So, here we are again! If you have no idea what I’m talking about, please feel free to click here to read Part 1 of Climbing a Volcano!
We left off our dramatic adventure at the start of our hike up Volcán Turrialba. I’ll be honest and admit that I was a little nervous. My fitness level hasn’t been at its peak for the last few months (I’m working on it), and Turrialba is at altitude (it is the second-tallest volcano in Costa Rica and is 10958 feet (3339 meters) high, according to this post [because I always cite my sources!]). Plus, the hike is classified as “moderate to difficult,” so I was wary. Don’t worry, I was fine!
The hike is 4 kilometers each way, but it’s pretty slow going. I wouldn’t say that it was technically difficult, but I’m guessing its classification is due to the steepness and altitude. There were a lot of switchbacks, which you can see in this cool drone pic that I found on Instagram:
The first kilometer or so was REALLY muddy (remember the aguacero [downpour] I mentioned?) and steep. So, we took it nice and slow, which was fine by me! This gave us the opportunity to take pics, enjoy the nature, and breathe in the fresh air. We were very lucky in that it was pretty overcast, so we weren’t getting pounded by the sun. We also were very lucky have walking sticks with us (that much I understood from reading the web site). I don’t think I could have done the hike without them. The mist made it feel kind of enchanted foresty, if being enchanted means that your boots are sinking into the mud with every step.
About halfway through the hike, the muddy part was done, and we came to the main trail. It was gravelly but not muddy. We continued to remain lucky with the overcast skies, since that part of the trail was in direct sun, and we would have been scorched if it were totally sunny. After a while on the main trail, we came upon the entrance to the national park, where we paid our 1,000 colones, used the facilities, and rested a bit. After the little break, we started the last part of the journey, up those crazy switchbacks to the summit!
And our luck continued! The universe was smiling down upon us, and right as we arrived at the summit, the clouds parted, the sun came out, and we had the PERFECT view of the craters! There are three craters at the summit. People used to be able to roam around on them, but that access was taken away with the re-opening of the park. I suppose I really can’t complain, given that the volcano is, you know, ACTIVE, and I don’t want to be thrown off a crater in a burst of lava or gas as it spews out, thank you very much! So, we happily observed the craters from the safety of the guardrails, next to the protective shelters, with our not-very-protective protective hard hats. Trust me, it was plenty. The view was gorgeous, and we got to watch the steam (smoke?) escaping from one of the craters. I could have stayed there all day just watching. But seriously, we were legit so lucky because the cloud cover came back pretty much when we turned around and started our descent. So, for those of you who don’t want to get up at stupid o’clock to do a 6am hike, just know that it’s worth it for those views!
While on the summit, our guide Elisabeth explained that all of the lava pieces we saw were made of the same material, but the colors differed based on how deep they were inside the volcano. The darker the color, the deeper the rock was. Basically it cooked longer and hotter, which is why it ended up being darker when it finally was shot out. Makes sense, if you think about a piece of steak and how dark it gets as it cooks. She also told us about a huge chunk of lava, about 40 cm (16 in), that shot out of the volcano and crashed through the roof of the ranger station. You can still see the hole in the ladies room! I’m not sure why I didn’t take a picture! Luckily no one was hurt, but it does make for a good story!
The descent was much quicker than the ascent, as one might expect, although the falling started on the way down (not everyone fell, but more than half of us did!). The mud definitely made things tricky, and the hiking poles, once again, were a lifesaver! Thanks to those poles, I only fell 1 1/2 times, rather than the 5 times that surely would have been if I had not had them. I have pretty much come to expect at least one fall when I hike, so it really wasn’t much of a big deal. Luckily I fell in the muddy section, so, aside from getting very dirty (to be expected when hiking a volcano), I didn’t get hurt.
The final part of our adventure is perhaps the most exciting! If you read Part 1 of this series, you might remember me writing about how my friend’s car Stella could not make it up the mountain, due to us taking the wrong road. Bueno, as it turns out, on the way down the mountain there was one little uptick in the path. So, there we went, down, down, down, down, and then up…or did we? This uptick was a little too much for Stella, and she wasn’t able to make it. We tried and tried and tried, but the wheels just kept spinning. They simply could not get any traction.
As we sat there pondering what to do, a lone figure suddenly emerged from the mist to save us all!
This capped crusader had come to save us!! It was our friend from the other car, and he began to problem solve our way into freedom. We tried putting boulders behind the tires, random wood that was strewn about under the tires to gain traction, and, well, I guess that was all we could try but we tried it in many different configurations. (Do you like how I say “we” as if I actually got out of the car and did anything? Spoiler alert: I didn’t.) And still, nothing. Stella would not move! Just as we were about to give up and call a tow truck, we heard the sound of another vehicle coming around the bend. It was a pickup truck filled with a family (a couple of men, a couple of women, and some kids). Without even batting an eye, and actually, without even saying “do you need help?” they pulled up right in front of Stella and started to work on tying her to the pickup so they could pull us up. This is what I love so much about ticos. It wasn’t even a question; they saw us and started to help. It’s the kindness of strangers to the max.
So, they found some hook that apparently attaches to Stella’s frame and tied rope from the hook to their truck. Amanda excitedly got ready to put the car in drive so that between that and the pickup’s power, we could move the car. Tension built as we waited for the man to scream “YA!” so we knew when to gun it. And the moment finally came! The pickup started moving forward, anddddddd………..the ropes snapped! We heard a loud bang (honestly I thought we had broken Stella), and the cars became detached. Once again, we thought all hope was lost.
If you’ve ever seen movies or read books or gone on an adventure of your own, you may know that it’s always when you are almost out of hope that the universe steps in to make things right. I mean really, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies, amirite?
And by this I mean, the guy from the pickup said he’d be right back. So he walked off into the mist and disappeared down a hill into some field, and then Scott looked at us and exclaimed, “I hear a tractor! I think you are going to be saved by a tractor!” And I kid you not, THE GUY CAME BACK RIDING A TRACTOR. Like he legit just drove up the hill onto this lone mountain road upon which we were stranded on a freaking tractor. I still have so many questions. Was it his tractor and we just happened to get stuck right next to it? Did he borrow the tractor from a friend? Did he borrow the tractor from some random tico to whom he just said “hey mae, I’m gonna take this tractor for a few minutes ok?”? Like seriously, how did he get a tractor?
Anyway, it’s no use pondering too much, because in the end, he was basically like “Hold my beer. Imma go get my tractor,” and this was our saving grace! The guy pulled the tractor in front of our car, attached a giant chain (because everyone is just chilling with giant chains on their person at all times), told us to put the car in neutral, and literally just dragged us up the hill to safety as if he did this every Saturday afternoon (actually I kind of hope he does, at least so we aren’t the only dumb gringos who didn’t read the web site closely enough). Everyone was cheering and videoing it all. It was quite the moment indeed.
As we profusely thanked tractor man and his entourage (because when you are that cool, your family becomes your entourage), we tried to give him money. He steadfastly refused. He really just wanted to help out of the kindness of his heart. And let’s not foreget that all of this was done with a language barrier, and therefore, very few words. And this, dear reader, is why I love ticos so darn much. What warm hearts they have! So, random tractor-driving, chain-possessing tico, if you are reading this now (sorry for not translating it, by the way), THANK YOU. I will try to pay it forward by being kind and helpful always. We shan’t forget you!
And if you think this story is too crazy to be real, here is photographic evidence. I hope the pics adequately capture the drama of it all.
Well, that is pretty much it for our adventure. Other than a traffic jam caused by a VERY obedient herd of cattle (they stay in line better than many of our students), the rest was just a regular weekend. I continue to be so grateful to live in such a beautiful country with opportunities to just randomly climb a volcano on a normal Saturday, and safely during a pandemic. I think about this with gratitude every day. Pura vida, indeed!