Catarata Del Toro

Just two hours North of San Jose, Costa Rica (much less if you’re able to leave before 7 AM, much more if you leave after 8 AM) lies a spectacular waterfall by the name of Catarata del Toro (Waterfall of the Bull). The waterfalls are situated in a National Park, which is open from 7 AM to 5 PM everyday except Sunday. $10 for Nationals and Residents and $14 for foreigners.

IMG_1702

Getting there from San Jose (if you have a car) is simple enough (Just type Cataratas del Toro into Google Maps); however, I would highly recommend something equipped with 4×4. On the way there this morning, we passed a sedan that must have been FWD spending a good 10 minutes trying to get up one of the inclines. After they had burned enough rubber, filling the air with smoke, and making my car smell like an industrial plant, they decided to turn around and return home. Or at least get enough speed on the downhill in order to physics their way up.

0C75CD09-C08B-4E98-8236-C1E02717B971
I had never actually seen one of these signs in person before. I do believe that the incline shown here was in fact drawn to scale.
C5166D9C-5DFE-4C29-BCCD-E667C2AD6FDC
The photo does not do the incline justice.

7E25D8BB-909A-4436-B0DE-81E8395483AF

As we continued to push through the beautiful winding roads and near vertical inclines, we came across a bull (ironically enough). In an attempt to capture everything that was Cataratas del Toro through my camera, I decided it would be a good idea to get out of my car, approach the bull, and take a picture of it. The first snap of my camera went off, no problem. Seeing that the bull was on a bit of a ledge and could not immediately charge at me without falling and breaking a leg first, I imagined that my Factor of Safety was at least doubled. As I approached and took the second photo, the bull looked directly at my from the side (if that makes any sense). I inched a bit closer, took a third photo, and the bull snorted. My feet were telling me to turn around, but my curiosity and desire to take the perfect picture got the best of me.

DB2CB82A-374C-4C4C-9923-88A69E2DE224

I pushed even closer. Click. Fourth photo. Now, the bull, never taking his eyes off of me, let out another snort, and stood up. I thought “Ok, he probably doesn’t want me to come any closer, but I can still get a picture or two before he rushes down the cliff. I take the fifth picture (seen above) and my stupidity tells me to get just A LITTLE bit closer to get a better picture. I shuffle my feet forward, heart beat accelerating a bit as it nervously chuckles at my stupidity. Now, ladies and gentlemen, I am not a farmer. I did not grow up on a farm, have never really been to a farm, and can count the number of times I have seen a bull in real life. I know bulls, and any wild animal can be rather dangerous, but I don’t know what behaviors to look out for that indicate aggressive behavior. Keep all of this in mind. Now, as I went to put the camera to my face, for what I had already determined would be the last picture, regardless of quality, I realized. The bull, had, a full on erection. I had…obviously, never been quite been in that situation before. Confused, startled, and a bit unsure as to how events in my life had led me face to face with an aroused bull, I decided, regardless of the outcome, further interaction with this beast would not be life-enriching. I put the camera down, accepted where I was currently at in the universe, out of all of the possible options, and continued on what I would hope to be a more life-enriching journey.

After another 20 minutes of scenic driving, I finally arrived to the park, parked my car, and eagerly began a hike I had been long overdue for. Unfortunately, the hike through the park is a BIT disappointing if you’re looking for more traditional hikes. The initial trails are covered in what appeared to be Basalt.

CF8B7CE9-7F18-4831-A8B0-DA94B34C193D
Never seen this guy before in my life.

Once you pass all of the Basalt, which feels great on your feet, but takes away (in my opinion) the connection with the trail and the hike, you reach a set of at least 300 stairs (estimating).

AF22FE9C-679B-4EC2-BF9D-3E860866F2BC
Endless Stairs

Processed with VSCO with a9 preset

Finally, after a short, 30 minute hike, you’ll be rewarded with a stunning view of Cataratas del Toro. You can continue your descent, which I highly recommend, but unfortunately, due to the acidity of the water, you cannot swim in the water.

Processed with VSCO with a8 preset

Processed with VSCO with a8 preset

Continuing down you will find that moss is covering just about everything. If you misplace your step and put your hand on the mountain-face for support, your hand will  actually “fall into” the moss. A slightly disturbing experience that quickly made me pay more attention to my foot placement.

10AC5419-913A-49F6-8D99-A6FF410AC439

C6555212-DFD8-43CE-B217-7070ED834FFD

Processed with VSCO with a7 preset

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset
Miniature Waterfalls

F1BE03E9-D07C-441F-839F-1B382DC91EBD

Processed with VSCO with a8 preset

F9ED3654-C274-4128-A6E9-FF768B65E225
There was a Howler Monkey somewhere here that I assume was heckling at us.

As we departed the park and started our journey back to San Jose, there were plenty of animals along the way. Having learned my lesson previously, I neither got out of my car, nor approached any of the wild beasts.

5E645F1F-F376-4860-843F-6119FB6FDD4E

2678F66A-4619-4F80-BDFE-3847131EEC1C

Being an easy two hours away from San Jose, I would highly recommend checking out Cataratas del Toro as a day trip (even closer if you’re coming from the airport). If you would like to stay overnight, or use the area as a layover on your way North, there are a few lodges that you can book in the area.

5D708746-855E-4536-ADB6-B160C9579E3F

Hope you enjoyed reading and the pictures. Don’t approach bulls or stuff could happen!

Advertisements

Irazú Volcano (イラス 火山)

Just 50 kilometers East of San Jose, at an altitude of 3,432 meters, lies the highest, active volcano in Costa Rica. Since its first historically recorded eruption in the early 1700s, Irazú has erupted a total of 23 times. The most famous of which, in 1963, was the same day John F. Kennedy (US President) began an official state visit. The ash that spread across all of San Jose as a result was so profound that infrastructure was unable to operate at full capacity for an entire year. Fortunately for Ticos, Irazú has been relatively quiet with her last eruption taking place in 1994.

After FINALLY going through the heart-breaking, soul-numbing, mind-boggling process that is searching for, inspecting, and buying a used car in Costa Rica that won’t break on me the day after I buy it… I decided I would explore this beauty of Costa Rica.

The drive from San Jose to Irazú is extremely straightforward, and, if you wake up early enough, you can make it in under 90 minutes with minimal traffic. Broken into three parts, escaping San Jose, enjoying the cooler climate of Cartago, and the adventuring into the mountainside, the drive is actually extremely relaxing, which I will probably never say again about driving in Costa Rica. Once you arrive at the top, there is a toll both that charges an entrance fee and parking fee of about $4 for locals and $20 for foreigners (I’ll leave this issue alone for now).

4E228FA7-7D31-43B4-8033-8BC23BC39C14
View from the parking lot

They say that at the top of Irazú on a clear day, you can see both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. If you’ve read any of my previous hiking posts, you’ll know that one thing I’m particularly good at, is attracting clouds to whichever mountain I visit. After parking my car, grabbing my camera, and heading out to take my first few shots, I realized that this day would be no different.

Processed with VSCO with a7 preset
Mother Nature waving at me

Inside the Irazú National Park Area lies a rather large plateau (seen below) that will take you just to the edge of the crater (left side of image). Of course, given my abilities, as soon as I came down from the parking lot area (far right side of image), the previously clear crater was immediately engulfed by clouds. Interestingly enough, instead of moving in a horizontal direction, these clouds were seemingly shooting straight up from the crater, and then twirling back downwards after passing the plateau.

IMG_0255

Fortunately, with the exception of the crater, the clouds that would pass through the plateau were intermittent. Intense periods of low visibility were quickly followed by breaths of sunshine, allowing me to experience, albeit briefly, Mother Nature at her finest.

 

IMG_0259

Processed with VSCO with a8 preset
Crater clouds being majestic

Even though I was still not able to see the crater due to cloud coverage, I was enjoying the short periods of clear visibility I was offered.

Processed with VSCO with a7 preset

Processed with VSCO with a8 preset

Oddly enough, Mother Nature sensed that I was feeling rather lucky and enjoying my limited cloud interruptions and decided to present me with this beauty below. As I was taking a picture looking back towards the parking lot, a rather high-speed cloud flew past the camera. Thinking it was just another short interruption, I kept the camera ready, waiting for the opportunity to take the shot. An immediate 15 degree drop in temperature reminded me that it would have been real nice to have listened to guidance and taken a jacket with me.

IMG_0263
Rule 35

After what had to be a minute of near complete darkness, I pulled the camera down, looked around and realized I couldn’t see more than 50 feet in front of me. I am humble enough to admit that an ounce of fear stirred within me as I tried to remember just how close I was to the edge of the crater in order to not accidentally tumble down. Looking back towards what I thought was the direction of the parking lot, I saw two figures in the distance. One asks the other, “Are you sure the parking lot is this way?” To which the other replies “I’m pretty sure this is the right way.” It wasn’t.

Now, finding myself five minutes into this extreme low visibility scenario and without a jacket, I started back towards the parking lot, in the opposite direction of where the two lost souls seen below were heading. Mother Nature, sensing my hurried escape, decides it would be a opportune time for a little rain. As I pick up my pace, shielding my non-waterproof camera with my shirt, the rain falling from the cloud I was immersed in picks up in intensity forcing my to break out into a sprint. Continuously wiping water from my eyes and angry that I didn’t even get to see the lake at the bottom of the crater, I curse Mother Nature and her terrible sense of humor and vow to never again return to this terrible Volcano. Of course, as soon as I get to the parking lot, open my car and throw my camera in, soaking wet, I look back towards the plateau, and it is, crystal, clear…

4519960A-DB68-4442-99ED-3467FE5BF871

About 20 to 30 Irazú visitors that day got to witness a 28 year old male, sprinting, soaking wet, towards the crater with camera in hand. There was no way I was letting another cloud rob me of my crater picture.

Survival Podcast

A good buddy of mine had been telling me for days, “You gotta check out this podcast man, you’ll love it.” Now…nothing against Ryan, I wasn’t doubting his taste in podcast, but I had been given podcast recommendations COUNTLESS times by COUNTLESS individuals claiming that a particular podcast was the next best thing. I don’t doubt that shows like Pod Save America, Planet Money, and How I Built This are amazing shows, with five star ratings, loyal listeners, and thought provoking episodes; however, that wasn’t enough for me. In order for a podcast to take me away from my daily routine of  listening to Josh and Chuck discuss the working of life on Stuff You Should Know, a podcast really had to stand out.

After Ryan’s third recommendation, I decided I should stop being a terrible friend and at least give the podcast a chance. I found the podcast, downloaded the first two episodes, and gave it a go. This was at 5:45 PM on 25 July 2017… It is now 8:30 AM on 26 July 2017, and except for a short 8 hour sleep break, I have not been able to stop listening to this podcast. I type this with this most seriousness of thought, it is the most captivating podcast I have listened to yet.

If you are into outdoor activities, great narration, and/or survival strategies, I cannot recommend Outside Podcast enough. With binge-worthy story-telling, outstanding presentation, and informative science, I cannot imagine ANYONE, even avid-indoors people, not loving this show. The first episode, a recreation of Peter Stark’s 2001 classic “Last Breath,” with an excerpt below, starts the Podcast series out strong. Give it a listen, let us know if you agree.

“An hour passes. at one point, a stray thought says you should start being scared, but fear is a concept that floats somewhere beyond your immediate reach, like that numb hand lying naked in the snow. You’ve slid into the temperature range at which cold renders the enzymes in your brain less efficient. With every one-degree drop in body temperature below 95, your cerebral metabolic rate falls off by 3 to 5 percent. When your core temperature reaches 93, amnesia nibbles at your consciousness. You check your watch: 12:58. Maybe someone will come looking for you soon. Moments later, you check again. You can’t keep the numbers in your head. You’ll remember little of what happens next.

Your head drops back. The snow crunches softly in your ear. In the minus-35-degree air, your core temperature falls about one degree every 30 to 40 minutes, your body heat leaching out into the soft, enveloping snow. Apathy at 91 degrees. Stupor at 90.

You’ve now crossed the boundary into profound hypothermia. By the time your core temperature has fallen to 88 degrees, your body has abandoned the urge to warm itself by shivering. Your blood is thickening like crankcase oil in a cold engine. Your oxygen consumption, a measure of your metabolic rate, has fallen by more than a quarter. Your kidneys, however, work overtime to process the fluid overload that occurred when the blood vessels in your extremities constricted and squeezed fluids toward your center. You feel a powerful urge to urinate, the only thing you feel at all.”

 

Mt. Daibosatsu (大菩薩嶺) 2057m

大 – big

菩 – sacred tree, kind of grass

薩 – buddha

嶺 – peak


IMG_1253

My buddy Andrew and I decided to set out on another hike. This time of course, he was able to get his hands on a pair of hiking boots so that the snow wouldn’t dominate him like it did last time.

We got to the trail head shortly after 8 AM after a 4 hour drive and the first thing we saw was the picture above. We both had no idea what the majority of the words were but we didn’t need to. The ominous outline provided enough information.”Welp, guess we’re not hiking today Andrew.” He let out a small laugh, “maybe its for Pokemon Go and its one of the pokemon that hasn’t been unlocked yet. They might just be asking for help to unlock it.” I didnt laugh. I knew that the first two kanji were for bear and “outing” and the last two at the top were for “caution.” Andrew’s smile faded as he acknowledged the potential danger that lay ahead. Neither of us had ever seen a bear, let alone a warning sign that there has been a recent bear sighting.

83024CC8-25DC-4D61-A708-BE9B52D0A1DF
Frozen Lake

He sighed, “A ship in harbor is safe —but that is not what ships are built for…” I closed my eyes and shook my head. “Ship’s also don’t have to worry about bears…Andrew….” His smile returned, “Hey man, my money is on the Pokemon Go theory.” I knew we didnt have much of a choice. We had already driven four hours, and neither one of us were the type to turn around after such a commitment. Accepting our challenge, I sarcastically recommended that we take out our bear bells, since neither of us had one.

627DFEFE-A438-46F8-8654-4A18AAB85AA6

We left the bear sign behind us and began our hike. We were lucky. There was no snow, no wind, and as the sun lazily crawled across the sky, it became warm enough to hike in just a shirt.

DD834AA9-8E6B-4185-A2E6-1EEB21C1DC07

Unfortunately, the first thirty minutes didn’t feel like a hike at all. To our right was a long, winding road that had the occasional car pass by, completely robbing us of our “immersed in nature” feeling. To our left was nothing by fallen over logs that could have been hiding spots for bears. Without any incline, or boulders to scale, we were unable to focus on anything but trying to spot a bear before it spotted us. We stopped every five or ten minutes, wondering what a particular rustling noise was, or looking behind us for a curious bear.

IMG_1233

Finally, as the hike started to pick up, we were able to distract ourselves from “bear evasion.” Unfortunately for this story, the hike was pretty straight forward…for the most part.

IMG_1229

3DB784A6-B528-463B-957A-8DB2ECC4FC5B

CF68AF1C-BFBE-4316-AB66-FD292ABF1714IMG_1212

Processed with VSCO with a10 preset

Almost a soon as we reached the main peak, we saw the mountain’s previously dull personality come to life. As we cleared the trees, the wind almost instantaneously began to pick up to 20-25 knots and the clouds rolled in. People ahead of us were leaning and digging into the wind as it roared across the mountain top. It was hard to hear anything greater than 15 feet from you as the wind whistled its way past you. Had I had any small children with me I would have seriously been concerned about them being blown off the side of the mountain. The temperature dropped AT LEAST 15 degrees, hell, I would argue maybe even twenty. The easy going conversation Andrew and I were having quickly became a chore as the numbing wind all but eliminated our facial motor abilities. I cursed myself for not bringing gloves as my hands began to shake and capturing pictures became increasingly challenging.

Processed with VSCO with a9 preset

IMG_1205

As the wind and chill continued to pick up, Andrew and I noticed what looked like it was a rain cloud off into the distance heading our way. I began to panic a little. I had no gloves, no rain coat, and my >$5 camera was not water proof at all.

IMG_1184

Processed with VSCO with nc preset

95448E1A-212E-4852-8269-0D5E308EE0F2

We picked up the pace, knowing we had at least 3 hours left on the trail, hoping we could beat the rain cloud. We made it down what would have taken us an hour in just over twenty minutes.

IMG_1176IMG_1174

That’s when the skies decided they could not hold out any longer and it began to sprinkle. The falling rain started to freeze our already numb faces and hands. I took the picture below, turned my camera off, and placed it in my backpack. Worried that the rain would pick up, our brisk walk turned into a jog, which then turned into a sprint. Luckily for us, it was all downhill from there. We reached the car after a challenging 90 minute run down the side of a mountain with no hypothermia and no bear sightings. Still, Mt. Daibosatsu seemed to have gotten the better of us that day.

IMG_1172

Mt. Kayagatake (茅ケ岳) 1704m

茅 – miscanthus reed

岳 – peak, mountain

A good friend of mine had just gotten back from deployment and contacted me. “I’ve been around people 24/7 for the last few months, I just need to get away from people for a few hours.” I knew the perfect solution. My recently newfound hobby, hiking.

“You got any hiking gear? Boots, pants, packs?” I asked. Andrew responded, “Nah, but I should be fine with my running shoes. You think there will be a lot of snow?” The next two sentences would stick with us throughout the entire hike.

“Shouldn’t be that much, I went hiking last week, not that much snow. Plus its a whole ten degrees warmer this weekend, I’m willing to bet it’s all melted by now.”And with that, I convinced him that running shoes would be perfectly suitable for a spring hike.

We set off by car the next morning at 0600 en route to Mt. Kinpu. After about two hours of good conversation and empty (yet still expensive) highways, my buddy looked off into the distance and made an alarming observation.

“Are those mountains ahead of us where we’re headed?” I looked at my phone, “Yeah, they have to be…”

Silence.

“There’s umm…it looks like there’s quite a bit of snow on those mountains…”

Silence.

“Yeah…I guess we’ll see a little snow after all. You think your running shoes will be able to hold up?”

Silence.

“Meh…not much I can do about it now I suppose.”

As we got closer to the mountains and left the city behind us we felt what must have been a ten degree drop in temperature. The car took its first wind up the side of the mountain, and just as it did, we saw just how much snow there really was. “There shouldn’t be that much snow” had quickly turned into “Will my car be able to make it out of here with these abysmal tires?” I looked over at my friend and I could tell he was of the same opinion as me “We drove out this far, theres really no turning back” although I sensed his level of thrill was not quite as high as mine, given the running shoes situation.

I followed the course on my phone that the lovely british voice was directing me towards and we came to an unexpected stop. Before us was a small white truck with an older Japanese man, in what appeared to be his maintenance uniform, closing a large yellow gate that blocked the road. I knew I was in for some exhausting and confusing Japanese.

“すみません、 あの、 行けませんか?” Now, this guy, was either a complete asshole or gave me too much of a benefit of the doubt. He replied, in full blown, fast paced Japanese. The only part I caught was 4PM. So of course I replied, “ああ、そうですか。えとね、いつに入られますか?” His next set of actions led me to believe he was leaning more towards being an asshole than the alternative. He looked at my friend, then back at me, then simply replied “明日.” And with that, he turned towards the gate and proceeded to close it as if we had simply vanished into thin air.

“Sweet. Welp, I guess we’re not going up that hike today…” My buddy, being the sharp Naval Officer that he is, responded without hesitation, “I bet if we can find a visitor’s center around here, we can make our way to a good hike. In less than a minute, he had one pulled up in his phone and we made our way, set back but undefeated.



After thirty minutes in the tourist information center, the employee there kindly recommended we check out a trail just south of there, Mt. Kayagatake. “But,” he warned, “It will be dangerous for your friend because of his shoes.”  I looked Andrew inquisitively and as he gave a thumbs up saying, “Lets get this show on the road.”

We drove off and found ourselves at the start of the trail within the hour. Stepping out of the safety of our car into the cold forest with its makeshift parking lot, we could not see any snow and were both slightly relieved. That sense of relief lasted all of thirty minutes until we left the parking lot and saw nothing suffocating, blinding white snow in every direction. In fact, the only indicator of where the trail went was the absence of trees and slight indentation into the earth.

Processed with VSCO with a8 preset

I have to admit I began to feel bad for my buddy that was about to hike this entire mountain overtaken by snow, in Nike running shoes. Even though it was fairly warm outside for April, every step had us shin deep in snow. And a wrong placement of the foot, could easily mean slipping and falling over onto the snow, or worse, a hidden rock.

IMG_1005

The tempo of our conversations were timed by the focus, or lack thereof, on our foot placement. “This would be right around the time bears would be waking up,” Andrew pointed out, “I bet they’re going to be rather hungry.” Both lacking a bear bell, we attempted to keep a steady conversation, only when the snow was thinner and the ground, relatively flat. We did this to not inadvertently sneak up on any bears, and to try to keep our thoughts away from the subject of bears; however, that seems to be all we talked about. “What does bear piss smell like? Can you smell if a bear was recently in the area? Can you accidentally wake one up early from a hibernation?”

IMG_1004

Pushing on with our bear talk, we came through this beautiful snow covered valley of trees, with an incline at the end. The bright white snow and thin white trees for hundreds of feet in every direction really made you feel like you were on another planet. It was absolutely stunning to see, but, you could only see so much of it as you made sure you didn’t slip and fall off of the trail.

IMG_0977

The more we ascended, the more the snow seemed to thin out. We could feel earth beneath our footwear and the stress of foot placement eased tremendously. You’d be surprised how much brain power making sure your foot steps in the exact spot takes. We were both pretty relieved to be able to concern ourselves with other things. Like taking pictures, stopping to hydrate, and bears of course.

IMG_0976

IMG_0973IMG_1002

The rest of the hike was rather straightforward and uneventful, although challenging. The last 1/3 of this mountain saw the greatest amount of elevation change. Although the snow never died away, it did become small enough of a problem that we stopped paying attention to it. My buddy fell a few times of course, but that was mostly on the descent. Mostly.

IMG_1003

IMG_0981
That’s Fuji-san in the background. I can never get a picture of him without some cloud coverage…

IMG_0998IMG_0979

I’m sure he will hate me for bringing this up, but during the descent, we decided to “run” down the mountain. Looking back it wasn’t the greatest idea, in fact it was more of a slide, but it was pretty entertaining. During one leg of this “run” I was leading and all of the sudden I stop hearing the sound of Andrew’s foot steps behind me. I assumed perhaps he was in the middle of a really long, quiet slide so I didn’t think much of it. After a good minute or two of silence behind me, I turn around to find, Andrew, laying flat on his back about 200 feet away. I double back and find him sitting in the snow, with a dirt streak all along his left pant leg. I stupidly remember asking him “What happened?” Even a West Point graduate could have pieced this one together. “Are you alright?” I asked, trying to deliver more purposeful questions. As soon as I realized he was ok, I was dying with laughter. He had, not even five minutes prior, bet me that he would slip fewer times than I would, running shoes and all.

Processed with VSCO with a5 preset

Processed with VSCO with nc preset