Zone of High Volcanic Risk, Treacherous Bridges and Creatures

Kathleen Wendel ‘14 just graduated from Ripon in May with a double major in Environmental Studies and German and a minor in Anthropology. She writes to us from Costa Rica where she is taking “Exploring Sustainability and Development in Costa Rica” with professors Diane Beres and Soren Hauge.

Pura Vida! The next stop on our journey has landed us in the city of La Fortuna at the base of Arenal Volcano. “La Fortuna” means luck or fortune in Spanish and the city earned its new name after being the only town in the area to survive Arenal’s eruption in 1968. Although it’s been several decades since the last eruption, there is a sign near the entrance of Arenal National Park that reads: “Zone of High Volcanic Risk, You Enter Under Your Own Risk.” Not only that but cars are recommended to back into parking spaces in case of the need of a quick evacuation. No need of an evacuation this time as Arenal remained quiet and actually blanketed in a thick patch of clouds throughout most of the day.

One activity that we undertook in the area was a visit to the Arenal Hanging Bridges. Not for those with a fear of heights, we crossed a series of bridges in the rainforest ranging from a couple meters above the forest floor to an impressive 45 meters up in the canopy. The bridges are of course very sturdy and safe, but walking on the slightly wobbly, swaying bridges takes some getting used to.

In addition to some stunning views, we encountered a variety of wildlife. Before even getting to the trailhead we saw the large Crested Guan, a bird similar in size and shape to a turkey. Another unique bird we spotted briefly was the White-collared Manakin. Manakins have a unique courtship behavior where the males make a loud snapping noise by hitting specialized wing feathers against their bodies. They also form leks, which are large gatherings of birds where the males perform their dances and calls, and the females choose their preferred mate.

My favorite sighting was a lone spider monkey with a baby on her back. Of the four species of monkey in Costa Rica they’re the third rarest to see. Her silhouette stood out against the sky as she climbed high up in a trumpeter tree. A creature that caught some of us off guard was a black snake slithering across the trail. I was hoping to see a snake or two on the trip, but next time I hope it’s at a distance rather than right by my foot!

We ended our last night in the Arenal area with a very nice dinner at a restaurant with a very fitting name—Lava Rocks!

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