La Paz – not in Bolivia

This is part one of the story of our excursion to the ‘La Paz Waterfall Gardens’

Almost three months ago we purchased two tickets for the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, one of the many beautiful nature attractions in Costa Rica. These were half-price tickets, I bought through Yuplón, a local online organisation for reduced price offers, similar to ‘groupon’ in the US. It’s really quit pathetic that we postponed this trip for such a long time. First we kept forgetting to buy ink for the printer, needed to print out the tickets. Then we both developed some nasty back problems, which didn’t much promote joyous anticipation of hiking up and down some canyon with a waterfall. Meanwhile the weeks quietly dripped through our fingers. But our tickets were due to expired on November 03, so we really had to get our sorry asses in gear and drive to the park, no matter what.

Since it’s still the tail end of the rainy season, one has to be prepared for the possibility of all sorts of roads issues, many of which involve mudslides, the number one of our happy seasonal events, shortly followed by bridge collapses and potholes the size of volcanic craters. The main rule you want to observe through our wet and slippery winter time is very simple: never be IN a mudslide. Rather come upon a road closure due to such an event, in which case you just turn around and try again a couple of weeks later. Thanks to a lot of good advice from friends on Facebook, we felt well prepared and set off at 8 h on a fair and sunny morning. Of course, during the wet season, sunny skies in Atenas don’t mean much, if your destination is almost 60 Km away, deep in the Cordillera Centro, where you have a different elevation, biotope, climate and weather altogether. That’s were ‘pura vida’ comes in. In this case meaning ‘go with the flow’.

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We soon reached Alajuela, a town to our East in the central valley, where we stopped briefly at a pulpería (neighborhood grocery store) in barrio San José to buy water, before heading North into the Cordillera Volcánica Central, a chain of volcanos of the northern, mountainous spine of Costa Rica, also known as the above mentioned Cordillera Centro, which in turn is part of CAVA, the Central America Volcanic Arc. We live in such an exciting part of the world, don’t you think?

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I loved both the retaining wall with its strategic openings for plants and the cheerful laundry, matching our car registration stickers on the windshield.

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Dracaena plants are widely used as fences around fields & pastures, or as property boundaries, as you can see above.

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We were on our way into the central mountain range, which forms a section of the continental divide and including our four nearest, more or less active, main volcanoes. We were aiming for one of them, Volcán Poás, driving along small coffee plantations and family compounds, with an occasional glimpse across the central valley toward the Cordillera de Talamanca (the blueish range under the clouds). Climbing steadily upward from the base altitude in the central valley of around 700 m or 2300 ft. In geological terms, this valley should be addressed as a plateau, as it was created through a tectonic depression between the Cordillera de Talamanca to the South and the Cordillera Centro to the North, the direction into which we were heading.

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Passing through many villages we were driving toward an invisible landmark. We forged ahead, while Poás was shrouded in clouds and remained hidden throughout our journey.

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With rising altitude, the coffee plantations, protected by dense living fences, became more extensive, covering whole mountain sides.

LaPaz.Anreise.12-8340We saw several closed beneficios, coffee roasting plants, now reduced to small clusters of derelict houses, while a larger town nearby proudly presented a more substantial beneficio, run as a cooperative for the entire region.

Gradually the landscape changed, as sugar cane replaced coffee as the main crop, thereby changing the appearance of the landscape from dense, dark green to light green with sweeping views.

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Sports activities are quite popular in the valley and beyond, especially riding bicycles. An activity for which you have to be pretty committed in these mountains. Each year in November the world’s toughest mountain bike race is held in Costa Rica, La Ruta de los Conquistadores. It’s so grueling, you become a winner by just participating, at least in my book.

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These two might be practicing, since the 22nd edition of La Ruta will be launched in just a few days.

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At this altitude most agricultural activity ceases to be economically viable. We are now entering a more and more alpine yet tropical environment, where dense forests alternate with undulating, richly green & lush grassy pastures. For millennia this entire area was cover with cloud forest, but human need took much of the primary growth. Cloud forest biotopes are not conducive to growing grasses, so hardy African grasses were introduced to the area during the 19th century in order to develop dairy-farming. This new industry really took off, when a resourceful and entrepreneurial minded farmer introduced robust Holstein cattle from Wisconsin, USA, to the Cordillera Centro. American cows grazing African grasses in Central America. Global dairy-farming at its best! I just hope the cows didn’t suffer from vertigo, being Frisian coastal dwellers and all originally …

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We approached Poás from the South, turning first East, then Northeast to round the volcano in a sweeping curve toward its Eastern slope. Along the way we experienced constant elevation changes with peaks of around 1800 m or nearly 6000 ft, before descending again to about 1600 m or 5200 ft for our visit of the waterfall garden.

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In this inadvertent partial selfie you can see, what I mean by alpine tropics. It looks alpine, but it’s a tropical cloud forest environment through and through. I’m only wearing a tank top despite the altitude and an open window. Granted, my husband kept his window closed, but not everyone is as hardy as La Photolera.

To be continued:

Watch out for the next installment, our visit at the La Paz Waterfall Gardens!

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