Costa Rica Day 2
Yesterday, March 21, 2014, the group I’m leading headed toward Poas Volcano, the country’s most visited volcano. The weather was perfect when we got up, but that was San José, deep in the valley. But if you looked up, the top of the mountains all around were lost in clouds. Not a good sign.
We stopped to visit a coffee plantation where there are also beautiful flowers: orchids in the trees and lots of colorful plants at their feet: clumps of amaryllis and heliconias, colorful shrubs like Streptosolen jamesonii and Tibouchina, not to mention some spectacular trees like Eucalyptus deglupta: best bark I’ve seen on a tree, ever!
Of course, by the time we got to the top of the volcano in Poas National Park, we were in deep fog. Well, actually, we were in the clouds! The sun came out for a short time as we clambered out of the bus, just enough to tease us – and to give me time to take a picture of Gunnera (Gunnera insignis), the plant with giant leaves called the poor man’s umbrella. But as we walked uphill to the first crater, we were back in the clouds.
Of course, this is normal: the forest on Poas volcano is a cloud forest: in the clouds more than 80 % of the time. Moreover, it is what is known as an “elfin forest”: a special type of cloud forest so high in altitude the trees are dwarfed by the cold, their trunks and branches all intertwined. It’s bizarre, but also hauntingly beautiful .
Most of the plants on the mountain normally grow as epiphytes, high in the branches of tall trees… where you can barely see them, but here they are at eye level or even terrestrial, like the Werauhia, a bromeliad, in the photo.
Obviously, when we got to the main crater, all we saw as fog. The crater seemed filled with white cotton. We saw none of its famous fumerolles. Same thing for the secondary crater, Botas… doubly unfortunate, as getting to this one is quite a climb! However, we did see the Poas squirrel, one of the rarest mammals in the world and only found on the top of three volcanoes in the world, two in Costa Rica, one in Panama .
At our next stop, La Paz Waterfall Gardens, was almost the opposite situation. We arrived in a fine drizzle, got out our ponchos and umbrellas, expecting a soggy visit. And it was… getting the restaurant, where we had a delicious hot buffet … but during the meal, the rain stopped and the sun came out. Wow! I regularly lead garden tours to La Paz and have been there 8 times before and always in mist or light rain: it is a cloud forest, after all. And not enough rain to stop you from enjoying the sights. However this time, there was a blue sky throughout our visit: from 12:30 to 5 pm!
I must say that La Paz Waterfall Gardens is an absolutely extraordinary site: beautiful flower gardens ( imagine orange cannas as far as the eye can see!), a hummingbird garden full of buzzing hummingbirds of all imaginable colors and sizes around a series of feeders and brilliant red flowers, displays of monkeys, big cats, frogs and snakes, the world’s largest butterfly house, a giant aviary and so much more! All in a magical landscape on a mountain in a dense cloud forest. Wow! This is not the elfin forest of the highest altitudes, but very tall trees densely festooned with epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants).
I would give the prize of the most bizarre flower we saw there (bizarre but not the most beautiful) to Aristolochia gigantea, a climbing plant with brown blooms mottled white the size of a dinner plate!
But the most wonderful part of La Paz is the path of the 5 waterfalls, where we descended along a mountain river with a spectacular waterfall at almost every turn! Amazing! And all the more extraordinary in that was in full sun, something I had never seen. I took lots of pictures of giant trees loaded with epiphytes (orchids, bromeliads , ferns, cacti , etc.) that I had even never seen other travel because of fog or rain: usually all you can see are the bases of the trees.
About 2 hours later, we were back in San Jose for a dinner at the Balmoral restaurant, the oldest in Costa Rica. Then we returned to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.
What a wonderful day … and that was only our first full day in Costa Rica! There’s much more to come!