“The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.” –Oscar Wilde
The Costa Rica News (TCRN) – I rubbed my eyes, clearing away the blurriness that comes with a five o’clock wake up call. My boyfriend, Silvio, and I had made plans for a trip to Poas Volcano National Park, a three hour, three bus journey. My internet research had recommended that we arrive at seven a.m., but finances prohibited the use of a hired car. By the time we had dressed, eaten breakfast, packed a sack lunch, waited for and rode our buses, it was eleven a.m. Given our limited transport options, we had three hours of hiking and volcano gazing before the last ride heading to San Jose left the park.
Walking into the reserve, we discovered that there were three different trails, and chose the one where the cloud forest touched the ground. I put on my light sweatshirt and walked ahead of Silvio into the fog until the photos in his camera confirmed my disappearance. The trail was dusky, with twisted tree branches reaching out to grab my arm, or serpent trunks coiled around themselves, watching strangers, waiting to strike. Each of my steps parted the film of clouds. The path obscured curves in the trail until I was upon them. As I continued my walk through Sleepy Hollow, the rain began to fall. Mostly, we were sheltered by a canopy of trees, leaves expanded over us, finger-like twigs intertwined in a covenant to protect. Still, moisture collected on the lenses of my glasses, and I regularly wiped them with my sweatshirt, clearing my vision.
We reached a large opening filled with fellow day-trippers. Everyone was looking out into the abyss. A wall of white. The clouds were as opaque and thick as the frosting on a supermarket birthday cake, the volcano completely shrouded. I threw my arms over the protective railing, defeated. This was why an early arrival was advised. Cloud cover frequently provides the volcano with respite from tourist’s prying eyes.
Half an hour of desperate staring proved fruitless, and we walked back through the ominous forest. Warming up with a cup of coffee at the park café, we waited for our ride home. As I took my last sip, an Australian gentleman walked in smiling, and casually said to us, “Ah, perfect visibility.” Slipping on mud, wrangling scraggly trees, braving uncertain turns, waving away the fog on trail, and wiping away water droplets that fell from protective leaves onto my glasses, we once again came upon the clearing. The panorama spread out before us was otherworldly.
There was an outer circle of rock, creviced and caverned, the colors orange, brown, grey, black. The circle curved down into a valley, at the center of which was a cauldron. Sulphuric gas swelled north, like the world’s biggest chimney. The entire scene was surreal, wisps of cloud lingering in spots, giving it the look of a clay sculpture. Something tangible, but not a living entity. Its only signal, its smoke.
Silvio took photographs, and I stood entranced. He pulled me out of hypnosis for a few obligatory selfies. We leaned against the railing, heads together, smiling, a camera in the hand of his outstretched arm, a smoking volcano in the background. Click. Click. Click. Click. As we eagerly reviewed the photos, each frame in the series revealed that clouds had curled in behind us. The shots in Silvio’s camera finally confirmed the volcano’s disappearance. We turned to face the cloud wall, like children being punished.
A glimpse of the glorious is what we were granted that day. Well, also, hikes on dark, eerie trails; appearing, disappearing, and experiencing a haven of canopied trees during a storm. Squirrels, butterflies, birds, lizards, and the crinkling of leaves by those preferring to remain invisible.
By Elizabeth Dickinson
Photo by Silvio Jose Aragon
The Costa Rica News (TCRN)
San Jose, Costa Rica