Rincon de la Vieja is an active volcano in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, with a large number of fumaroles and hot springs on its slopes.Â The name means “old woman’s corner,” andÂ according to locals it was named for an old witch on top of the mountain who sent columns of smoke into the air when she was angry.Â Other versions of the story clam it was named after an old woman who used to cook for weary travelers and that the smoke came from her cooking fire.
Covering 400 square kilometers, it is massive geothermal system – and quite unlike the volcanic peaks more common in the rest of the world.Â It is more like a mountainous volcanic plateau that stretches on for miles.Â As part of an even larger national park – almost 25% of Costa Rica is parkland protected by the state – it encompasses rain forest, cloud forest, and an astonishing collection of flora and fauna.Â Hiking Rincon is rigorousÂ – and wet – yet the rewards are spectacular.
Here are a few highlights from today’s journey.
The first thing I saw at the start of my hike was this boa constrictor curled up in a tree about eight feet off the ground. Doubling back four hours later it was still there, soaking up some sun.
Bubbling fumaroles or vents dot the landscape, letting off steam, sulphur, and a thick white mud said to be good for the skin. Â Nearby in the trees sat an amazingly colorful rainbow-billed toucan.
The male green iguana turns a flaming orange color as the mating season begins.
Tiny orchids grow on the bark of a fallen tree. Â The park is home to over a hundred varieties of protected orchid, including the national flower of Costa Rica, the purple orchid.
The Javillo or Sandbox tree – which I cant seem to orient vertically – has a spiny bark to keep monkeys and other predators from stripping it in search of insects.
This salad plate-sized fungus is a striking brick-red color, flecked with white and yellow. Â I’m fascinated by the perfect geometry of its concentric rings, which reminded me of the rings of Saturn.
The Strangling Ficus – again, orientation issues – may be related to the common household plant, but the similarities end there. Â It is a parasite, which roots itself around a healthy tree, ultimately surrounding and killing it.