Nature's love fest

Nature's love fest

Embraced and enchanted by fresh greenery, Gustasp and Jeroo Irani trail Costa Rica to take in the whims and splendour of nature and its hosts...

Would she or wouldn’t she? Would the Poas volcano throw a temper tantrum, emit a series of mini explosions and spew volcanic ash in a dark cloud of menace? Couples and families, leaning over the fence next to us, cuddled closer to each other for comfort and warmth.
 We were in the Poas Volcano National Park, the most popular destination in the Central American country of Costa Rica. And the volcanic mountain which rises up to 8,885 ft was having a bad hair day. The crater, 1.6-km wide, did not erupt but lay quiet and simmering under a thick cap of smoke and cloud. Even if it had erupted, it would have been more like a burp or a gentle heave... 

We lingered in the hope that the clouds would part and we would get a glimpse of the 290-ft deep crater which hisses and spits lava like a geyser when it decides to throw a fit! Costa Rica is within the Pacific Ring of Fire, an arc around the Pacific where three-quarters of the earth’s dormant and active volcanoes are located, and it was thrilling to stand virtually on the edge of a moody spit-fire!

Animal family

The tiny nation, edged by the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Caribbean on the other, is sandwiched between Panama and Nicaragua; lush iridescent green, more like an over-sized eco park than a modern 21st century country. Not surprising, its dense untouched rainforests is the refuge of unique species of wildlife, many wacky and beautiful. Like the magnificent harpy eagle, for instance, which can lift in its claws prey (like sloth, its favourite food), weighing as much as 22 kg.

We came across a family of raccoons, bandit mongoose-like rodents that resembled frowning old men, and heard the call of howler monkeys, louder than any machine or man-made sound. Deep in the rainforests around the volcano leap rare, red-eyed leaf frogs and exotic birds like the long-tailed scarlet macaw with its slashes of red, yellow and blue, and a variety of hummingbirds, the tiniest birds on the planet... Costa Rica could well be the original Garden of Eden. Indeed Costa Rica translates to ‘Rich Coast’ in Spanish!

Well-preserved nature

This aura of wildness is carefully nurtured in the country, especially in Poas Volcano National Park (one of the largest of the four active volcanoes in the country) which lies in the Central Valley, near the Pacific coast. Costa Rica is a love fest, a love fest with nature; for since the 1970s and 1980s, this tiny democratic nation has been setting aside sweeping parcels of land for protected nature reserves and waving the flag of eco tourism even before the term became a buzzword.

Located on a continent that has often faced political turmoil, with nations ruled by iron-fist military dictatorships, Costa Rica disbanded its army, way back in 1948, and diverted funds into health care, education and conservation. It is a flourishing democracy where the President lives in his own home, not a Presidential Palace, prefers not to have massive security convoys on his tail and runs the country with the sole aim of creating a green oasis of peace and plenty.

Green is the colour that comes to mind when we think of Costa Rica and it enveloped us everywhere we went. We had trudged up a cloud forest (a high-altitude tropical forest embedded in the mountains which has a perpetual cloud cover) to reach the first crater.We took a detour to the second crater, a dormant one, and the 20-minute walk through another cloud forest was a reward in itself. The forest’s dense, impenetrable depths reverberated with the trill of hidden birds; twisted vines hung from trees like the tangled tresses of an evil witch; green moss coated tree trunks like a second skin and bare broken branches rose like ghostly arms in the mist. Ferns crowded the forest floor as did large, broad leaves called the poor man’s umbrella! A minuscule hummingbird alighted on a branch and seemed to pose for our cameras. We could well believe the local legend that this scintillating creature is the sun in disguise, created to seduce the moon! 

Path to volcano

Fresh mountain breezes cooled our cheeks and the fragrance of wet earth wafted up to our nostrils as we hunkered upwards, propelled by a collective surge of energy and invigorated by nature so pristine, it almost had an out-of-cellophane look. Thoughts of Jurassic Park and dinosaurs clumping across the terrain sprang uncomfortably to mind... parts of the first Jurassic Park film were shot in this country.

We arrived at the dormant crater with a diameter of 370 metres, which is filled with blue-green water and dubbed Botos Lake. This crater is well-behaved and hasn’t erupted for 7,500 years! The mist lifted teasingly for a second and the veil was back in place like a coy bride’s! We ran back to the entrance of the park as long-beaked toucans, flashy neon-lit quetzals, flycatchers and hummingbirds flitted overhead as though we were striding through an aviary. Two and three-toed sloths snoozed in the trees and a curious looking armadillo trundled across as though it had an appointment at the end of the earth.

We left behind the Poas Volcano National Park, and arrowed through a country at peace with itself and the world... past wooded hills, lush pastures with indolent Jersey cows, fragrant coffee estates and flower farms bursting with mauve hydrangeas, red ginger, queen of the night and others that perfumed the air. We were in the fertile Central Highlands where we stumbled on another slice of paradise — the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, a fecund rainforest-cum-cloud-forest-cum-nature park as well as a refuge for rescued wildlife. The finale, at the end of the 3 km paved trails, was the La Paz Waterfall, curtains of water that thunder and roar and then gurgle along the forest floor in the form of a mighty river.

In this enchanted domain, there was a butterfly observatory, hummingbird garden, frog pond, orchid terrace and animal rescue centre, where we saw our first handsome jaguar and the fugitive howler monkey. As we walked around the paved trails, the La Paz Waterfall Gardens became for us a microcosm of Costa Rica — a romantic eco heaven as God intended the good earth to be! The waterfalls were foamy cataracts that seemed to shake the ground on which we walked. 

Later, as we drove back to San Jose, the rather ramshackle capital of this robust green country, we saw signs with the words Pura Vida everywhere. The two words mean ‘pure life’ and the phrase is used by the Ticos (as the locals are called) for virtually everything from hello to goodbye!

For us, the two words captured the essence of Costa Rica — an unadulterated paradise where you can bliss out on a beach one morning, gaze at an active volcano the next, burrow into a rainforest or climb up to a cloud forest, go trekking, hiking, river rafting, zip lining, horse-back riding... knowing that Mother Nature rules the roost in this, her unblemished domain.

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