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12 March 2010

The Volcano and the Old Man

11:10 AM. Friday, March 12, 2010. Volcan Irazu.

Atop an active volcano...

I'm at Volcan Irazu. There's a cafe here where Christina, Annie and I are resting/rehydrating for a bit before we tackle the hike to the peak of the volcano. The altitude is beginning to get to us. The weather is a little clearer than it has been in previous days, but there are clouds coming in to the summit. The temperature is cool, the sun is bright, and the air is moist, much like Marin County in the summer.

Last night was fun. Christina and I met up with other Peace Corps volunteers (who had worked on yesterday's women's conference) at a nearby American-themed sports bar/grill called Mac's - it was in Sabana, about 1-1.5 km from Anna-Maria's apartment. I was able to meet (or see again) Clarissa, Tess, Bethany, Jon and Briana (married couple), Jen, Dom, Alicia, and Katherine, and I think others.


12:20 PM

The three of us just returned from hiking to the Punto Mas Alto. Exhausting... high altitude. Back at the snack bar/cafe, about to board the bus back down.

3:00 PM.

I haven't had much time to write - I mean, there's been plenty of down time, but most of it has been spent on buses that are far too bumpy for me to write (and if I tried to write/read, I would quickly get nauseous). Bus riding now essentially equals nap time. I have no idea whether I'm caught up with sleep or not. My body's definitely exhausted from all the exciting activities!

Today's checklist of things done for the first time:
  • climb atop an active volcano
  • converse in 3 languages, none of them English
  • snap a surreptitious photo of Mormon missionaries while they're actually on their mission
  • hang out with someone from Oklahoma
  • see a wild coati (aka pizote) way up close

Volcan Irazu is the second highest point in Costa Rica, after Chiripi (sp?); it's nearly 3500m (over 11,000 ft) high. It's a 2-hour bus ride from San José, which for us this morning involved rushing to get on the Sabana Estadio bus into the centro in time, then quickly grabbing McDonalds Egg McMuffins for breakfast (it's interesting that in many other countries, McDonalds and other "fast food" chains are actually a nicer/more expensive dining option than the local street food).
We then had to switch buses in Cartago (a city east of San José), because some pipe or thing broke on our bus. The bus soon climbed up the winding road up the side of the volcano, stopping along the way to pick up children in school uniforms, and also stopping in Tierra Blanca, where our Peace Corps friend Annie joined us. We wound up the mountain, past plenty of pastoral countryside. The locals waved at the bus as we drove by.


5:00 PM.

The festivals had already begun...

The volcano was cool to see; the plants were surreal up there. There were several craters that you could see into. Unfortunately the level of the lake in the main crater was very low. The hike to the punto mas alto was definitely draining; probably a kilometer uphill at 11,000 feet. Whew. I was somewhat disappointed that there were clouds shrouding the view (though I would have been foolish to expect anything else). Annie lit up a cigarette and chatted with Christina as I wandered off to take in every view. I encountered two Polish guys talking to a third guy in Spanish; from the little Spanish that I knew, I could actually make out what they were talking about - they were trying to figure out the German word for "war" - they had agreed that it was Blitz. I could not let that stand. I had to interject - and I did, correcting them that the word is actually Krieg. And I told them that I come from los Estados, then dropped in a na zdrowie to show off my feeble Polish.

The three of us walked back downhill, rested at the cafe/general shop, where I had a tortilla con queso (with a very healthy heap of natilla, a type of non-watery sour cream).

The bus ride back from the volcano seemed very quick -- because I was asleep. Likely a result of sheer physical exhaustion (hiking at high altitudes) and a food coma from scarfing down that tortilla con queso before the bus left.

It was baking hot when we arrived back in San José. One of the festivals for this weekend had already begun in the plaza behind the Teatro Central. While walking through, I got a sample of some orange soda (tasted just like Fanta).

Oh! You're a gringo too!

We're back in Anna-Maria's apartment. Her American neighbor [named Sam] is in here using her phone to try to secure his health insurance. It's kind of awkward. Anna-Maria's only lived here for a week, and he's already become accustomed to barging in to use her cell phone (and to use her knowledge of Spanish). He's lived here in San José for 11 years, is divorced, speaks absolutely no Spanish, and is living off Social Security. It's kind of amazing that someone could live in a country for over a decade and not learn any of the language. [He also assumed that Christina and I were Costa Rican - "Oh! You're a gringo too!" he proclaimed when he found out.]

I've started packing up my clothes. I hope everything fits into my bags (I won't know until I put my sleeping bag/bathroom stuff in tomorrow morning). We opened the windows because it was warm when we returned to the apartment. Anna-Maria came back about 20 minutes after we did (we ate at a nearby Greek restaurant!); her dog Melo has since decided to roam the apartment. He's a cute dog, but still young and stubborn. Dog hair, dirt - this apartment could use a good vacuuming.

Some light rain showers began to fall as Christina and I walked back to the apartment. We're going to head out shortly to meet Markus and other friends at their hotel before we all head to dinner at the secret "railroad pizza place" - we don't actually know it's name.

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