Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Bravo for Barva! A day-trip to the volcano

It’s been hot in the valley, and our family’s been longing for cooler climes, so we were enthusiastic when Dan’s friend Danny and his girlfriend Julieta invited us and our friends the Reidys to be “adverturers” (as Danny dubbed us all) with them on a trip to Barva Volcano. The route to Barva is very poorly marked, and since Costa Rica is a country with very few street signs and nary a helpful map, we knew that traveling with a couple of friendly Ticos was a great way for us to see the summit and have a lot of fun, too! I spent the day before our trip packing our stuff and preparing food for a barbecue to follow the hike, and by the next morning we were ready to go.

Though only about 14 miles north of San Jose, Barva is one of the lesser-visited volcanoes in Costa Rica. It’s part of the Central Volcanic Cordillera, along with the towering Irazú and the popular, neighboring Poás Volcano—all three of which look over San José and the Central Valley. Barva is a complex volcano with numerous summits, and we can easily see the three main summits from our house. These summits—like three bumps on the mountaintop—give Barva the nickname Las Tres Marías (The Three Marías).

The start of our trip took us through twists and turns of small mountain towns; it’s like a maze traveling to this volcano which sits in one of Costa Rica’s national parks. Eventually the pavement ended in Sacramento and the road conditions worsened—really bad, even by Costa Rican standards. No longer just dotted with typical potholes, the steep trek was now rocky and filled with deep ruts; it would be crazy to attempt the route from here without a 4WD. The roads were extremely narrow, making it a major feat for two cars to pass each other. We had a couple of unnerving passes that required us to pull in our mirrors and hold our breath as we just made it by the car heading in the other direction without a scratch.

Although the roads were awful, the views were terrific. We passed by dairy farms and lush, green coffee plantations which were a nice change from the brown of the valley (since we’re in the end of dry season). And wow, the panoramic views of the valley—including our own town—were great.

Eventually we arrived at the entrance to Braulio Carrillo Park, which pretty much consisted of us parking on the side of this dirt road with a few other cars. We left our coolers in the car and trusted a cute little kid to keep his eye on our stuff for a small fee. Theft is not uncommon in Costa Rica, and paying someone to watch your vehicle is very typical in rural areas as well as in the cities—we call the guys “watchers” and give them a few hundred colones for their help.

Our group of nine had a snack and walked the short distance to the little green station where we paid our entrance fee and received a map. Ready to move, we headed off on the Cacho de Venado (stag’s antler) trail. Because of its elevation, Barva—like Poás and Irazú —is often chilly and wet. We were so lucky because the skies were clear and the weather beautiful for our hike!

Barva hasn’t erupted in centuries and has a very different look and feel from other volcanoes in the area. Highland forest covers the summit and lichens, moss, and vines blanket the trail in a variety of greens. The area is rumored to be home to many animals and birds such as the Resplendent Quetzal, which is one of the coolest birds in CR. We heard many bird calls during the hike but the forest is so dense I couldn’t spot a single bird.

We steadily continued along the path. The Cacho de Venado trail joined up with the main trail, and from here the journey became progressively harder as the trails changed and the air became thinner. There was a lot of uphill hiking at this point and it became an effort to climb. In the final 200 meters—when everybody was really hoping we’d almost arrived at the crater—we found steep sets of steps. Whew! We were so motivated at that point to get to our destination, and I was so proud of the girls for keeping on—we travelled at least three miles and up many inclines on the hike. At the highest point we’d reached about 9500 feet.

Finally we made it to Laguna Barva, the inactive crater filled with rainwater. This is the third volcano crater we’ve seen in Costa Rica. (Yes, we’ve been to Arenal—the mother of the volcanoes here—but couldn’t hike at the crater because it’s active.) The lagoon isn’t as pretty as the one at Poás, but it was still neat to see and a good place to rest for a few minutes before beginning the (much-easier!) return to the park entrance.

By the time we got to our cars it was mid-afternoon and everybody was really hungry. We headed down the mountain to the beautiful mountain village of San José de la Montaña, about 9 kilometers south of Sacramento. Danny and his brothers fell into an amazing real-estate deal not long ago and bought a fantastic cabin there, right on the mountainside amidst a towering pine forest. We all grabbed seats on the wide porch to relax; the view was great but even better was enjoying the peaceful setting and cool, fresh air—especially knowing it was noisy and hot in the valley.

To see what all we ate, you’d think it had been days since our last meals: loaded burgers, chicken quesadillas and kebobs right off the grill; pasta salad; watermelon; chips; chocolate dessert and brownies. Yum!

Danny’s brother Alejandro stopped up and we all talked and rested while the girls ran around playing hide-and-seek and spitting watermelon seeds off the porch. We had such a terrific time that it was bittersweet to get home early that evening from yet another memorable adventure for us here in Costa Rica.

¡Pura aventura!


Jill said...

I enjoy reading your blog. It is great reading about your experiences. Great pics!

Have a Happy Easter!

Irlenborn family said...

Sounds like you had a great time. I've never even heard of that volcano, and it's so close!

Anonymous said...

our first trip to Barva ended before we got to the green station because the road was SO bad, we had to turn around. Even in our four wheel drive! Apparently it's better now - don't you love it when "better" means the craters are only 2' deep instead of 3'? We used to live over there though and it is so beautiful! Driving in the Heredia hills is a treat.

Justine/Justiney/Tiney said...

What a wonderful day you had!!!!!! Oh man, the plants are so dense and gorgeous. But yikes, what a hike that was! I think I would have skipped it and just sat on that nice porch!

Justine :o )