Why are we drawn to the primal force of falling water? To waterfalls cascading in continuous motion, ceaseless renewal, perpetual reshaping?
The ancient Greeks philosophized that in waterfalls, we see ourselves, our own potential for motion, renewal and reshaping.
In Costa Rica, volcanic activity fractured the backbone of the Andean-Sierra Madre chain, resulting in an outpouring of waterfalls, what they call cataratas. Not world-famous showstoppers with crowds crushing and gushing like Niagra or Igazu, but cataratas with a quieter soliloquy, like the country itself.
Magellan and I made sure “Costa Rica’s most magical cascade,” Catarata del Rio Celeste, was on our itinerary by staying nearby at Rio Celeste Hideaway. Magical because of its iridescent turquoise colour, this waterfall is down the throat of the Rio Celeste, the sky-blue river that runs through Tenorio Volcano National park.
The celestial colour of the water occurs where minerals from volcanic and rainforest matter come together to form a natural chemical reaction. Excessive rainfall had washed out a bridge so Pozo Azul, the teal-blue lagoon where two rivers meet, was closed. But via a 3 km hike along a well-designed jungle trail, then down 250 steps, we did get to the base of Catarata del Rio Celeste.
“Although it’s not the country’s best kept secret anymore,” we’d read before leaving home. Uh huh. A signpost read that a thousand people a day visit Catarata del Rio Celeste! We were there on Valentine’s Day. It wasn’t crazy busy (we went late afternoon to best our chances) but we did have to wait our turn to capture a photo.
Magellan’s favourite was Catarata del Toro (bull), considered one of the best waterfalls in Costa Rica “and probably Central America” and rated among the ten best in the world (by the owner’s grandpa). The Catarata del Toro Adventure Park is on 100 hectares of private land near a rural town. The tallest waterfall in Costa Rica, it drops 300 feet, roaring like a bull into an extinct volcanic crater. Vivid colours of green, red and orange line the walls of the pool, “remnants from the extremely acidic crater lake.” Magellan asked Wil, the Costa-Rican-Dutch owner, how he constructed the 375 concrete steps down to the waterfall.
On Jan 8, 2009, Costa Rica experienced its largest earthquake in more than a hundred years–a magnitude 6.2 with the epicentre only four km away on the opposite flank of the active Poás Volcano. The earthquake took at least thirty-four lives and buildings in the region were heavily damaged. Will explained it took two weeks to clean-up the trees, roots and existing steps to the base of the waterfall that had been destroyed.
“After that, we started to transport gravel, sand, wire, cement, wood etc. to the point all by hand and wheel barrel. Many helpers came and many quit, some after 1 day, some after 2 weeks. Water pipes and electricity where brought to the point including a big concrete mixer.”
Getting the concrete mix down the cliff to the stairs that were being formed was an exercise in ingenuity and brute force.
“The concrete we got on place by old zinc roofing, making a roll of it, one inside the other, some support and by gravity the concrete ended where we needed it. Next we changed the route of the zinc tunnel. It worked all pretty well.”
“It took us 3 months. Only once we lost the mix due to the heavy rains, for the rest it was not that difficult. We never regretted those steps for 1 second! And all, but really all, customers make comments about those steps 🙂 “
Competing with the waterfall for your attention, blue morpho butterflies and iridescent hummingbirds flit among the flowers in the gardens. Do Wil and his wife Donais ever rest? Again, we arrived later in the afternoon to avoid the crowds and this not being a touristy area, we practically had the place to ourselves, except for a two-man film crew clicking at hummingbirds—lucky for us as we took advantage of their strobe lighting.
For artistic photography, Catarata Fatima at Bosque de Paz Rain/Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, offered the most potential. Located “in the green heart of our planet,” this is a family-run gem—1,000 hectares of primary and secondary rainforest connected to two national parks to provide an extensive wildlife corridor. The owners, Federico González-Pinto and his wife Vanessa (whom we met), are seriously dedicated to preserving Costa Rica’s biodiversity. With an abundance of wildlife, waterfalls and an orchid garden, researchers hang out here. It being a Monday we were lucky to reserve two spots on the guided hike to Catarata Fatima, usually reserved exclusively for guests.
My favourite cataratas were the poetically named trio at El Silencio. There’s not much about them on the lodge’s website so they were a pleasant surprise. And their quiet beauty compensated for the overbuilt super-sized Quetzal Villa, #20, large enough for a group of eight, and bulldozers and carpenters were at work building more units, larger and appearing even more luxurious. (Foreign owners, although the original Costa-Rican family who built the resort still has a house on the property.)
The three waterfalls, Silencio, Melodia and Promesa (honeymoon names?), are on the River Giron. Again we went later in the day, after a Sunday lunch. We walked the easy five kilometre loop, the river drifting deeper into the silence of the forest, the sounds of Silencio, Melodia and Promesa gently murmuring, falling into silence. Much like the poet Mary Oliver unveils…
For all the said,
I could not see the waterfall
until I came and saw the water falling,
its lace legs and its womanly arms sheeting down,
while something howled like thunder,
over the rocks,
all day and all night—
like ribbons made of snow,
or god’s white hair.
At any distance
it fell without a break or seam, and slowly, a simple
a fall of flowers—and truly it seemed
surprised by the unexpected kindness of the air and
light-hearted to be
flying at last.
Gravity is a fact everybody
It is always underfoot,
like a summons,
gravel-backed and mossy,
in every beetled basin—
that third eye—
can do a lot but
hardly everything. The white, scrolled
wings of the tumbling water
I never could have
imagined. And maybe there will be,
some slack and perfectly balanced
blind and rough peace, finally,
in the deep and green and utterly motionless pools after all that
Bosque de Paz Rain/Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, perfect for nature lovers.
Here’s the link to El Silencio.
For info on hiking to Catarata del Rio Celeste, this site is the best.
Rio Celeste Hideaway has a lot to offer besides proximity to the azure waterfalls of the same name—we’ll tell you more another day.