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Independent Travel: Poas Volcano

When traveling every weekend is taking its toll, a day trip sounds perfect: quick and simple and still a way to get out of the house. Usually, though, a short trip without a tour company still requires you to set aside a lot of time for planning.

The first step to the adventure is the invitation. On October 14th, a girl named Madison posted on the CEA Facebook group's page that she was interested in taking a trip to Poas Volcano and was searching for travel companions. Though our program only had about 25 other students, I still wasn't acquainted with the large group that had arrived at the beginning of October. But my initial hesitation quickly became excitement, because I realized what an opportunity this was: 1. To socialize 2. To travel independently (that is to say, without paying more money for a tour company), and 3. To see Volcán Poás (an obvious must see on any traveler's list).

While Madison and I had a finish line in mind, we weren't sure what path to take to arrive there. Because it was considered "unusual" to travel to Poás independently, information on how to get there was mixed and difficult to find. We compared info from a variety of sources--Maggie (one of our advisers at CEA San José), the Internet (where we found websites with users that had the same question as us), and other students at Veritas who had previously visited Poás--and made loose plans, hoping that we would recognize where to go and what to do next as we continued.

 The buses that traverse San José mostly all look like this
inside, and they all cost less than a dollar per ride!
After returning home, though, we thought "Why wasn't it easier to find out how to get to Poas when it seems like such an easy thing to do on your own?"
In order to encourage more independent travelers, I now share the steps on how to take a daytrip to Volcán Poàs.
Poas Volcano watches over San Josè from only about 50 kilometers (31 miles) away, but when relying on public transportation to navigate the winding roads (sometimes in disrepair), it takes longer than most people would guess. Because Poás is often shrouded in clouds by midday, it's important to arrive there early in the morning.

TRAVEL RULE: Plan for the unplannable, and leave extra time. Earlier is always better.

My travel buddy, Madison, and I agreed to meet at the University of Veritas at 7 AM to catch the first of a planned series of three buses to get to Poàs. The sky was a flat plane of white and gray paint, and the city air was thick with mist and a fine drizzle. Because we were trying to avoid the clouds that usually crowded the mountains after the afternoon by going up to Poás so early in the morning, the rain was not very encouraging. We persevered with our plans, though, and hoped for the best, because weather never lasts forever, right?
 This bar is only a few blocks from campus and is a
good landmark to help you find the bus stop.

Rather than spend money on a taxi cab, we walked a few blocks south of Veritas on Calle 31, turned right, walked past the bar Los Profesionales, and on the same side of the street as the bar, we found the bus stop (marked by the trademark bus bench and shelter). We waited only a few minutes, and then the bus with the name LUJAN scrolling across the top squealed to a stop in front of us. I confirmed with the driver that she would stop in "Parque la Merced" ("¿Este bus va a parar en Parque la Merced?") since that was where we would catch our next bus, and she nodded affirmitively.
TRAVEL RULE: Don't be afraid to ask people for confirmation on where you are going. It's better to be sure than worried you'll end up in the wrong place.
As soon as the bus engine started to rumble, we could already feel pride and excitement in starting this journey to Poàs all on our own.
Bus 1 (To Parque la Merced): 520 colones.
 You will get off the bus in front of the church, and when
you want to return after your trip, wait at this same sign
for the bus that says LUJAN.
Madison and I talked, getting to know each other to pass the time (and to stay awake) while watching out the window for the church of Parque la Merced. As soon as we saw the impressive, Spanish-style structure with a thin metal cross as its crown, we knew we reached our first destination.
 You can't miss this steeple rising higher than the palm
trees in the park. It's right across the street from
the park and the park is right across the
street from the bus station.
We descended the steps at the front of the church, and made our way to the corner which we then crossed in order to get to the bus garage for TUASA buses across the street. The garage was easy to find since bus after bus after bus was coming out of or going in from the same space to the right of a business called "Baratilandia," and I later noticed the faded sign reading "Shell Rimula: MICROBUSES--ALAJUELA, SAN JOSE" that hung to the right of the garage.
 The bus station is obvious once you see the many
TUASA buses pulling onto the street.

Inside the bus garage, I could see that each bus had the name of its destination printed on a paper that was pasted behind its glass windshield. The next bus we planned to take was to Alajuela, so that's what I searched for. When a man asked where we were going, I had to say "to the Alajuela airport" ("Vamos al aeropuerto de Alajuela.") because only the buses that passed the airport would take us to the next bus garage we would need to find. He pointed out the correct bus, and within minutes of boarding we were
on our way to Alajuela.

Bus 2 (To Alajuela): 560 colones.
 A close-up of the sign you should look for that denotes
the station where the TUASA buses lie in wait for your great adventure!
Our bus made stops near the airport,assuring us that we were on the right route. We remained seated for the entire ride, because at the end of the line was
the bus garage where we expected to find the next bus which was then supposed to take us directly to Poas.
We exited Bus 2 in high spirits, proud that we were already so close to our destination. From where our bus stopped, there was a bus garage downhill and on the right side of the road. However, this was the point where we made a mistake. We found a bus that said "POAS," but that bus took us no further than the town of Poás (which we were unaware existed). Instead, there should be a bus with a clearly marked plaque that reads "Poas Volcano" which takes visitors directly to the national park and drops them off in the parking lot.
Bus 3 (To Volcàn Poás): 1,500 colones
Nonetheless, Madison and I still made it to Poas eventually. When we arrived in the town of Poas, I asked the driver if he was driving further to take us to the volcano. He said no and explained that we could take a taxi there or that there was a different bus that could take us close to a place close to the park where we could wait for a different bus. Not wanting to spend money on a who-knows-how-many-miles taxi ride, we descended the bus steps (slightly ashamed at our mistake) to find the bus that the other driver told us stopped not that far away.

The large green bus sat on the other side of the street, facing the direction that our last bus had just come from. Would we be backtracking? Were we really that far off from where we were supposed to be? I wondered. I asked the bus driver if he would be going to Poàs, but of course he wouldn't be making it to the park. He was just another city bus driver. He understood where we needed to be, though, and after many (many many many!) stops for people along the road up the volcano, the driver called us forward and told us that the bus to Poàs National Park was stopped at the restaurant to our left. We were saved!

 The bus that was conveniently waiting for us at the restaurant.
We thanked our bus driver profusely and ran to the big, shiny bus with the sign blatantly spelling out Volcàn Poàs. What perfect timing! The bus from Alajuela to Poàs only runs twice a day, leaving Alajuela at 8 AM and leaving Poàs at 2:30 PM. Our dumb mistake could have turned out worse consequences like having to pay for a cab all the way up to the park or even just having to turn around and go back home, so finding the bus to the national park was nothing short of a miracle.
 A close view of the windshield of the bus that will take you to Volcán Poás.

The (real) Poas bus was taking a fifteen minute break, so we had time to oggle the fat, red strawberries and other assorted fruits being sold at the front of the restaurant, as well as use the restrooms before we would continue another thirty or fourty minutes up to the park. Because we caught the bus halfway through it's journey, it only cost us about 700 colones.
At the park entrance, we got out to pay for our tickets, and I was hit with a blaste of cool mountain air. The frigid and heavy feeling of being 8,000 feet above sea level sent shivers down my bare legs and tickled my exposed toes. I should have known it would be so cold!
TRAVEL RULE: Research the climate of your destination. It's not fun being hot nor being cold, so if you have room, you might want to bring some extra layers.
At the ticket booth, Madison and I grabbed the park's brochure which also showed the three marked trails to the main crater, the lake, and the main buildings of the cafè, giftshop, restrooms, etc. It was about 11:30, so we had about 3 hours which was way enough time to see everything...maybe even twice!
Park Ticket: 8 colones
We were in awe at the clarity of Poas's main crater, at the center of which was a placid, light blue lake with a fat plume of white smoke continuously trailing through the air. Later, I would find out that we were very lucky to be able to see the crater with such clarity. People who had made the pilgrimage up to Poàs had gone five times in the past and had never seen the lakes so clearly (or at all) until that day. And to think the rain that morning almost turned me away!
It wasn't until Madison and I stopped for one last look at the otherworldly crater of the somewhat-active volcano that the fog and clouds slunk into view. Everything was obscured by white and gray condensation within two minutes. Everything we saw was gone, or at least hidden for the rest of the day. It made the trip feel even more special, knowing that we were two of the few people that the volcano allowed to see its hidden blue jewels before pulling closed it's white curtains once again.
TRAVEL RULE: You probably won't realize you're experiencing miracles. Never forget how fortunate you are to see what you do and to do what you do, and don't forget to continue seeing and doing everything while you can.
 What a wonderful, humbling feeling to be so close to a volcano!

View of Poas Volcano: Priceless
Gabriella Cisneros is the Fall 2015 CEA MOJO in San José, Costa Rica. She is currently a sophomore film student at UW-Milwaukee.

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