Costa Rica has long been known as a place where feeling a connection to the Earth and nature is an essential part of daily life. When the planet responds with its own primal forces, the impact here is as much spiritual as it is physical. The recent uptick in seismic events has refocused everyone’s attention on this symbiotic relationship and the importance of acknowledging that when the Earth speaks, we need to pay attention.
Since December 2014, there have been 15 earthquakes of magnitude 4.0 or larger that have made an impact in Costa Rica. These include a pair of shakers measuring 6.0 or greater (6.0 on December 6th and 6.6 on the 8th) right near the Costa Rica-Panama border at Punta de Burica. February and March have been particularly active with five quakes at 4.5 or above and the most recent, on March 11th, a 5.4 earth mover just west of Sardinal.
It seems that our world does provide clues when one of these geologic occurrences is about to happen. Red clouds at night often can portend a major seismic event; fireballs and strange lightening might be another warning sign. There are even stories of “earthquake clouds” (strange formations or weather) that are a kind meteorological early warning system. Unusual behavior from our furry, feathered, and finned companions may be a way of trying to focus us on a coming event.
Volcanoes, too, impact Costa Rican life. Their names and legends are a central part of what makes this land so unique; mysterious Poas, majestic Arenal, ancient Barva, little known Cacho Negro, Irazú and its neighbor, Turrialba, have been a special part of the allure of this Central American paradise.
The Turrialba Volcano is among Costa Rica’s largest and may have had five major eruptions in just 3,500 years; in volcanic terms, this is rather frequent. As befitting a powerful symbol of the forces of nature, the origin of the name “turrialba” is a legend in and of itself.
A young maiden, Cira, fell in love with a young warrior from a neighboring tribe; a match that was barred by tribal laws. When her father found her and her lover embracing in the forest, he ordered his warriors to kill the couple. Before the arrows could fly, however, the earth awakened and hid the young couple in a deep cavern. The spot where this happened was marked by smoke and steam-a fitting symbol for the merging of two tribes as well as the sacred male and female spirits. In the ancient Huetar language, the spot was called tower dawn; the arrival of the conquistadors resulted in a name change to Turis Alba (white tower), and, ultimately, becoming the Turrialba we know today.
Turrialba has been awake for some time. The last major eruption occurred in 1866 but, since 1996, signs of activity have been increasing. In 2010, a new eruption created a new opening near the main crater resulting in the evacuation of the villages of La Central and El Retiro. January of 2012 saw another new opening appear and on May 21, 2013, a gas explosion widened these two new fissures.
Earthquakes and volcanoes have always been connected and Turrialba is, certainly, no exception to this phenomena. Though small in size, these volcanic earth shaking event make up for that in their sheer number. In July 2013, the number of these “mini-quakes” went from twenty a day to thirty an hour; by October 2014, that rate had increased to around 200 events per day.
Since March 12th, Turrialba’s might has been on full display as clouds of ash flew into the air around the Central Valley, following three eruptions, marking the most dramatic volcanic activity since 1996. The Juan Santamaria International Airport has had to suspend service on both the 12th and the 13th as activity has continued.
These seismic events are reminders that we are occupants of this frail blue orb and that the laws and powers of nature will continue to dwarf those that man attempts to impose. Embrace the wonder of these events (while staying safe) and know that, by experiencing the essential beauty of nature, we are also immersing ourselves in the true concept of pure living-Pura Vida!!