La Volcan Arenal looms over the tiny city of La Fortuna in central Costa Rica like a sleeping giant and was where I called home this weekend.
After taking a five hour bus ride from Heredia, three friends and I bargained our way into staying in a hotel for 8 dollars and a free haircut. After a solid night of partying, we spent Friday climbing the steep, humid jungle near the base of the volcano. There were frogs investigating the leaf litter for insects, toucans probing the trees for fruit and spiders the size of my hand waiting patiently for dinner to come to them.
The hike took us through nine microclimates from rigid pine trees to vascular Eucalyptus trees, everything was covered in moss. After descending the rigid back of the Arenal, we scaled a smaller volcano, at the top of which was a massive crater lake. The lake, named Cerro Chato, was full of decaying material and as I stepped into it I sunk into the silt up to my waist. The water was a turquoise color and the walls of the crater were consumed by forest. Upon our decent, we were greeted by an uninterrupted view of Costa Rica more than 60 kilometers to the ocean.
Arenal is one of the top ten most active volcanoes in the world and the city has felt its wrath before.
After being dormant for more than 400 years, Arenal suddenly erupted in 1968 violently killing 87 people and burying the villages of Tabacon, Pueblo Nuevo and San Luis in tons of rocks, lava, and ash.
In the wake of the disaster, Arenal Lake was created to reduce the impact of another explosion. In the dry season, the lake sometimes dries up and the villages can be seen covered in volcanic rock.
On Saturday I climbed Arenal to the top of the tree line and entered an obscure world. The air smelled of sulfur; all plant life lay petrified in the recent lava flows. Walking was hazardous as the rocks easily slipped out from beneath me. Smoke bellowed out of the top, developing ash clouds.
Since the explosion in 1968, lava flows and mini-explosions could be witnessed almost every night, but ten months ago they stopped, and locals are worried it may be building up for another burst.
More photos can be found at ryancorrigan.shutterfly.com