Today was what I call a level 10 adventure. What makes it a level 10? Well, a couple of near-death experiences, several great birds, and no plan other than visit the highest waterfall in Costa Rica and see some outstanding birds and herps.
We started out the day by hopping the bus from Jaco to Tarcoles, and this is where the adventure began. We hiked up the road to the world famous Hotel Villa Lapas, and we decided to try and jump a ride to the Manantial de Agua Viva Waterfall. Along the road, I found my first snake of the trip, a dead on the road unidentified serpent. Once we reached the lodge we asked the front desk to find us some transportation. The front desk was unable to reach any of the taxis in the area, so we decided to take a jaunt around the grounds. I was able to locate a Plain Wren and a Common Tody-flycatcher. For some reason this bird seems relatively foreign look to it…oh yeah, I’m in a foreign country. Grounds of this hotel are absolutely outstanding, a more perfect place for a lodge I can not imagine. Along the small river adjacent to the property, I found a sensitive plant which with a mere touch causes the leaves and twigs to fold or go limp. A great example of the bio-diversity of the rainforest. Our taxi, or better put our truck, arrived and for a mere $30 (good God did we taken for a ride, both literally and figuratively). We guys jumped in the back of this little white, underpowered POS (piece of shit), and up the road we went with a cloud of dust and spray of gravel. As we gained ~4700 feet in ~7 kilometers, scenery went from outstanding to sublime. The panorama of mature rainforest and the Pacific Ocean far below was breathtaking. Glancing up the valley, a white ribbon of the waterfall snaked down the verdant landscape. Now this is fun…well, at least for me – Adventure Level 5.
Hopping out of the truck, we were standing outside of a shack with two guys whose English was only little better than my Spanish, which is abhorrent. I tried to inform the driver that I wanted a pick-up for us at 2 o’clock, and it was plainly obvious that we were not communicating (a running theme for me). We paid the driver and paid the reserve fee, and we could begin our descent to the waterfall (a little backwards from the usual Montana vertical expedition to a waterfall). The trail steep but well-maintained. The birds started to come fast and furious. Red-capped Manakin, Northern Bentbill, and Blue-crowned Manakin. Then, Melody called out a frog, and there was a Green-and-Black Poison-Arrow Frog. Completely awesome – Adventure Level 7.
The continued to drop and then a steep rise to the waterfall. This portion of the trail was interesting, which should be read as gnarly. It become more like rock climbing than hiking. Streams flowed over the giant slabs of stone and trees laid over the trail. Crudely constructed ladders were placed over steep sections. The roar of the fall grew in volume as we approached. All of a sudden, there it was, a beautiful, giant waterfall. We stood in awe for several minutes. I was completely floored by sight and trip – Adventure Level 9.
Below the lookout, there was a shabby sign that stated “Proceed at own risk” – sounds awesome. Jed and I picked our way down the trail and used a rope to literally rappel 10 feet or so. Once at the bottom, large boulders stood in our way to the bottom of the falls. These behemoths were coated with this slick red mud that made footing “interesting”. I picked a route up and over about 4 large boulders. I found a foothold and hoisted myself up. Reaching for a corresponding handhold, my hand slipped on the mud. I grasped again and again my hand slid away. As gravity took grip, I tilted backwards and fall earthward. Tucking in to protect the vitals, I smacked on my back and, then, my head pounded a stone with deep thud. In an instance, I popped up on my feet, only to feel a stinging pain in my ankles. Looking down, both joints were starting to stream with blood. A couple checks later, I decided that “I ain’t got time to bleed”, and I started to re-scramble to the boulder field. Within a couple of tense minutes, I stood with Jed at the base of this magnificent torrent. The breeze from the crashing water was warm and wet and you feel the power of the water. Are you kidding me? – Adventure Level 10.
Did I mention that I was drinking plenty of water? Oh yeah, I wasn’t and with the tropical heat I was about to pay a heavy price. As much as the trail descended, it needed to be ascended an equal amount. As the trudge up began, I started to sweat a profuse amount, even heavy for me. Each step became increasingly difficult and my mind began to get a little. Melody pointed out a bird in the undergrowth. Glancing at it, a Black-faced Antthrush. but my condition didn’t allow me to be fully excited.
About 150 meters from the top, I was at my point. Jed bounded up to the shack and purchased 3 $2 waters. Upon his return, I guzzled 2 of them immediately. I managed to make the ridge and found a couple of lonely guys listening to love songs buzzing from a cheap radio. At this point, I had two goal objectives – cool off and to get the hell of the this mountain. Did mention that we had not eaten? Well, that I was my doing as well, sorry guys. After stripping off my dripping shirt, my body temperature lowered and I began to scheme a way down from here. I ask the gentleman about the bus. “Bus comes by all the time, except Sunday.” Guess what day it was? Can one of you hombres take us to the highway? “No permisos.” Great! I flagged down a beat up Nissan Sentra, and after some negotiation the four of us were crammed into the back of this POS (surprise!) and down the mountain we went. I must admit that this guy and his lovely wife, girlfriend, or significant other as they say nowadays suffered us fairly well. “Gringos loco.”
Dropped off at the highway, we waited by a decrepit bus stop. And wait we did. An executive decision was hatched and down the highway we marched towards Jaco. I can think several thousand things safer than walking along a Costa Rican highway. The pedestrian never has the right of way, and several near-misses later we arrived at another bus stop with several dudes just hanging out waiting for the bus. Once again we waited. With everyone thirsty and/or hungry, the other 3 went down to the little store 15 meters from the bus stop. Jed joked about giving the signal, which was hands waving overhead, if the bus were to arrived. Guess what happened? That’s right, not 1 minute after they disappeared into the store, a bus rolled up. So, what do I do in my heat-stroky (is that a word?) condition, both hands go up into the air and began to flail wildly as I scream their names. I do this well at the same time motioning to the driver that 3 more are coming. I must have looked completely crazy – dehydrated, dirty and screaming; all the hallmarks of a raving lunatic. A kid at the bus stop took pity on me and ran into the mercado, and seconds later my worthy compatriots come running over to the bus.
Our adventure for the day drew to close with taco from a gringo place called the Taco Bar. Bellies full and liquids replaced, we drifted home for an evening of nothing, which is exactly what we wanted by this point. Oh yeah, one last piece of adventure, there was a drug bust right next to our backyard. All in all, adventure comes with its price and I for one am buying that ticket and taking the ride.