Clive's birthday eruption.

During the last two days we have seen two volcanos and celebrated Clive's birthday!

Central America's most active volcano (Volcán Arenal) is a near perfect cone that erupts more or less continually. If that description conjures up images like the one to the right, you might be disappointed with the reality (above).

If however you study the upper slopes of the volcano in daylight, you can see occasional one metre chunks of lava being ejected and bouncing down the flanks of the volcano. Particularly big chunks may reach the surrounding grass and trees where they start small fires.

At night you can see the chunks of lava glowing as they roll down the volcano (right, lower). The upper right photograph is of the last major eruption of Volcán Arenalin 1968.

We had intended to view the volcano from, and camp in, the National Park, but after stopping at the much advertised and highly recommended German Bakery in Nuevo Arenal (N 10.540995 W 84.893148) we were advised to visit the "Observation Lodge" instead.

The Observation Lodge is an impressive hotel, restaurant, garden complex situated about 3km south of the volcano and only 900 metres below the summit. Here we had a fine lunch in their restaurant (traditional Costa Rican lava burgers). We celebrated Clive's birthday, with Ann's traditional carrot cake, in their car park. In the evening we returned to the hotel's observation lounge for sunset and glowing lava fireworks.

As agreed with the hotel management we descended to the lower car park, just outside the gates, for the night (N 10.438473 W 84.716710).

Our second volcano was Volcán Poás, reputedly the world's second largest active volcano crater. After a remarkably scenic drive from Volcán Arenal we arrived in the early afternoon to be told that we should wait until the next morning and that we could camp just outside the park gates. After the park staff had left, this was a wonderfully isolated and quiet campsite (N 10.169975 W 84.231943).

At 08:00 we paid our $7 USA each and joined the short queue to drive 2km to the visitor centre. Then a 600 metre walk up to the edge of the crater. The central part of the crater is now filled with boiling water covered in what looked like white scum. The surrounding rocks are stained with sulphur condensed out from the steam. Even 1.5 kilometers away, the constant roaring made by the steam vents sounds like a busy motorway.

A Problem Structure.

Near Lake Arenal, at a scenic look out (N 10.560262 W 84.924990) we came across this structure. The four "legs" and the "down pipe" are made of strong 150 mm plastic pipe. The central square column is concrete with stone facing and is hollow with a central plastic pipe which leads to a drain.

The top of the column does not have any obvious means of mounting or locating a telescope or theodolite (top left photograph).

The vertical pipe has what looks like a cross wire at the top (top right photograph). It is possible that there is part of the structure missing on top of the "legs".

The question is does anybody know what it is for?

Stephen Stewart.

Whilst enjoying the view at the Observation Lodge, we were treated to two other natural surprises.

The coatimundi (Pizote, Nasua narcica) belongs to the raccoon family. Three of them came out of the woods while we were waiting for our lava burgers. They are the cutest little creatures with a long pointed snouts and long striped tails. We got close up photographs as they enjoyed being fed the exotic fruits originally left out for attracting the many birds in the area.

I was determined to see Toucans in the wild while in Cost Rica. Before sunset, we went for a short nature hike, spotting numerous Chestnut-mandibled Toucans (Ramphastos swainsonii) in the trees. It is so exciting seeing exotic wildlife in its natural habitat. Central America has 7% of the world's species on just 0.5% of the world's land mass, so there are plenty of opportunities for discovery.

Much to our dismay, jaguars and quetzals have eluded us.

The Resplendent Quetzal (Pharomachrus mocinno) is a brilliantly plumed bird considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world. It is a bird of the cloud forests, red-breasted with an emerald green head and a long distinctive green plumes extending 45cm or more beyond its white tail. We keep hoping for a sighting, but so far in vain.

(Judy may not have seen one, but I have seen lots- Stephen)

Judy Bartos.

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