Arenal - Costa Rica,  March  2001 expedition

This photo was taken at 1025hrs local time (1625 GMT)  on the 29th March 2001 as a series of house sized rocks careered down the slopes of Arenal kicking up a cloud of dust. The sound of the rockfall was clearly heard even from the 2 kilometre distance that this photo was taken. Apart from several events like this  since yesterday the volcano has been either quiet or obscured by cloud.
March 30 2001
Last night was spent watching a continuous glowing rock avalanche coming down the west flank of Arenal, occasional loud explosions were heard  along with loud rockfall and intermittant strombolian activity could be observed but only through binoculars. Arenal appears to be quite active with all activity coming from the main crater on the right side of the above photo. My fellow volcano watcher from Japan, Isamu Kitafuji, who is here with me and has been here ten previous times says it is quite minor compared to other occasions he has been here. After watching the show until midnight we then discovered the electrics on our brand new rental 4WD had packed up forcing us to drive all the way back to the hotel waving a torch out the window for happens.
Several powerful explosions occured this morning and one at 1018hrs local time (1618 GMT)  was so big it rattled the windows of our hotel 5 kilometres away.
Numerous strange animals can be seen around Arenal, like this creature that seems to be a cross between a dog, a rat and a monkey? (ok, a lot of people e-mailed me, it is a Coati)
March 31 2001
March 31......... "13 hours of hell"
I hired a guide to take me to the summit of Arenal, usually this is the safest way to do things, but oh no, not today. The day started at 6 am in heavy fog and rain, my guide turned up with no food or water for a "6hr" climb, no pack for equipment, only a tee shirt, no hard hat, bare feet and gumboots. He did however have some sort of bag like woman use for shopping, so fine, he is happy to carry 20kg of gear in a shopping bag.
Climbing Arenal is prohibited so my guide had a novel way around that, we went into the jungle about 5 kilometres from the place where it would have been easier and safer, but the Police were at that entrance. Into the jungle a loud noise was heard, ONLY a Jaguar, my guide informs me...sometimes they attack people, great. In the fog it was hard to see where we were going but it became obvious that we were going around the mountain to the safe side, my guide decided to show me a new and until now untried route to the summit, going half way up and then ACROSS the two active pyroclastic flow paths,....the very same ones that we observed the near continuous rockfall coming down the night before. It was of course clouded in to about 10 metres visibility which meant that by the time I realised where we were we are on a small ridge BETWEEN the 2 active flow channels.
If you have never been in close proximity to large rocks travelling at 100 miles an hour they make a sort of roaring, whistling noise, like falling bombs in a war movie. Several clusters of these projectiles went past the place we had just walked through. My guide was slightly bemused by me telling him that we were in an area of extreme danger and he was going to follow me and move immediately across the less frequently  active channel and into the bush. No sooner than we had done that  tons of hot rocks flew past the place we had just walked like a freight train! Once into the sort of safe area we followed a trail of debris up to the wreckage of a passenger plane that slammed into the side of the volcano 200 metres down from the top a few months ago killing all 10 people on board. The deceased had been removed but the wreck site had not been visited since the accident and was pretty much the way it was on the day of the crash. Large amounts of luggage and other  unpleasant items scattered over a wide area made it easy to imagine what the passengers were doing in their last moments, taking photos and video, reading the Lonely Planet giude to Costa Rica etc, in all, a pretty grim place.  Reaching the summit was impossible due to explosions throwing rocks over the crater rim so we started down, and that is where the fun really started. The clouds had luckily cleared allowing a good view of the route down, in case there were more detours in store.
After 2 hours in the trackless, festering, hot as hell jungle, (the Crocodile Hunter is welcome to this madness), enough of this, we only had 3 hours light left and there was no way I was sleeping in that jungle, even though I had more than enough equipment to do so it was the 20 species of deadly snake and god knows what other creepie crawlies I was not happy about. I decided to tell the guide that he did not know where he was going, and he was going to follow me back where we came from, onto the bottom of the rock fall area where there was no jungle and minimal rock fall danger. We came out at a small lake below a tourist observatory in the dark after losing part of my camera tripod and I was in radio contact with my friend Isamu who was waiting with a car and keeping the Police under observation.
.....until I accidently changed the channel on the radio, Isamu then thought I had had an accident and told the police who then cleverly started firing guns into the air to attract our attention...we were actually trying not to attract any attention.....especially from the Police. When the shooting started my guide ran off into the jungle with no torch and I decided that the best thing to do was walk up the track with a light on, assuming the shooting was probably from hunters. My guide was no where to be seen. I emerged from the track to find the Police more amused than anything and the matter was cleared up in the normal way. Then I had to go back into the jungle and find the person that was supposed to be guiding me, this was eventually done with the full knowledge that if we had kept going the way we had been we would still be in there....
Lonely Planet are right, dont even think about climbing Arenal.......

For more details of Arenal look here.   Lonely Planet also has a very informative web page on Costa Rica that includes a warning "not to even think about climbing Arenal" !
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