On a clear day, you can see Volcán Barva from our back door, off in the distance. See? Right there in the middle of this photo is the tip of the volcano.
Our landlord, Roz, and everyone at Amistad Institute where we take Spanish language lessons say it is gorgeous. Tons of butterflies, quetzals, unspoiled by human hands, worth the trip, don’t miss it.
The trip, according to the tico friends who gave me directions, is a little rigorous but only a couple of hours away. You get there mostly by car. (No mention of 4WD, although we have 4WD in our cute little Rav4.) Then you have a spectacular 2-hour hike from the park entrance to the rim of the volcano. We can handle that. We like spectacular.
The ticos are completely lovely and warm. I am mad for them. If they have a failing, it is that they hate confrontation so much, they will actually tell you tiny little lies in order to avoid giving you any bad news.
So, it should not have surprised me to discover that a couple of critical details, details that might have been discouraging, were skipped in the "How to Get to Volcán Barva" explanations.
Last Sunday was such a beautiful day, we felt the urge for a little outdoorsy adventure. Good day to try that volcano at our back door. It would not be crowded. Costa Rica’s tourist season has been off this year, the high season is over and, besides, I’d heard that VB doesn’t get the tourist attention other volcanoes do. Now I know why.
If you are driving in Costa Rica, you are either going up or down a mountainside. The drive to VB is up. I’m talking 45 degrees. We were in first gear all the way.
It is breathtaking up there: literally and scenery-wise. Oh my, you can see for miles and miles and miles. The other mountains, clouds drifting in and out, other volcanoes, gigantic coffee farms, ranches and the sprawling city of San Jose in the valley far far below. We’d stop every few minutes just to stare.
After about 40 minutes, we arrive at a fork. No sign to VB. There are never signs – we are used to this by now. We have a compass in the car (do not come to Costa Rica without a compass) so we know which direction we are headed and how to get home if it comes to that.
At the fork are two smiling Costa Rican women selling something that looks like cheese. (We have only seen two other cars and one local bus. Who are they selling this cheese TO, we wonder? But no time for that. We are on a mission.) "Dónde está Volcán Barva?" we ask. They point east and we head off. Up.
Fifteen minutes later, the pavement ends. We are used to this, too. I can’t tell you how many times we have headed down a road only to have it turn into a dusty trail. You SWEAR it won’t go anywhere, but you stick it out, and suddenly you are back in civilization. Not at a Bob’s Barricade with the rusting pile of abandoned vehicles just beyond it you expect to see.
We wish we had a gear lower than first as we continue up the dirt road. Which gets rougher still. The dirt has washed away in places leaving huge boulders jutting thru. Funny, nobody mentioned this.
We have been on some amazing roads, but this is taking the cake. Unbelievably, there are driveways leading off this road to fabulous American-style mansions. We still do a lot of driving around Costa Rica with our mouths hanging open.
Fifteen minutes into this terrain, I see a hand-made sign that says something in Spanish to the effect of "park here, we’ll watch your car for 1000 colones ($2)". The arrow points up a narrow dirt path, up the side of a cliff, where at the top are about 4 parked cars. The import of this does not grab us until we come upon a string of automobiles parked along both sides of the road. These visitors have gotten out
of their cars and continued on foot because, just ahead, the road deteriorates to a rocky river bed. Only an ATV or a horse could go any further.
Come to think of it, two ATVs had whizzed past us as we were stopped at one of the impromptu overlooks. So this is where they were coming from!
What to do? We have absolutely no idea how far to the park entrance. We know it’s a 2-hour hike from there to the rim. I see a woman resting on top of a cement wall near her car. She has opted to wait behind while the rest of her family makes the trip.
I am not so adventurous I can head off on a hike of unknown duration. I wanna know how far. Besides, I’ve already had scads of excitement for one day, we have an hour’s drive back home… Mommy’s idea is to turn around, stop at that soda we saw for
a cup of coffee and pan casero. Let’s find out how long the hike is from where we leave the car, then do the whole thing another day. My idea wins with no opposition. We head down.
The next day, Roz tells me it’s a THREE-HOUR walk up that river-bed road to the park. Then the two hours up the side of the volcano. "But it’s beautiful," she says. "You should do it." Right. HA! In 15 more pounds, maybe I’ll think about it. I hope that woman resting on the cement wall had some bread and water and a good book. And a blanket. And a flashlight.
I am told there’s another way to VB. You drive around the base to another park entrance,
then walk up to the rim on a pansy trail built for cruise ship tourists. I’m goin’ in that way next week. All those quetzals so close and yet so far. I hope that road exists. Otherwise, we’re lookin’ at a 10 hour hike.
The boys wanna know who’s "we". Aren’t they funny?
Pertinent Links: Volcán Barva* • Amistad Institute • Quetzals
*This links to the Fodor’s page on VB, the only info I could find online. Fodor’s says you need a 4WD vehicle, that you can drive all the way to the park entrance, then hike to the rim. I’m here to tell you a regular 4WD ain’t gonna get it. You need a tank or a horse. And no mention of the 3 hour walk from where a regular 4WD vehicle has to park…