During the weeks I worked as a volunteer at the Butterfly Conservatory, I lived in the small village of El Castillo, southwest of the Arenal Volcano.
Next to a giant
The first days here, I don’t see the volcano once. He hides in the mist or in the clouds. One morning, when the sky finally clears, I discover its majestic silhouette at the back of our garden. It has the perfect conical shape of volcanoes in geography books.
I climb the road to the Conservatory every morning and every evening. I smile at the volcano on the way. He treats me to a new show every day. It is a monument magnifying weather hazards. Sometimes drowned in cumulus clouds, wrapped in pink mists, or adorned with a rainbow.
Whenever I look at it, I feel its ancestral strength. No wonder volcanoes have been objects of belief, worship and fear… I feel pretty small and fragile at his feet. Despite the unpredictable whims of volcanoes, men have always lived next to them to enjoy their naturally fertile lands.
The volcano is everywhere in the local imagery, a sign of identity and pride. The inhabitants revere him as much as they fear him. Restaurants and museums paint it on their walls to pay tribute to him.
When the rain seeps into the soil around the volcano, it meets the underground magma and is naturally heated and loaded with minerals. The water comes out on the mountainside into rivers reaching 120°F. It is strange -and also very enjoyable- to mix the image of a supposedly freezing wild river with that of a hot tub. These type of hot springs are all around the volcano, but most of them have been privatized by hotels and spas. You have to pay to access them (and it is overpriced).
To access the jacuzzi-river without paying, you have to park in the parking in front of Tabacon Grand Thermal Spa Resort, then, walk behind a yellow painted gate, go down the dirt road that leads to the river, take off your shoes to cross under the bridge and go back upstream.
The riverbed creates small basins and the rocks form natural pools. Hot water flows continuously. You can float or be massaged by the powerful swirls. The jungle is shrouded in heat mist. When night falls, the sky becomes velvet gray. The canopy draws patterns in India ink. The darkness of the night and the warmth of the river mingle with the graphic silhouettes of trees and bathers.
We attend a mass at the church next door. We are introduced to a young man who speaks perfectly English: he will be our official translator. They give us a copy of the New Testament in English so we can follow their readings. Our translator has the New Testament app on his smartphone, much more convenient to navigate from one verse to another.
The mass begins with music and songs. It looks more like a karaoke than a solemn ceremony. People are sitting or standing. Some are walking and singing. Others speak alone, their open arms and hands raised to the sky. Others dance. Some kneel and pray on their chairs. Others stick to the walls and whisper incomprehensible words.
The church is a simple house. A rough tin roof with walls painted in bright blue. The floor is white tiled, the chairs are the plastic garden ones. The smoked plexiglass altar stands on a platform. Behind, burgundy and gold curtains are draped like cockades. Overlooking the scene, a fresco cut in glittery paper announces: « la gloria postrera sera mayor que la primera » (NB: the last glory will be greater than the first). The letters form an arch above the green silhouette of the volcano, behind which dance the rays of a radiant sun.
Testimonies come one after another, intertwined with passages of the Bible and Latino-pop music. We are asked if we love Jesus. We do not really have a choice. We answer: « Si. Mucho! »
(Lire l’article en français ici)
It’s time to say goodbye to my life here.
Adios Butterfly Conservatory. Adios El Castillo. Goodbye kind volcano, bumpy road, gymnasium full of supporters and children shouting, stone houses with hanging clothes, cows and vultures, banana trees in the wind, roadside dogs, « best burritos in town », frogs singing, and smoky mountains in the mist.
> My article about volunteering at the Butterfly Conservatory
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