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Rincón de la Vieja

On the weekend of 24th-25th March 2007, I had the opportunity to visit a national park in the north fo Costa Rica called 'Rincón de la Vieja' (meaning, 'Corner of the old lady'), a name taken from local legend. I went with fellow Latin Link Strider Sarah Baker.

See my photos on and videos at the end of this blog.

Rincón de la Vieja is volcano from which the park takes its name. We visited just a small, but very diverse section of the park, straddling between rain forest and dry forest, with many volcanic features and diverse wildlife.

Volcanic activity

We didn't get the opportunity to visit the volcano summit (clouds cover over the crater very early in the day, so you have to be up really early to make the trip worthwhile). However, on the second day we followed a 3 kilometer trail called Las Pailas which took us through the foothills of the volcano revealing for me a suprising number volcanic features and wildlife for such a short walk.

El Volcancito

The main volcanic attraction was 'El Volcancito' ('The Little Volcano') which sits on the edge of the forest. As we followed the trail, I couldn't believe that we were going to approach a volcano, as we were in thick relatively low-ground forest. However, as we got near walking through the forest vegetation, a strong rotten egg smell began to fill the air, caused by escaping hydrogen sulfide gases. This was often sickening if you caught a gasp as the wind blew in your direction.

The forest opening to the volcano was quite dramatic, as lush forest land gave way almost suddently to a dead-wood area surrounding the vocano mouth, with only more durable vegetation (such as hard-leafed plants) in bloom. We approached the mouth of the volcano, and indeed it could be described a as a mini volcano, with it's orange crater mouth surrounded by iron-rich rocks. Inside the volcano was, from as far as I could tell, boiling mud-water letting off the nauscious foul-smelling gas. The surround temperature was also very hot. The moment was quite atmospheric and eerie, with photos on Flickr and the moment of approach captured on the video 'El Volcancito' below.

Plopping mud and the volcanic lagoon

Crossing from the rain forest to the dry forest was equally dramatic. As we walked through high rise trees, we came to an opening marked by a small stream. We crossed stepping stones, and rose up a dry reddy-orange steam-emitting bank to be greeted by flat-lands of dead trees and a grassy plain.

Walking along the trail here, we came across cordened-off pools of plopping mud. The mud was fascinating to watch, as though it were porridge simmering away. Further in another direction lay a volcanic lagoon, a large greenish pool of acidic, metalic sulpher-smelling water too dangerous to go near. The surrounding rocks were all reddy-orange in colour, due to the oxidised iron. In addition to the photos on Flickr, videos of both these features can be seen below.

Diverse wildlife

Ian Darke, a resident member of the Latin Link team here in Costa Rica once quipped that it's good to develop an interest in moss and small vegetation when out on nature trails, as the chances of spotting wildlife are often disappointly slim. However, I think we were quite fortunate. Although we didn't get to see any wild cats which live in the area, we did get to see and hear monkeys, lizards, a pozote (a furry ground animal) and some colourful birds.

In addition to photos on Flickr, videos of white-faced capuchin monkeys, and the call of howler monkeys can be found below.


You will need QuickTime installed to view the videos.

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Costa Rica

On 1st February 2007 I flew off to Costa Rica to begin a 3 month project to redesign the website for Unela - Universidad Evangelica de Las Americas (Evangelical University of The Americas), based in the country's capital, San José.

See my photos on and videos at the end of this blog.

This is the first trip I've made outside Mexico since the last Latin Link Central America Conference which was held in Guatemala in May of last year. In between then, I've been burying my head in my work to launch the website for Milamex in December last year.

Costa Rica was going to be my last stop on my original 18-month work plan before heading back to the UK. However, I have now extended my stay in Mexico until the Autumn this year, to complete the full 2 year term allowed on the Latin Link Strider program, and will be returning there on 22nd April.

Exploring (a very small country)

Unfortunately, I've not had that much time to explore Costa Rica as I've come here to work under a rather tight time-schedule. However, I was able to take a weekend break towards the end of March to visit a volcano and its surrounding countryside, of which I have written a separate blog with its own photos and video.

The one thing I've really noticed about Costa Rica though is how quiet the capital city San José is in comparison to Mexico City. Perhaps that would be stating the obvious, but I was suprised to learn just how small Costa Rica is, with a total population of only 5 million, with at least one-fifth of those being immigrants (compare that to Mexico's 100 million, with an estimated 15 million+ living in the capital).

I can actually walk from my house on the outskirts to the centre of San José in about one hour, so it really is a very small place by comparison. The other thing to notice, is that although Costa Rica suffers similar economic problems, there is a distinct lack of street sellers, people waiting to flag you (unncecessarily) into a car-parking space just to make a tip, or performers at every traffic light. You don't even need to give the person packing your shopping at the supermarket a tip, all of which I've come to expect as the norm in Mexico. Overall, Costa Rica is a much easier-going place to live.

The Culture - did I return to Britain?

Having come from a 14-month stay in Mexico directly to Costa Rica, a few things really struck me as being different about Costa Rican culture.

This perception may not please Costa Ricans (feel free to challenge me), but in my experience, as much as the people are very amiable, the culture is a largely 'cold' culture, as Mexicans would describe the British. There is a social reserve, and where a hug between men and a kiss on the cheek to women would be common in Mexico when greeting someone familiar, a hand-shake or a nod of the head will suffice in Costa Rica.

Also, the form of Spanish spoken here is more formal, with the formal word for 'you' ('Usted') being used far more often than its informal counterpart ('tú') in informal contexts such as between young people.

One thing I am a bit more comfortable with though is that Costa Ricans don't seem as roudy as Mexicans. Perhaps I'm getting old, but Mexicas wouldn't think much to playing thumping music any hour of the day (and in Mexico if the neighbours call the police to complain, the police often either do nothing or just end up going to the party themselves!). However, in Costa Rica, things seem to calm down more at a reasonable hour. This may be related to the climate here where people are early risers in order to take advantage of the dry mornings, as in the wet season (which lasts for about 8-9 months) long periods of rain will affect afternoons and evenings.

The last thing I have also appreciated about San José is that, being smaller, it's also greener, with more greenery around. Sadly, Mexico City is a very dirty, built-up, concrete city, and the vast majority of public parks are (I can only describe as) 'squarish', with squarely trimmed hedge-rows, concrete pots larger than the plants inside and dusty pathways laid out in a grid. It was very refreshing to come to Costa Rica to find the average public park with large grassy areas, hilly bits and curves.

Final impressions

I've enjoyed my stay in Costa Rica overall whilst working. It has been a bit difficult to feel integrated here, as I know I am only here for a short time, so I've not built any deep friendships or have got involved with the Church much.

It has been interesting to experience different cultures within the wider latin culture, but I feel after being in Mexico for the past year and a bit, I'm beginning to feel a bit homesick missing Mexico! Where's 15 million people all around you when you need them?


The Latin Link Conference 14-15 February 2007

These were taken during my free-time, as I explored the valley in which we were located.

Bridget Bennett's birthday party

Bridget, who is one of my team leaders here, celebrated her birthday on 17th February. A live music group played a few great accoustic songs to accompany the night, a couple of which I've grabbed below. During Sundays, the group also lead the worship at the Church.

Don't forget to visit the photo's on, that tell more of the story.

1 Comment(s):

Blogger Martin said...

Picking a very good day (well, I may be biased, it being my birthday) to go back to Mexico. Sunday, April 08, 2007 12:24:00 PM  

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