All our luggage and camera gear is packed in the van by 8 a.m. and we are on our way to our first destination, soon to become a real life adventure. We are on a photography tour so everyone is talking cameras and pictures. This is the first day, we are getting to know one another, and the level of excitement in the van is high looking forward to the tour.
Our destination is Arenal, an active Costa Rica volcano, but along the way there are some very interesting sights to see and photograph. We stop in Sarchi where decorated, brightly colored ox carts, famous in Costa rica, are made in a water powered factory which is 80 years old. After Sarchi we go to nearby mountainous Zarcero where there is an old wooden church and its amazing double row of beautiful topiaries. With the colours and patterns in Sarchi and the remarkable shapes of the topiaries in Zarcero there is no problem filling the memory cards of our cameras at these stops.
The roads in Costa Rica are famous, not only for the magnificent land which they traverse but for their condition. Our driver, Luis, knows that we will encounter many potholes so he is cautious and as a result we are passed by most everything on two or four wheels. Many drivers here, from the ubiquitous taxistas to truck drivers, think they are Formula One drivers. Indeed, reportedly there is a bus driver whose passengers frequently find religion on his overland route.
After Sarchi and Zarcero we stop for lunch in La Fortuna and are now just a few miles from the lodge in Arenal. Upon leaving the main highway for the lodge we find ourselves traveling in, out, and around potholes. The rainy season ended about the beginning of December so many roads are still in very poor condition. Our road is unique because it was built out of crushed lava.
Rounding a curve we see a clearing beside a tropical river and there is the perfect cone shape of Arenal Volcano! Those who have never seen a volcano are stunned at the sight.
We see that the peak of the cone is shrouded in puffy little white clouds against a cerulean sky. The sight is picture perfect and we stop and everyone quickly descends from the van in the process of attaching cameras to tripods. Some of us wade into the tropical river to capture the incredible image from a different perspective and others are shooting from the riverbank.
Arenal is highly monitored and quite predictable so even being this close the volcano holds little risk of a sudden, catastrophic eruption, though small eruptions are very common. The base of the volcano is 1 km from the lodge and the cone is 2 km away, which gives the guests at this lodge many opportunities to experience the volcanic activity.
Getting settled in while we are unpacking mighty Arenal speaks! It roars as smoke and gas billow hundreds of feet into the sky and we hear the rocks tumbling down the slopes. The Mantled Howler monkeys are extremely vocal following the eruption, however, we do not know if this is in protest of the roar or if they are just responding to its call.
While enjoying our meal in the lodge dining room mighty Arenal speaks again! Although there are many photo opportunities in Costa Rica, who would have imagined that while eating dinner we would be gazing up at a volcano erupting in front of our eyes? And this on our very first day of the tour!
For the next two nights most of us get very little sleep as we find comfortable chairs in the common area outside our rooms, mount our cameras on tripods and attach a cable release. I had already decided to use an 80-200mm lens set at 80mm and an aperture of f8, the camera shutter set at “B” for time exposure.
The activity of the small flare-ups at the cone and the lava flowing down the opposite side makes me think that a time exposure of more than 20 minutes could produce an ugly yellow blob of light and if there are no eruptions after this time I will close the shutter and start another exposure. In using a cable release the exposures are perfectly sharp and Arenal cooperates by putting on quite a display while we are there.
Arenal volcano was the first adventure for my photography group in Costa Rica. Everyone is looking forward to the next eight days and the marvelous and exciting photo opportunities they will have. Pura Vida!