Hola! Today was a big day for a little car…a car that shall henceforth be called Doodle-Bug!
This weekend, some friends and I rented a car and went on a little mini-adventure to Volcán Irazu (Irazu Volcano if that wasn’t obvious enough). It’s a pretty ginormous volcano located in the province of Cartago, which is a little bit east of San Jose. There’s also an abandoned sanatorium on the way down the mountain, so we decided to make a day of it.
We rented a car from our favorite Thrifty rent-a-car location so we would have a bit more freedom than if we had gone by bus. We decided that we may as well get the cheapest one since we weren’t going to be traveling on any crazy dirt roads or anything. And when we first saw the car, we were super excited because of how cute and tiny it was. And so we named it Doodle-Bug.
Well, the one thing we didn’t consider about Doodle-Bug was that we were going to a volcanic crater that is located 3,432 meters (11,259 feet) in the air. And in order to climb all 3,432 meters, we would be driving up some steep inclines. And oh boy did we give Doodle-Bug a run for her money!
We spent much of the first half of the drive in first and second gear, and even then we climbed at an extremely slow crawl. It was a little nerve-wracking because it really felt like we were going to stall out a lot. Luckily, though, with lots of cheering from us, she got through some of the steeper parts of the mountain.
Until I tried to go to a restaurant that didn’t exist.
We decided to look for a place to stop for desayuno (breakfast), and we were slightly worried that there wouldn’t be anything more on the way. So, when I saw a sign for a restaurant, I quickly turned off the highway to find it, but as it turned out, there wasn’t a restaurant after all (just a man milking a cow).
Now, it’s normally not a big deal to have to turn a car around and get back on a highway. But that line of thinking coincides more with expectations of flat roads and cars that have more than 2 goatpower, which is our estimate for what Doodle-Bug has. So, I was able to turn the car around, but then came the task of trying to get it up the steep hill I had gone down in search of the restaurant. I tried, and I tried, and I tried, but the whole thing was just so scary! It kept stalling and rolling backward, even when the emergency brake was on (we reported the shoddy brake when we returned the car…legit the car just kept rolling backwards even with the brake on. It was crazy).
We finally decided that Rebecca would try to get the car up the hill since she has much more experience driving a stick on mountains than I do. So, the rest of us got out of the car to help direct her (btw we also had to make a sharp turn to get back on the highway), and she gave it a go.
And let me tell you, Rebecca is magical. She made Doodle-Bug fly!
Somehow or other, Rebecca was able to get some speed, and we all watched in astonishment as she literally flew (she really did get air at one point) up the hill, around the curve, and safely onto the main road. It was incredible! It is hours later as I write this, and I am still in awe. Unfortunately we were too busy worrying about becoming stranded on a mountain to think of taking pics of the crazy turn, so I have no visuals to help with the story. But hopefully my attention to detail and storytelling prowess will help you see it all in your mind.
Throughout the rest of the drive, there were more exciting, death-defying moments, but that one stands out in my mind the most. You don’t need (or want) to read about them all. Long story short, we safely made it to the crater after a quick pitstop at Restaurante Linda Vista, which did have a linda vista (beautiful view), and also about 5 million business cards tacked to the wall.
The volcano itself was fun; we basically just walked around soaking in the nature (and ash…more on that later). When I googled the volcano before the trip, I saw water in the crater (similar to the Poás crater), but today it was empty. It was still really cool to see! I think we got lucky, because sometimes it can be so cold and cloudy up there that you can’t see anything. Today, however, we had a great view and blue skies.
One cool thing was that we were able to see Volcán Turrialba erupting from Irazu (that’s where the aforementioned ash is coming from). We have been getting falling ash from the eruptions here in San Jose all week, so it was kinda cool to see the source.
After walking around and looking at the crater, we tried to take Doodle-Bug up to la punta más alta (the highest point), but we only made it about halfway up. Despite how hard she tried, she just kept stalling over and over again. We had to turn around, park Doodle-Bug back in the Irazu crater parking lot, and walk up to the top. It was a pretty strenuous walk, probably due to a combination of altitude and ash (and perhaps a bit to the fact that I am out of shape), but definitely worth it. We got some great views (we were above the clouds!) and were able to hang out a while as we soaked in more sun and nature.
After the volcano, we headed back down the hill and stopped at the Duran Sanatorium. Supposedly it’s the most haunted place in Costa Rica! (Before you worry too much, I’ll let you know that we didn’t see any ghosts.)
The sanatorium was built in 1915 as a hospital for tuberculosis patients (the weather on the mountain is supposedly ideal for TB patients). Dr. Carlos Durán Cartin founded it, partially because his daughter was sick with TB (she eventually died there).
Eventually, they didn’t really need hospitals for TB as much because of advancements in medicine, so the hospital was eventually used as an asylum, a prison, and an orphanage (not all at once). It closed for good after Irazu erupted in 1973 and damaged it beyond repair. Now it’s a tourist spot (there were a lot of people picnicking there (?) today), so even though it was totally rusted and paint-peely, it didn’t feel overly creepy (although if I were there at night I’m sure I’d be freaking out!).
We didn’t do much at the sanatorium other than walk around, take pics, and sit in the sun for a bit (no wonder my face is burned today, even though I did put on sunblock!). There’s not too much to say about it (and also I’m tired and want to be done with writing for the day), so I’ll let the photos speak for themselves.
Ok, that’s about it for today! After the sanatorium, we had a brief moment of panic when we realized we needed gas, followed by a second moment of panic when we didn’t know how to open the gas tank (apparently there is a key inside the key), but fear not. We found gas and opened the tank to fill it, so todo bien.
We had a pretty easy ride home, dropped the car off early, and are now home! All in all it was a fabulous day! Thanks to Amanda, Michelle, and Rebe for a fun adventure!
Until next time, ciao!