Live long and prosper


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Published: April 14th 2014
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Having finally made it to the right start point hotel (I got a taxi with a German couple I met from my group, Markus and Franziska, who were also at the wrong hotel) I finally get to meet Brian our Costa Rican tour guide (he looks like a football pro!) and the rest of my group. There's three more from the UK (another couple, Miles and Catherine and solo traveller Ben), Dan an Ozzie who's living in the US, Marian and Doug two Canadians also living in the US and one bonafide American Stu. We get to know each other better over a meal in the evening and they turn out to be a fun and friendly set of people so it's looking like being a great trip. We meet the final two people, Jane and James, the next morning and it turns out they are from Norfolk too - Hethersett to be precise. Moi heart aloive!

We decide to ditch Intrepid's planned walking tour of San Jose in favour of a trip to Costa Rica's old capital Cartago and to Irazu volcano - hence the rather cryptic Vulcanesque title of this blog entry.

After about half an hour's drive out of San Jose we pile out into the main square of Cartago which is milling with lots of people clutching palm leaves in their hands - it's Palm Sunday - and head towards a rather gothic looking ruined building at the end of the square. Cartago ceased being the country's capital in 1823 and sadly the town has lost most of its old colonial buildings due to the many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions it's suffered. The ruin we are visiting is no exeption. The current building is about the fifth attempt to build a temple to Santiago (St James the Apostle) the others all being destroyed by tectonic plate jiggling! Now all that's left is a shell, just the walls and no roof. Inside has been created a pretty and peaceful landscaped garden with trees, shrubs, flowers, fountains and seating. Its more apt title is now Los Ruinas. We find out that Cartago is now a market town for the surrounding farmers and an educational hub with many illustrious schools and universities.

We hear music gradually getting louder and go into the square to investigate and find there is a procession is wending its way towards us. There's a marching band, priests in full cerimonial garb, men dressed as what look like disciples and of course there's the main man Jeysus being carried on a sedan chair. He's not looking too healthy it has to be said so it's just as well he's hitching a ride. The procesion arrives outside the Basilica and everyone piles into the already packed building for the service to begin.

As we are obviously unable to have a look inside the Basilica today we go to an attached building where we see people are filling containers with what is supposedly holy water. I'm surprised to see both young and old drinking the water they have collected or splashing it over parts of their body they seem to think will miraculously cure their ailments. Religion is a huge part of the culture of Costa Rica with about 80% being Catholics and as a confirmed atheist I find it all very strange to see such blind faith and acceptance of what to me is obviously illogical. Holy water curing ailments?! I actually find it all rather depressing that people seem so utterly brain-washed by pure nonsense so I escape and wander the square by myself. Funnily enough I'm not struck down from on high for my blasphemous thoughts and instead watch two amazingly beautiful large, blue butterflies blundering haphazardly around the people still pressing to get inside the Bascilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles or Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels to give it its full title. Now to me these little beauties are far more worthy of appreciation than the incense wafting old men inside the Basilica no doubt telling everyone they've sinned!

We get back on the road and start winding up the hillside that backs Cartago. We stop half way to give the vehicle a break. We've obviously all had far too much breakfast. A football match is going on in the field below the road. They have to be careful as too hard a kick sends the ball rolling down the steep surrounding hillside and out of sight. On chatting to Markus and Franziska I find they are fellow geocachers! Finally someone else who gets it. We had all realised there was a cache at the volcano we were going to haha.

At the entrance to Irazu volcano (can't seem to say that without thinking of Reeves and Mortimer!) we see a guy selling what look like bunches of red peppers. Brian tells us they are actually peach palms that are cooked in salted water like vegetables.

We pay our $10 entrance fee and set off on the short walk to the crater rim. By the way, if you're wondering, the volcano is active but dormant, the last eruption being in 1994. It turns out there are actually two craters and at the moment both are dry so no pretty blueish green water like in many of the photos I'd seen. It is however clear of mist and we get a really good view of the incredible folds and layers in the rocks. The colours are really quite subtle and beautiful. We are at just over 3300m according to my GPS.

We make our way along the fence line and follow the gps directing us to the 'Crossing the line' geocache. We have to be a bit naughty and go scrambling up the hillside covered in blackish grey volcanic grit. After a bit of a search I triumphantly raise the little black pot aloft and friedagaric, hotzenplottz, x-franzi and new geocaching convert Ben sign the log book. There is even just enough room to drop off a geocoin. My first Costa Rica geocache is marked by a fist punch celebratory photo with my new geocaching friends. I will have to check but I think this is my most westerly cache find so far. What a great one to have on my geocaching stats page.

As we head back the mists start to roll in and the whole mood of the place changes. It's as if the volcano is venting sulphuric vapours as a precursor to tantrums of the lava kind. Time to leave this temperamental geological time bomb!

Back at the vehicle the group makes the wrong choice and instead of stopping for lunch at a restaurant overlooking the valley and the mountains beyond we instead get dropped at a SHOPPING MALL! Urghh! Fast food stalls, shops, kids play equipment, noise! I loathe shopping with a passion and shopping malls are the epitomy of all that is odious where this activity is concerned. I grab my colones ready for the next day's journey to ATM free, and hopefully mall free, Tortuguero and find a quieter spot near a fountain to write up my blog and wait for the hour and a quarter to pass.

What have we come to as a species?

Incessant need to consume

Eyes wide

Heart pumping, Brain deadened

Consumption fix

Desire to consume is all consuming

Stuff to wear

Stuff to beautify

Stuff to adorn

Stuff to stuff our faces with

Stuff stuff I say!

Rant over I look up and see a roadside video advert screen. At least it teaches me one interesting thing. In Costa Rica cows go 'Mu'! I can now add this to my repository of foreign animal sounds which is basically pretty short consisting only of 'ouaf ouaf' for woof in French (thank you Herge).

On meeting up with my group I find they have come to their senses. They hated it too and vowed not to choose this option in future if it's offered. Hooray. I see an unfortunately named shop in the mall as we are leaving 'Rape' and this pretty sums up how my senses have been effected over the past hour. Roll on cleansing Tortuguero.


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