Riding the shuttle bus in a 4 hour journey from San Jose, I was getting near my destination the Arenal Observatory Lodge. I looked out of the shuttle bus window to my left and although the volcano was mostly covered in cloud, just looking at the lower flanks was enough to excite me. I was eager to see the Arenal Volcano for a while now especially after the pics and videos I saw on the Internet and at last I finally got to see this volcano in person.
During this time, Arenal was the most active volcano in Costa Rica. The activity consisted of constant slow effusive lava flows which would quite often cause bits of lava to break off from the summit area and in lesser circumstances, lava flow fronts. At night it would look more spectacular as that was when the incandescence was more visible. Other activity included strombolian explosions which occurred on a regular basis, and pyroclastic flows which occurred less frequently. Arenal first awoke in 1968 with violent explosions which killed 87 people, and then lava flows buried the villages of Tabacon and Pueblo Nuevo. Three new craters were formed during the eruptions but the activity soon became confined to just one crater and since then Arenal was in a constant state of eruptive activity. The eruptive activity finally came to an end in December 2010. Scientists believe that Arenal may go into a state of dormancy for a few hundred years before waking up once again.
I checked in at the Arenal Observatory Lodge and then went off to explore the local nature trails and it didn't take long until I noticed the clouds temporarily clearing revealing the volcano, so of course I wasted no time in getting pics as I learned that the weather in the La Fortuna area is constantly changing, and minutes later the clouds came back and hid the volcano again. Later, I was on the waterfall trail which goes into a forest when I heard BOOOOOOOOM!!! A volcanic explosion had occurred taking me by surprise. But the real action didn't come until the evening. When the evening came a thunderstorm had developed and I was stuck in the main area of the Arenal Observatory Lodge due to heavy rainfall but fortunately for me, I had my camera and tripod with me so I was able to take pics when the clouds cleared enough during the storm to be able to see the volcano. What a show I was treated to during my first night, not only could I observe the incandescent lava fragments rolling down the slopes but I could also watch a thunderstorm at the same time especially when lightning lit up the skies revealing the silhouette of the volcano at night.
During the next day, the clouds cleared by late morning until mid afternoon giving me more opportunity for pictures. I spent a lot of time in the restaurant area of the Arenal Observatory Lodge at that time hoping I may catch a strombolian explosion with ash plume but to no avail, just lava fragments constantly breaking off from the summit area and rolling down the slopes. My attention was sometimes turned towards the Coatis which were foraging for food out on the lawn. Come late afternoon, I joined the Arenal 1968 lava tour as arranged with the local guide earlier that day and I went along with an American family. As I got there and after I filmed a clip with my camcorder on a trail, I misplaced my foot on the ground spraining my ankle in the process which then forced me to limp along for the rest of the tour. We got to the lava flow of 1968 which was by now vegetated, hard to believe that a village once stood beneath our feet after the villages of Tabacon and Pueblo Nuevo got destroyed by the eruption of 1968. Next, we walked on in search of some Tree Frogs and by now it was sunset and we were walking through some long grass which made me feel anxious about the presence of any unseen snakes so I just stomped through knowing that snakes don't like it when you stomp the ground. That done, we ended up at a lagoon where we heard frog calls presumedly coming from Tree Frogs yet not a frog to be seen. Those calls were not your average croaking which you would typically associate with frogs, but a single loud high pitched croak. Heading back in the direction of the car park, the guide took us somewhere else where he thought there might be Tree Frogs and there it was in the trees a Red Eyed Tree Frog! What a beautiful creature, mostly bright green with red eyes and blue legs. I often seen them on nature programmes on TV but seeing one in real life was different to watching TV, amazing. The youngest boy from the American family I was with kept begging to keep it but the father explained that it was a special frog. Sorry lad! but wild animals are there where they belong.
On to day three of my stay at the Arenal Observatory Lodge and the task for the day was to climb Volcan Cerro Chato, the extinct neighbour of Arenal Volcano. A slightly lengthy walk took me to a cloud forest in the area between Cerro Chato and Arenal volcanoes, it was here where the trail to the crater rim began. Having only sprained my ankle the day before, was I crazy to make an ascent on my own with no one else to help me? I guess it's fair to say that I was. I suppose I was still fit enough to go hiking but Cerro Chato came with risks, wet rocks, muddy trails, and possibly venomous snakes. So off I went to ascend into the dense forested slopes of Cerro Chato and on the way I encountered a variety of plants, some flowers, and even a lizard or two. It took me an hour and a quarter to reach the top and by then it started to rain and I encountered foggy conditions. I was not able to view the crater lagoon much to my disappointment after the risk I took. At one point while I was walking along the forested crater rim I lost my foot in slightly deep mud but I was ok. Later on, after I came back down I noticed the clouds clearing from Cerro Chato like I was being taunted by Mother Nature with "are you sure you don't want to come back to try again? Are you sure?". Later that day it was sunset when the clouds cleared once again providing me with a good opportunity for more pics and video footage plus you can see the incandescence in the falling rocks better at this time, so I went up to the observation tower just across the bridge. By nightfall, I could hear the jungle come alive and I even had bats fly close to me a couple of times. The skies were clear and I could see the silhouette of the volcano which sometimes glowed at the top and as usual incandescent rocks would break off and go tumbling down the flanks. Because I was in a rural area, I could see many more stars in the night sky than I usually would in towns and I could even see the Milky Way, what a beautiful sight! So given the scenery of the jungle coming alive at night, seeing many more stars than I usually would, seeing the Milky Way, and watching the activity of the volcano, this moment remains to this day one of my most memorable moments in life. Later, the clouds rolled in to hide the volcano once again.
On my final day at the Arenal Observatory Lodge it wasn't so much eventful in terms of weather and volcanic activity, so I just wandered the gardens taking pics of exotic flowers and Hummingbirds which were hovering around collecting their nectar from them. I did however decide to make a very lengthy walk all the way to the road bridge which goes over the Rio Agua Caliente which was quite a way out of the premises. On my way back, I made an unexpected detour to the Tucanes trail (which was just outside the entrance to the premises of the Lodge) after having a conversation with one of the guides there during which an Anteater suddenly popped out of the bushes during mid conversation. Minutes later I hiked on the trail into the jungle until I came across some kind of make-shift shelter (as directed by the guide) overlooking the base of the volcano where one could view the vegetated lava fields and the lower flanks. I sat in it watching the rocks come down but couldn't see the rest of the volcano due to cloud cover (as it was all day). I later walked further into the forest hoping that it could lead me to the vegetated lava flows when the trail increasingly started to get hidden by increasingly thick vegetation. Not willing to take the risk of being bitten by unseen venomous snakes, I made the decision to turn around and head back to start.
During the morning of my departure I met Phil Slosberg, an American who actually had a house on the premises overlooking the volcano and whom I was communicating with over the internet prior to my visit here. He quickly took me to his house where he gave me two DVDs containing his pics and videos he took of Arenal Volcano, which was very kind of him. Sadly, Phil died in Florida back in 2011.
In retrospect, I'm glad I came to Arenal while it was still active otherwise I wouldn't have got to witness the show had I come any later than early 2010.
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