Friday, July 29, 2011

The volcano

Okay, I'm catching up.  Thursday Richard woke me up early so I could go up to the sun roof and get some photos of the volcano - same name as the town, Turrialba.

After breakfast, we chatted with our B&B owner, and found out that he and some people were driving up to the Turrialba volcano.  I of course got all excited - and when Richard found out that you could drive almost to the crater, he was equally excited.  So B&B owner, his son, and two friends piled into their car - we got into ours, and this strange little French guy tagged along and sat in back.

We drove along, first through the town of Turrialba and then through some tiny towns, and up the mountain.  The paved road gave way to a partially paved road, which eventually gave way to a dirt and gravel road - all the while, the huge mountain (some 11,000 feet high) towering above, looming closer and closer, with the continuous plume of steam and smoke and whatever coming out of the top.

We eventually reached the gate, which is supposed to be open.  It wasn't.  We looked at climbing over.  We looked at climbing around it.  We looked at picking the padlock.  We were trying to figure out how we could get in, especially since the B&B owner and friends tried this yesterday, and the gate was locked (even though the park sign said the park was open from 8:30 AM to 3:30 PM, and it was only about 1 PM or so).

Someone said, well maybe the key is stashed around the gate somewhere.  We looked around, and sure enough, we found the key!  So, being pro-active people, we unlocked the gate and went in!

Turns out that we should have stopped at the ice cream stand down the hill, that's where people buy tickets for entry, receive helmets and gas masks, and the park rangers are called so they meet people at the gate.  There was NO information about this procedure anywhere.

So we just played the stupid Americans - and the nice young park rangers said we should all go back down to the gate (which we said we found open, we didn't know it wasn't supposed to be open) and he collected money from us, then he went to the ice cream stand and bought our tickets and picked up the helmets and masks.

Then we piled into the park vehicles, and went back up the hill to the park entrance - where we transferred to other vehicles, and they drove us up to near the crater.

It was amazing!!!!!!  The downwind side of the mountain has dead trees - the fumes mix with rain and the chemicals from the volcano burn the trees, and most of them are dying.  The crater itself is huge, shooting out plumes of white smoke, some glowing almost gold or copper, some a translucent blue color - a constant smoke and light show!  All accompanied by the roar of the the steam and gases shooting out of the fumeroles, sounding something like a jet engine - just a constant "zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz" kind of sound, loud and rumbling.

It was THRILLING!  We could smell the sulphur in the air, although we didn't need to put on the gas masks, the steam was all going in the other direction.

It was a great view of the surrounding country - the day had cleared, and we were actually above the clouds!

We just all stood there enthralled, watching this phenomenon!  Wow!

Some people hiked over to the other peak - I found that walking from the crater back to the parking lot got me totally breathless!  It was so strange, because I knew it was just a short little walk - and even though I've heard that at high altitudes you breath in less oxygen, and it takes a while to become acclimated, I had never experienced that.  It was almost like walking with very heavy weights on my shoes, or something - just a slow dragging walk that made me totally out of breath and a bit light-headed.  I said something to Richard, and so we both decided to stay at the one lookout and let the others continue on the hike to the other peak.  I'm not sure if it was my asthmatic lungs, or our age, or the fact that while we're both active we aren't exactly athletes - but we, plus the other older woman, were just wiped out moving around at that altitude.

Anyway - the volcano has three major craters, and I think there are photos here of two of them.  From the top we could see for miles and miles - all way to the Caribbean on one side, and possibly to the Pacific on the other.  It was hard to tell, since the ocean kind of blended into the sky and clouds from way up there.

But it was gorgeous, a beautiful day, and just one of the more exciting things I've done.

I confided in Richard and the other woman that there was a part of me that was almost hoping for more volcanic activity, like maybe a little explosion, just to see what it was like, to experience that.  But of course, the other part of me (like my intelligence) realized how completely stupid that was to think that, because the explosion would most likely be the last thing I ever saw.  DUH!

The vehicles did park in the lot at the top, turned around facing forwards - the ranger said this is a safety precaution, so that in the event of some explosion the vehicles are ready to drive like crazy down the hill.

Up until several years ago, the government let people walk through the craters, and the paths were still visible.  They figured out this wasn't such a good idea, so there are now guard rails.  But it was still fun and exciting, to walk around the outside edge of a crater, watching the volcano in action!

So that was our first full day in Turrialba - excitement of something new that neither of us had ever experienced before!

Oh, and if you were wondering about the gate - the rangers were confused that the gate was open, but after our time at the top, when we came back down the mountain, there was a new lock on the chain.

So all was well with the volcano as well as the rangers.

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