That word would be an understatement when describing the sight of the beautiful mountainous landscape just outside the windows of our bus throughout our trip from our ‘lodge in the clouds’ in Monteverde to our new home in Arenal Paraiso. It was impossible to not feel some sort of overwhelming happiness when looking out at the different shades of light and dark green vegetation that covered every inch of the mountains.
That would be a more accurate word to describe not just the scenery on the bus ride, but also the distant view of Arenal’s huge active volcano from our small boat that sailed us across Lake Arenal, a 39 kilometer long reservoir built in 1979 to generate most of Costa Rica’s electricity. We all sat on the edge of our seats, prepared to snap a photo whenever we got the perfect vision of the volcano and the rest of the stunning Costa Rican landscape. We saw lots of kingfishers, a nesting anhing, and raptors. About half a million pictures later, we were greeted with a dam, which marked the end of our boat ride. We next boarded another bus and admired similar scenery on our ride to Hotel Arenal Paraíso.
That word would describe our greeting to the hotel, as we relaxed on the couches in the lobby drinking a complementary mixed fruit cocktail consisting of mango, papaya (a fan-favorite here in Costa Rica), and cherry on top. After enjoying that drink, we were met with another very tasty juice, made from Cas, a sour guava, at lunch. We loved our lunch about as much as we loved the perfect view of the active volcano right behind us, but maybe not as much as we loved our passion fruit pastries for dessert prepared with cool sauce-made designs that differed for each plate.
That word would properly describe my thoughts on the ride from the hotel to the entrance of the path we would take to hike to the base of the volcano. Our bus passed by small house where I saw a young boy sharpening a machete. Surprisingly, this is not the first time I saw a machete on the trip; I have actually seen locals carrying them in multiple occasions. I believe they are used for cutting through the thick vegetation that fills the rainforest terrain that consumes most of the country. This sight, for some reason, sparked me to compare the very different cultures and lifestyles in the United States and Costa Rica. While Americans much more often live more traditionally ‘luxurious’ lives with many more resources and more advanced technology, Costa Rica is considered one of the happiest countries on Earth. How could this be? My theory is that it has to do with Costa Ricans’ connection with nature and their more simplistic and peaceful lifestyles.
Surprisingly, this word would describe the land surrounding the active volcano that we walked through to get to the volcano’s base. After years of hourly eruptions from the year it woke up (1968), the volcano started becoming progressively less active starting from 2005 until it had its last eruption to this point in 2010. Arenal grew hundreds of feet at it deposited billions of tons of rock and ash on its steep slopes. While you might expect a lot of dark, lifeless land to result from the many eruptions over time, the land was actually very green and lively, such as the rest of Costa Rica. Most of the vegetation in the beginning of our hike was wild cane, or gray cane, which specifically grows after volcanic eruptions. My best description of it would be a tall skinny cane of grass. Now you see shrubs, ferns, and lots of Cecropia seedling. However, while the land is already quite vibrant, it can take up to hundreds of years after a big eruption for this land to return to its previous form.
This word would describe all of the cool information that Pacho and our tour guide, Eric, told us on our hike. We passed by lots of intriguing wildlife in our walk to the volcano’s base. One example would be a Ceiba Tree: a gigantic tree that has most likely lived for about 500 years (and is the home of many Daddy Longlegs as we found out while posing for a picture in front of it) that was spared by the eruption of 68. It was surrounded by a small patch of primary forest that somehow escaped the devastation of the volcano blowing its top. Another example would be the constant sounds of Oropendulas, which are similar to Orioles but much bigger, sending out mating calls.
This would be a word to describe the feeling we felt when we finally reached the base of the mountain after lots of walking and finally saw the volcano up close. We climbed over boulders of all sizes from the 92-93 lava flows that just stopped short of the primary forest. The top of the mountain was covered in cloud. Luckily for us, the clouds decided to part just as we arrived and we were able to take many great photos of us on the rocks in front of the volcano. After our mini photo-shoot, we grabbed a small pieces of pumice rock as a souvenir and headed back to the lodge.
This would be the perfect word to describe this Day 5 of our service trip. No additional explanation needed.
Finally, if you put together the first letter of each of the words I discussed, you get two words that describe Costa Rica perfectly: Pura Vida (Pure Life).