volcano viewing

we came to the town of la fortuna for one reason and one reason only – volcan arenal. there aren’t many opportunities on this planet to visit an active volcano, so i figure you should take them when you get them. so we came.

i’ve been lucky enough to see a volcano before – mt. st. helens only a few short years after she blew her top. and since then i’ve had a fascination with volcanos – a strange attraction to their immense power and unpredictability. i dream of one day being able to see a magma flow up close, and i think the superhot red of liquid rock is one of the most beautiful colours to be found in nature.

but volcan arenal is notoriously fickle. although there are daily explosions and lava since 1968, being located in the middle of a cloud forest means that oftentimes the bulk of the giant is in hiding like a shy flower. from the day we’d arrived, she’d been cloaked in a veil of mist, so i was very worried that we’d miss out on seeing her in full glory.

yet just as we set out for our excursion, the clouds began to lift, and by the time we’d hiked up to the best vantage point, the whole beautiful mountain was on show. deep rumbles of gas explosions boomed down on us, and bursts of steam emanated from her top, reminding us of just how close we really were, a mere few kilometers downhill. we watched the sun set over lake arenal – a flooded valley graveyard of old villages displaced during her first big eruption. we spotted wildlife amongst the remnants of old rain forest – toucans and howler monkeys perched in the trees that escaped destruction. reminders of arenal’s latent power surrounded us as we stood atop rocks from a 1992 explosion. she may be a quiet giant, but she’s not sleeping – just laying in wait.

and as dusk began to fall, the real show began. driving to a strategic viewing spot, we watched in hypnotic awe as the darkness illuminated the spectacular lava flows. arenal’s lava spits out in massive sprays of hot rock, rather than molten magma, but it’s no less dramatic to see. rivers of red rock running riot down her steep slopes, great spills of bright superheated boulders crashing down in an avalanche of fireworks. an unbelievable display of earth’s capability for violence and catastrophe, yet beautiful to behold.

i could have watched it all night, but miss arenal had other ideas. just as we turned away to head back, the curtain of clouds came down like drapes over a stage. show over.

(it is nigh on impossible to get photos of the lava unless you are a professional [and lucky] shutterbug, so you’ll just have to imagine those. the rest of the photos are here.)

One Response to “volcano viewing”

  1. daddio
    October 10th, 2006 03:47

    you will have to go to santorini … though not so active (earthquake in ‘58 or was it 58 people killed)…when it really blew its top the whole mountain blew leaving a giant cauldron now filled with seawater … it is believed to have been 4 times the explosion of krakatoa! awsome to sail into and to see the city built along the cauldron crater edge!

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