They were on the road by 6 am in Jason's rented car. Jason felt well rested and eager to spend the day with Rosa. It didn't take her long to snuggle up beside him as he drove through the mountains, occasionally passing slower vehicles and skirting wide around pedestrians and random animals, some accompanied by their masters.
As they started up the road towards Poás Volcano National Park, Jason was mesmerized by the climb and the fabulous vista off to his right, when suddenly it felt as though he had lost control of the car. The road seemed to move from right to left and back again as he struggled to keep the wheels on the road and avoid the edge of steep incline to his right. Rosa screamed as she was jerked from side to side while Jason tried to regain control.
It was over just about the time Jason pulled over to the right shoulder and rocks came tumbling down from the steep slope on the left. Some of them bounced off the car on their way down the mountain. Dust filled the air. When everything settled down, Jason knew what it was. Another earthquake.
After holding his breath, Jason could finally breathe out and say something. "Whew, that was close! I thought I was going to drive off the edge. I didn't mean to scare you, but it was all I could do to keep the car going straight with everything moving like that!” Rosa grabbed hold of him tightly, shaking…
"It scared me all right! Old Poás is certainly acting up today. All the more reason that we need to go now and see what's happening. I'm really excited!. How about you?" Rosa’s frightened look quickly turned to a smile.
"I'm okay now that the road is solid again and not wavy gravy. I hope there aren't any dents or scratches from those rocks. The rental company won't like it if there are. Well, it's quiet now. Time to move on." Jason pulled out, dodging the larger rocks in the road. No harm done.
They reached the visitor center for the National Park around 10 am. They still had a two hour trek to the crater's rim. The air was already thin and cool. The humid jungle had been left behind. There were only a few cars in the parking lot. After a brief stop at the visitor center where they were alone except for a single employee, Jason and Rosa relaxed at a picnic table and ate part of the lunch that Rosa had made for them. They left the rest in the car, and traveling light, took only some water and Rosa's cell phone to take pictures and short videos. They both were in great spirits and looking forward to the hike ahead, laughing and carefree. Already, Jason could feel the closeness of the sun. He was glad that he had a good tan from the Yucatán to help protect him from the sun's intensity at these elevations.
The landscape was nothing like the Virginia mountains of Jason's youth. It was more like a moonscape of ash from the many eruptions over thousands of years. Nothing grew there, partly because of the constant eruptions, partly because of the caustic nature of the ash, and partly because of the elevation. Still, the ash that was distributed throughout the region by eruptions contributed to the lushness of the jungle and its multitude of occupants. None of those were evident at this elevation except for the hawks, buzzards and eagles that were seen occasionally drifting on thermals in the distance.
The trail was well worn in the soft pumice and led ever upward along the shoulder of the volcano toward the crater in the distance. The sun beat down relentlessly, while the air was sharply cooler, an interesting contrast. Jason found that his early mountain experience and generally good shape took the thinner air with ease. Rosa, as well, born in altitude, was having no difficulty either. They soon passed an elderly couple struggling with their lungs and limbs. When Rosa asked if they needed any help, both shook their heads. The man said, "I shouldn't have smoked… We'll just rest here a bit and then move on. Thank you very much."
They passed a group of four young people coming back down from the crater. Without asking, one of the young men felt obligated to tell them, in English, what was up ahead. "It was fantastic! Never saw anything like it. That earthquake was something else. We could barely keep our feet. I wish we could stay around to see if it's going to really erupt, but we have to get back to San Jose this evening." The four of them soon passed the elderly couple below as they hurried down the mountain.
Jason and Rosa passed two more groups of people coming down and they echoed what the young man had told them earlier. One middle-aged man with kids told them in Spanish, "I don't think it's a good idea to be up there today. I think something's going to happen. That earthquake scared the hell out of me. Park officials will probably close this trail before long. You'd better get up there and look and then hurry back down before things start happening."
Rosa smiled at what the man had said as they climbed upward. "I know, JJ, he's probably right, but I want to see this place like I remember it when we were kids. Nothing is going to stop me from going up there right now." Jason couldn't deny her enthusiasm. He was feeling the same way himself.
In spite of once in a while having to stop on the steeper inclines to get his legs back, they made rapid progress to the crater and arrived much earlier than expected at 11:15 am. As they approached the rim of the crater, they came upon a large sign in Spanish starting with the word, "Alto." Jason knew that word meant, "Stop," and asked Rosa to translate the rest.
"The sign says that we should not go any farther. It says that it is very dangerous to go beyond this point and we go at our own risk of injury or death." Once again, Rosa flashed a huge smile, and then, asked Jason to stand by the sign so she could take his picture with it. Then she asked him to take a picture of her by the sign, and then, she did a selfie of them both with the sign behind them.
The lip of the crater was only 300 yards or so ahead. Steam and occasional wisps of ash had been pumping out of the crater the whole time they were walking toward it. Soon, they could feel the earth vibrate beneath their feet and the heat of molten rock below as though some kind of huge boiling cauldron churned very near. They had to go see it, close-up and personal.
Rosa and Jason covered the distance to the lip of the crater very quickly and took a look over the edge. Far below, the crater was filled with greenish acid water that gave off a strong sulfurous smell and was boiling and bubbling with glimpses of orange-red molten lava roiling near the surface. The whole scene was alive like some gigantic monster from a Japanese horror movie, only this was real and had been going on for probably more than a hundred million years the same way that it was playing out today--sometimes more violent, sometimes more docile. Still, it made Jason's neck hair stand on end. He could see why many indigenous peoples worshiped volcanoes as gods. The power coming from that hole was enormous, all encompassing, larger-than-life.
Rosa was enthusiastically snapping pictures and taking short videos of the acid water shooting up, sometimes over 200 or 300 feet, from the tremendous heat and pressure below. Sometimes, Rosa asked Jason to stand in the picture for scale as evidence of their being there. And, she asked Jason to take a few with her in them for the same reason. She was giddy. Jason liked that in her. He was growing very fond of this little Costa Rican beauty. She was really growing on him.
Suddenly, the earth beneath their feet began to shake again. Edges of the soft ash lip of the crater began to cave in. Rosa screamed as Jason grabbed her and a section of the lip she was standing on started to fall away. He pulled hard and got her body just past him when he saw the pool at the bottom of the crater explode into a fireball heading up toward them at a speed he could not comprehend.
"Run!" Was all Jason could utter as they both dug their toes into the soft pumice and sprinted for the warning sign as fast as they could. Before they got to the sign, Jason passed Rosa, knowing he could not stop or help her because all around large pieces of flaming rock were dropping like bombs. The only way to escape them was to get out of range.
About 100 yards or so beyond the sign, Jason could hear Rosa behind him, panting deeply as she struggled to run and keep up. But then, he heard a loud, “Ahhhh,” from her and turned to see her on the ground. Rushing back to Rosa, he found her face down in the ash with a gaping burning hole in her back. A still-glowing football-sized rock lay by her side.
Jason beat Rosa’s burning clothes, but could not save her. She was already dead from the impact of the rock on her spine. Jason scooped Rosa up and threw her over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. Rocks were still falling all around, but he managed to finally out distance them as the mountain shook, and he struggled on in the smoke and ash that now filled the air and burned his lungs.
Jason didn't know how long it took him to make it back to the visitor center… It was mostly a blur as he carried Rosa and struggled with the altitude, the smoke, and the dust. He did remember coming upon the old couple struggling to get back to their car just before he reached the visitor center, thankful that he knew they would make it even though they both were having great difficulty with the air the way it was.
The visitor center was abandoned and Jason expected that. He put Rose in the front passenger seat, strapped her in, and drank all the water he could find as he coughed and gagged, trying to get as much of the ash out of his throat as he could before leaving. He made sure that the old couple made it to their car and drove off before he did.
Jason took off his shirt and beat the loose ash off the windows before starting out. The rumbling of the mountain continued, as did the shaking and the continual spewing of more ash and sulfurous gases. Jason drove carefully down the mountain road, driving around landslides. In some places he just made it through where the edge of the road was falling away.
Before Jason reached the highway, it started to rain. The wet ash landed on the windshield in a muddy mess that his wipers could not deal with. Jason had to get out with his shirt and wipe the thick, muddy, abrasive mass off the windshield several times. Fortunately, when he got to the highway, it was empty of traffic because everyone had retreated to safety and no one was driving by Poás when the volcano was in this mood. A few miles down the road he saw police lights flashing and came upon a roadblock preventing people from driving by the volcano. Since he was driving the other way, the police waved him on through without stopping.
Before long, it was dark and what had happened began to sink in. Jason found his eyes tearing up until he could no longer drive and had to pull over to cry. He didn't know what he would say to Esperanza and Rosa's sisters. All he knew was that he had to get her home. He drove on into the night, hoping that he could find that turn off without Rosa's help.
Jason missed the turn off and had to backtrack, but he finally found the dirt road and pulled into the hacienda about 8 pm. He drove up to the house, parked the car, and found his way to the dining room where everyone was eating.
When she saw him come through the doorway, Esperanza gasped at his appearance. "Señor Jacob! What has happened! Where is my Rosarita! Where is she? Is she with you? What happened?" So many questions that Jason could not answer. But he had to…
"She's gone… She's gone. I'm so sorry… So sorry… Rosa was killed instantly by a rock from the volcano. There was nothing I could do… Nothing. I carried her out and brought her here."
"You brought her here? Where? Where is my Rosarita, my little girl?" Esperanza was crying hysterically and both Margot and Doma were clinging to her with frightened looks on their faces.
"She's in the car. I brought her back. That's all I could do…" Jason began crying and slumped to the floor. He was totally spent. In all his tumultuous life he had never confronted anything like this. He felt totally helpless.