Tag Archives: volcano

Who Hid the Volcano?

Imagine that you had spent months planning a trip to Mount Rushmore and after driving several hours you arrived to find it hidden by clouds for the entire time you were there.  You might understand our feelings during our trip to Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna, Costa Rica then!  Over the week that we spent in the Limón Province of Costa Rica visiting our teacher friends Ashanti, Miguel, and Yerlin, we made arrangements for a mini-trip to see the volcano.

We made our way to La Fortuna, passing through grazing land with my favorite “field friends”, Costa Rican cattle and their ever-present  BFFs, cattle egrets.  Respaldo fotos USA 229From the lowlands of Limón,  we curved through mountain roads hitting some construction IMG_0251along the way and also much needed roadside snack standsIMG_0258 (2) before eventually pulling into town three hours after leaving Guácimo.  All of the research I had done on the area showcased over and over the magnificent views of the volcano from every area.  Our plan was to do some hiking around the base of Arenal over the lava fields of previous eruptions.  So many internet photos showed not only the volcano smoking, but also visible lava flowing.  I was so excited that our hotel, the Volcano Lodge http://www.volcanolodge.com/en had perfect volcano views and I was picturing myself in the pool with a nice drink watching the action, resting after my mountain hike.Respaldo fotos USA 333

But alas, fantasy did not touch reality on this excursion.  As we pulled into the town of La Fortuna, our friend Miguel shook his head.  Where I only saw a sky full of fog, he told me the great volcano usually towered over the city.  IMG_0190

Ever the optimist in cases of inclement weather, I thought it might burn off so we ventured on toward the volcano.  As we approached the entrance to the hiking trails in the park, our bad luck continued.  It began to rain.  Hard.  As we pulled over and took in the rain forest shower, the fog began to envelop us as well.  As I sat disgruntled in the car thinking about no volcano views and no hiking, I started munching on some chips and was joined by feathered friends who would have loved to have taken refuge from the rain in our car and share my snack.IMG_0202  I didn’t realize that would end up being our only nature encounter of the day.  So sad.

As we drove around the base of Arenal, waiting for meteorological change, we came to terms with the fact that there would be no hiking in the rain so we returned to the hotel.  The grounds of Volcano Lodge were gorgeous and would have been so amazing to stroll around if it were dry out.  The massive wall of fog reminded us constantly that it was just not our day.  After playing cards on the patio of our room for awhile we ventured over to the restaurant and bar.  It looked like our luck was about to change.  Not only were there some very interesting drink specials going on, but on the TV of the bar, the Green Bay Packer/Minnesota Viking game was on!  We had certainly never expected this as American football games on TVs outside the US are not exactly common.  As so we spent the next three hours cheering on the Pack and sipping rum concoctions.  But as I said earlier, it was not our day, and we ended up watching our Packers fall to a terrible Viking team.  Talk about adding insult to injury!   The only thing that helped make it better was the terrific meal at the hotel restaurant that night of seafood fettuccine and filet mignon with an espresso sauce.  Not exactly the rice and beans we associate with Costa Rica!

The next morning as we prepared to head to San José and then back to the US, the sun shone brightly Respaldo fotos USA 325and we thought for sure the fog would lift as a beautiful goodbye to us.  No such luck.  The best view we got was still about a third hidden from view.  Respaldo fotos USA 330It did make for a great morning though for strolling the grounds, using the pool, and lounging under the world’s largest fern.Respaldo fotos USA 320

It was disappointing that our whole trip’s purpose was crushed by the weather, but I guess they don’t call it the rain forest for nothing.


Shocking Sights in Antigua, Guatemala

As part of The Ohio State University’s SSAST program, I spent three weeks in Antigua, Guatemala, possibly the most beautiful colonial city in Central America.


Prior to my departure I made the mistake of clicking on a website documenting reported crimes against foreigners in Antigua and besides completely freaking out my husband Russell, it put me on heightened alert while there.  Luckily I never felt any fear of crime while there, leading me to the conclusion that a little vigilance is all you need to stay safe in Antigua.

I settled into my homestay with Ana, Luis, and their family 100_0520

above their pastry shop—La Casa de Los Pasteles.  Whereas the view of the front left a lot to be desired,100_0389

the view from the catwalk outside my bedroom door made up for it.  100_0319

This family, like most in Antigua, made extra money by renting out bedrooms to foreign students so while I was there the whole family was staying in one bedroom while the other rooms were rented out to two American students, a Canadian volunteer worker, and a Korean student.  Meal times were very international.

On the first morning, imagine my shock (pun intended) when I opened the shower curtain to find this showerhead.  100_0522That’s ONE way to heat the water, I suppose, but the 6th grade science student in me knew that water and electric current were not a good combination.  That paired with the fact that my 5’10” frame made me the tallest person in the house made me more than a bit nervous about turning on the water.  During the majority of my stay I exercised caution by crouching down in the shower until the final week when in a moment of indiscretion, my hand went a bit high when rinsing my hair and I hit the showerhead.  The shock that went down to my elbow was an excellent lesson on the conductivity of water.

During my time in Antigua, we made weekend excursions to the Mayan ruins of Tikal and to Lake Atitlán.  On weekdays I would spend my mornings in my grad class and my afternoons working on my final project or going on local excursions.  On one of our free afternoons some classmates and I signed up for a class at the Antigua Cooking School.  Our instructor Melitza was awesome!  100_0344

She demonstrated how to make subaník, a Mayan stew, and escabeche, a vegetable dish, while we made tortillas, tamales, and a plantain cake filled with Guatemalan chocolate at our work stations.  The feast of all of our creations that ended the class was simply amazing.


Another afternoon we ventured to the neighboring village of San Andrés Itzapa to see the famous shrine of Maximón, also known as San Simón.  This controversial character of legend, not condoned by the Catholic Church, has become a locally-canonized figure that Mayans pray to for a variety of intentions.  The shrine is a room filled with tables of burning, colorful candles, walls filled with plaques thanking Maximón for answering prayers, and most importantly—a statue of Maximón on an altar of sorts with an offering area filled with his favorite things: booze, cigarettes and cigars, cash, and even Playboys.


I wondered if these things magically vanished every night……….another miracle of Maximón!  Or perhaps with some help from the patrons of the adjoining cantina.

Several shops near the shrine sold goods like small bottles of alcohol that looked like Scope, incense, and candles of many different colors—the colors depending on the intention of the prayers.  There were even black candles for black magic and intentions toward one’s enemies.  Of course I had to get one of these along with the other ten candles I bought and lit in the shrine.  Gracias, Maximón.  My plaque is on its way.

On our last night in Antigua, we enjoyed a fantastic farewell dinner at the restaurant of the beautiful Casa Santo Domingo hotel www.casasantodomingo.com .  I had the chef’s incredible tasting menu that included a tray of desserts delivered by the chef. 100_0578This is the place to stay and dine  if you visit Antigua.

Later that night  I was awakened by an earthquake tremor around 2 a.m.  At first I thought one of the many “chicken busses”100_0361

that normally passed by had hit our house, but found out from Luis in the morning that it was just one of the regular tremors that shakes the place up.  I guess that is to be expected in a city surrounded by three volcanoes.  As they say, “Location, location, location”.    Antigua is a must-see for anyone with an interest in Mayan culture, colonial architecture, or super-cheap language schools.  And then there’s the views……….