The Arenal… dormant for centuries, then waking up forcefully, now calmer
The cone of the Volcano Arenal overlooks the Northern Lowlands of Costa Rica.
The volcano is more than 1600m high and still growing. It had been dormant for centuries – just a mountain covered with dense forests and with villages at its feet benefiting from the fertile soil. In 1968 the volcano woke up forcefully. Craters appeared. One of them, named “crater C”, sent pyroglastic clouds down to the west destroying the villages in the Taracon valley. From now on the volcano kept on being active throwing out ashes, blocks of lava and more pyroglastic clouds. The latest activity ocurred in May 2010: The National Park and Observatory Center had to be evacuated. Eight lava streams run down the slopes to the foot of the volcano. Since then, though, the volcano has remained calm.
With Ernst, I had been here in November 2009. Up to then, there was a regular flow of lava that all guidebooks praised as a spectacular sight at night. But, when we arrived, this flow of lava had stopped. With Ernst I visited the garden of the Observatory Center and I was afraid that the Arenal would just hold its breath to erupt soon again. Well it held its breath until May 2010 to calm down after that. But it is one of the most dangerous volcanoes and can revive any time.
The gardens of the Observatory Lodge and Center – carefully attended
Around nine we arrive at the gate of the Arenal Gardens belonging to the Observatory Lodge. A few meters below the gate is a small hut offering walks. It is the small company called Tucan Trails. With Saul we arrange to walk to Cerro Chato tomorrow.
We enter the Observatory Gardens. The lodge must have been renovated since 2009. It looks inviting with its cabañas spread out in a beautiful tropical garden.
In the middle of the rain forest we find a garden worker with an engine that blows leaves away from the path. He does so to avoid that visitors step on snakes hidden under the leaves, he says. Strange, the roaring sound of the engine in the middle of a nature reserve.
In the lodge we take a small dessert and then return to our beautiful hotel Linda Vista in El Castillo where we recover by swimming in the infinity pool with the view of the Volcano Arenal and the Lake Arenal.
The strenuous walk to the Cerro Chato with the green laguna
The next morning at eight I meet Saul at the gate of the Toucan trails just below the entrance to the Observatory Lodge. Ahead of me are seven strenuous hours walking up to the Cerro Chato and back down… it was a unique experience with the young and enthusiastic guide Saul that loves his mountains and the path they are looking after.
While walking along the shoulder of the Arenal to the foot of Cerro Chato, we listened to birds… Saul knew them all, found these tracks of an old puma or a young leopard (one leaf in one of the tracks was still green, hence the tracks were fresh),…
knocked on the roots of this canela tree… the aboriginals used this natural drum to communicate across distances,…
climbed up and up for about 500m to reach the green laguna at around 11:30.
A family from Brasil took a bath. Across the lake we could see the place where the path of the Observatory Lodge ends… we could hear the noise of a sawing machine, here in the middle of the rain forest… this seems odd to me. By the way, Cerro Chato means “flat mountain”. The Chato has no conical shape, but is flat. Its crater has been filled with water since long… the Chato is no longer active.
Coming back down requires a lot of gymnastics. The slopes along the Cerro Chato are steep, uneven and slippery. Once down, it seems endless to me to get back to the Arenal, crossing one creek after the next… down and up, down and up… and again down and up. We see spider monkeys, high up in the crown of trees, hear some ground animal run away (boars?), admire the wandering tree…
and its leaves that the sloths love to eat.
From one of the lookouts there is another great view to the volcano.
To end the tour we visit the old lava streams from 1992 – 25 years ago – and they are already called “old”. I look up to the Volcano Arenal – cloudless today – and ask it to keep quiet for now.
Thank you, Saul, for this wonderful experience. Yes, it was strenuous, but it was worth it. Close to the artificial (though beautiful) gardens of the Observatory Lodge there are real rain and mountain forests that wait to be detected. I hope that many more visitors of the Arenal area will benefit from that.
Now I am looking forward to the pool and the jacuzzi of our Linda Vista hotel.