Rincon de la Vieja

By: Megan LaManna & Meg Pulling

RINCON DE LA VIEJA, Costa Rica— Nestled in the Guanacaste mountain range, Rincon de la Vieja National Park boasts the region’s most active volcanic peaks.

The sprawling park presented us with a bevy of new experiences and wondrous sights.

Among the first intriguing attractions was an “ambitious” strangler fig.

As one of the nearly 1,000 Ficus species, the strangler fig lives up to its name. The fig cozies up to a host tree and uses it as a support. Over time, the growing Ficus strangles its host, ultimately killing it.

After observing a few more murderous figs, we made our way to the park’s Colorado River. We soon learned this quiet river was unlike most we encounter at home.

Due to its location on the side of a volcano, the river has unusually high pH levels ranging between four and five. These levels are comparative with that of a lemon at about four as well.

After snapping a few photos, our group continued to make its way through the pristine tropical forest.

As we trekked along the dirt path, a waft of rotten eggs soon filled the air.

Minutes later, we arrived at the next entrancing attraction of the park- fumaroles. At this point, there was no escaping the rotten odor. As the wind blew, hot steam from the fumaroles fogged our vision. We soon learned the steam emits a sour scent due to the sulfuric acid buried in the earth’s crust. The smelly steam can reach a sweltering 223 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once we had our fill of rotten eggs, we headed off to the next stop in this biological paradise. Unbeknownst to our group, we were about to come face-to-face with a little “monkey business.”

A group of capuchin monkeys dangled in the branches above our heads as they fed on the insects hidden beneath the tree bark.

Capuchins are omnivores. Unlike other primate species in the area, particularly howler and spider monkeys, these white-faced primates eat plants and meat. They are known to feed on bugs, small birds and even juvenile howler monkeys.

Our group excitedly snapped pictures and observed the swinging capuchins for several minutes. However, the alpha male soon gave us our cue to leave, snapping off branches and showing us his fear grimace.

After such a unique encounter, our group was buzzing about the striking mystique of the tropical forest.

Before long, we arrived at one of the last attractions hidden within the dense greenery, the bubbling “volcanitos.”

For many of us, this was our first encounter with an active volcano.

We crowded along the protective fence to catch a glance of the gurgling pits. We could hear the slow burst of the mud bubbles as they reached the surface and spattered into the air with a deep “glug.”

The mud pits or “pailas” look like bubbling pits of clay. Temperatures in these volcanitos can reach from about 190 to nearly 250 degrees Fahrenheit.

One of the most interesting sights at the volcanitos was a green film resting atop the boiling mud. This film is actually Euglena pailasensis, a living organism that requires extreme temperatures to survive.

Following our experience with the gurgling mud, it was time to hit the road. We piled back into our bus and began driving down the rocky access road.

Though the volcanic peaks faded into the distance, the magic of Rincon de la Vieja has yet to fade from our blissful memories.

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