Thursday, February 13, 2020

Irazú Volcano and Stupid Americans

Today’s primary destination was the Irazú volcano, about an hour and a half outside of San Jose. We started the morning off in heavy rushhour traffic, which made the extra liability insurance required by our rental car company make a lot more sense. Many of the locals seem to give roughly zero cares, and motorcycles continually weave in and out of the smallest gaps, overtaking out of nowhere on either side of the road.

We’ve had one or two incidents that have made my toes curl just a little bit and prompted Tanner to say, “Oh, boy.” We passed some dude on a bike who almost drifted into the side of the van. Joe looked in the rear view mirror, and, apparently, the guy was completely unfazed. At one point this morning, we squeezed the van between a dump truck and a bus to make a right turn, with the van’s passenger side mirror squeezing in just under the bus’s mirror. We’ve also begun to learn the art of cutting in at exit ramps, just like the locals.

Once we left the city, today’s drive through the countryside was actually quite enjoyable. Our poor van struggled to make it up some of the hills, as we ascended some 8,000 feet of elevation (passing a few cyclist along the way), but we enjoyed seeing the farms scattered about, the clouds below us, and cows being put to work as lawnmowers in the right of way on the side of the road.

We arrived at the volcano, paid our entrance fee, and received the admonition not to cross the barrier fences. I relayed this to the car while Tanner protested, “No hablo español!” I replied, “That was in English.”

The primary crater
In the parking lot, we met our first coati (a Costa Rican trash panda). Katy was enamored and wanted to know if it could come back in the van with us. After I convinced her she was unlikely to make it back through customs with it, we hit the trail towards the crater overlook. While we were looking at the beautiful lake at the bottom of the crater, a couple of stupid Americans jumped the fence to get a closer look (the guilty will remain nameless for their own protection).

Crossing the ash field
Next we made our way to the ridge overlook. Irazú is the highest volcano in Costa Rica and, at a little over 11,000 feet, is also one of the highest points in the country. It is amazing to be looking down on the cloud layer. There was a bumpy dirt road leading to this overlook, and, at one point, the van almost ground to a halt. Steven and I literally jumped out to push, and we barely made it to the top. Steven and I also quickly discovered how easy it is to get winded at that elevation.

Above the clouds!
In the afternoon, we visited the City Mall in San Jose. We had been there less than fifteen minutes before I managed to get kicked out of a bookstore. They let Steven stay, but, for some reason, I and my M&M McFlurry were not welcome. The nice manager I “spoke” to said something about “No comer aquí!” Don’t come here again?

Seriously, though, I am beginning to see how helpful full immersion is for learning a language. I have all of two semesters of college Spanish rattling around in the back of my brain, yet I’m beginning to pick up on and grasp a few things here and there.

Haley, Kasey, and I found an escape room in the mall, and Kasey was super pumped about the possibility of trying the Harry Potter themed room. After receiving a “no” in response to “Habla Inglas?” I decided to give it a shot.  “Es mucho colones?” She pointed to a card with the (fairly inexpensive) pricing. “Individual y total?” “Total,” she responded. “Es posibles six personas?” Haley helpfully chipped in, “Seis personas.” She confirmed it was, then came the kicker, “En español y en inglas?” They were of course, all in Spanish, except for one, which was a mix, but only allowed four people. We decided to pass (not yet up for the challenge mode of tackling an escape room in a foreign language), but I was quite proud of my broken Spanish.

We have learned that, “Habla Inglas?” often puts us into contact with someone who knows enough English to bridge the communication gap, even if it’s not the person to whom the question is originally addressed. We have taken to calling each of these people Ricardo (in the spirit of our first helpful friend and Mark Twain’s “Ferguson”). For example, this morning we called a zip line company, and, after asking if anyone spoke English, we heard a shout in the background, and soon a nice lady was helping us in our native language (when we asked for a discount, she countered by asking if we were nice, and Tanner responded, “No.”). The other strategy is to just to produce incomprehensible or nonsensical Spanish and wait for them to fetch someone who might understand. This happened today when Tanner leaned into a Burger King drive through and asked for chicken. Ultimately, “If you can find a Ricardo, you’re in business.”

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