had been exceptionally lucky for most of the trip! Back to the gift shop for souvenirs and coffee. Then onto the bus for the drive down to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Still overcast, but clearing here.
This was a complete "entertainment/resort complex"! First we had lunch at the Tortillas Restaurant that was filled with plants
Jerry leads us into the restaurant
and had display cases on the walls of butterfly chrysalides.
Display cases
The buffet offered a salad bar including pasta and tuna salads, and also cheese empanadas, meatballs, rice, beans, roasted chicken, pizza and fries! There was a fruity sweet tea. We have really liked the vinaigrette salsa that is offered as salad dressing.
The restrooms were the best we've seen anywhere, including in the U.S.! Almost had individual rooms for each toilet. And the sinks were made to look like water tumbling down the mountain...
Restroom sink
Next: 15. La Paz Waterfall Gardens.

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