Friday, October 26, 2007
Irazú, I see you!
On Tuesday, Erin’s class took a field trip to Irazú Volcano (Volcán Irazú), and I was able to snag a seat on their bus and tag along. Irazú is one of several volcanoes in this small country and lies in the Cordillera Central, close to the city of Cartago (the former capital of Costa Rica). It is protected in a national park.
We began our trip at the school in Escazú and traveled through San José, San Pedro, Curridabat, and then Cartago.
At a junction near the agricultural town of Cot, we saw a statue of Jesus with his arms outstretched; here, Christ is said to be embracing the entire valley. We turned left here and began our trip up the mountain.
(Incidentally, the trip up was just as you’d expect with a busload of fourth graders. They were a musical bunch, and I heard familiar tunes in English and some new-to-me “bus songs” in Spanish too.)
On our way up the southern slope of the volcano we saw many onion, potato, and cabbage farms. The fertile soil here from previous years of volcanic activity makes this area good farmland. We also saw many small dairy farms. Erin and I shared a private laugh as we passed one farm and could smell the cows—and most of the kids erupted with “Ewwww!” Erin just looked at me with a grin and said, “Mom, I’ve been to Wisconsin so many times I didn’t even think anything of it.” That’s my girl!!
The trip up was very slow (think big bus, steep drive!), but thankfully there were no sheer drop-offs (especially because I had a window seat on the “edge” side of the mountain!). We saw some great Tico villages with houses in a variety of bright hues.
We also had to put on our jackets as we climbed the volcano because the temperature dropped significantly, which I really enjoyed. I must admit I also got a kick out of the Costa Rican children donning hats, gloves, and scarves for the “cold” day! Apparently it can get quite chilly on Irazú (though I doubt it dropped below 65 while we were there), with an average temperature of 45 degrees and occasional frosts. It rains often too, but thankfully we felt just a few drops during our visit. (There's a rumor that on rare clear days you can see the Pacific and Caribbean from the volcano’s summit—which would have been awesome. Irazú is the highest active volcano in the country.)
We began exploring as soon as we arrived at Irazú, and the main attractions were two giant craters. The first was Diego de la Haya, the second was Crater Principal. Both craters were amazing, but the principal crater was especially magnificent, with a neon green lake created by minerals washed into sulfuric acid by frequent rainfall.
The remaining part of the volcano is a bit surreal—kind of a moonscape with its windswept fields of black volcanic sand. The last eruption of Irazú spanned the years of 1963 to 1965 (on a historical note, it blew its top on the day John F. Kennedy arrived in San Jose to visit the country), but geologists have determined that there is still magma beneath the volcano. We put our hands on the sand and it was very warm!
When we looked very closely, we saw the grains of sand moved around as if by magic, without the assistance of wind or human intervention. We learned there are magnetic anomalies at the volcano. One girl had grains of sand jump to her bracelet and cling there!
We saw stray flowers blooming on the spanning, lunar landscape, but overall the flattest part of the park looked desolate. Bordering it were steep inclines covered in thick vegetation—namely a comical looking plant called Sombrilla del Pobre, or Poor Man’s Umbrella, so named because the leaves are enormous—large enough to keep someone dry in a light rain.
Animal life was scare on the volcano, though we did see a few birds. The children found a dead hummingbird with iridescent blue and green wings. They took pity on the little body and buried it in the sand.
We spent quite a while hiking around (we noticed the thinner air!), and the kids had a great time. We took a break for lunch and then headed back home. Erin and I were wiped out by Tuesday night, but we had a fantastic time.
Wanna see what I’m talking about? You can click here to see more photos (with captions!) of our adventure. (Try the slideshow feature; you can use the pause button if you want to spend more time on a photo.)