Today, we are smothered in information. We can book flights, buses and trains on-line. We can read the opinions and experiences of others who have preceded us. We have access to maps and street views. We could have a trip experience without leaving our comfortable chair by the fireside or the pool.
Thankfully it was not always so. When we left Panamá in April 1976, we had no idea of what lay before us.
The bus from Panamá left in the early morning and arrived in the early evening in San José. It was a trip of some 800 km, interspersed with some small provincial towns. On the way we experienced the curse of Central and South America of that era: frequent military road blocks. Sometimes it was a cursory check of papers, at other times a thorough check of baggage. And the passage through frontiers was doubly tedious. In most cases a visa was mandatory and that could only be prior obtained from an embassy or consulate office, and not at the frontier. Central and South America was in the grip of military dictatorships, enamoured with bureaucracy.
I have no recall of how we found a room, but we ended up in a very comfortable B&B. The next day we wandered around the city but found little to excite us: at 1170 m, San José in 1976, seemed like a small sleepy provincial capital. And churches, museums, art galleries etc. have never thrilled me: except for the exception of literature, I have always been something of an alien in the ‘arty-farty’ world. But outside San José lay Irazú, an active volcano, and that really appealed.
So next day we caught the daily bus to the summit. It was about 55 km to the north-east of San José, a slow, winding climb across the slope of the mountain, carrying us to the summit. Stepping out of the bus was like what I imagine it would be to step onto the moon: thick grey-black dust everywhere. And only sparse vegetation.
Irazú stands at 3432 m above sea level. It has many times erupted in recent history, most notably in 1963, covering the city in a coating of ash, on the day President John F. Kennedy started a state visit to San José. That eruption continued through 1965.
Apparently, on a clear day, from the summit of Irazú one can see both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. But clear days on Irazú are a relative rarity, and our day was no exception; the cloud cover was thick, and visibility was limited.
We explored the area around the crater, keeping one eye on the direction back to the bus and the other eye on the time; the bus returned to San José after one hour, and we did not fancy having to walk back down the mountain, trying to hitch a lift.
By the time the hour was up, when we returned to the bus, we felt quite thoroughly chilled. We had not anticipated that the mountain would be so cold, and we were not suitably dressed.
Returning to the balmy tropical air of San José felt so good.