Tag Archives: waterfall

Rincon de la Vieja National Park

Rincon - Cangreja Waterfall 1

L: I wonder what it means.

D: Rincon de la Vieja? “The Old Lady’s Cranny”.

L: The Old Lady’s WHAT?

D: Sigh. I said Cranny. Cranny as in nook and cranny, or corner.

L: Thank goodness for that. I thought you said….

D: I know what you thought. I didn’t. Obviously.

L: No. Right. Anyway, it should be called “Rincon de las Rainbows.” They’re everywhere!

They drive slowly along empty tarmac lanes skirting the foot of the wooded hillside, under a bright blue sky. Way above, where grey clouds are obscuring the volcano’s peak, it is raining, and the buffeting wind carries a mist of sparkling water droplets. Shimmering rainbows, large and small, spring from the road, from gullies, from valleys, and arch over their heads.

The Parque Nacional Rincon de la Vieja is surprisingly wild. Although less than an hour’s drive from Costa Rica’s second city of Liberia, the roads leading to it are mostly unpaved, and the landscape in between is dry, dusty and empty. There is no town to host visitors when they arrive, just a few isolated hotels and lodges, hidden away in the forest.   There is a feeling of unpredictability about the place – of uncontrolled energy. The perpetually strong winds feed an extensive windfarm on the barren uplands between two volcanic peaks, and the land within the park bubbles with hot springs, boiling mud and sulphurous gases. A number of geothermal plants have been established to capture some of this unharnessed power.

The park is divided into two sectors, each with their own ranger’s station, 10km or so apart. The main one is Pailas, on the north-west edge. They arrive at a building site, crammed with parked cars and buses. A huge white visitor’s centre is half-finished – workmen with bandana-wrapped faces turning their backs to the wind to keep swirling clouds of dust from mouths and eyes. A ranger is manning a tiny wooden hut in the middle of a field.

Ranger: Buenas dias – welcome! Here’s a map. I’m afraid some of the trails are closed for construction. There are two you can do – here and here, both out and back. No, the volcano summit trail has been closed for four years – it’s very active. Every day.

D: Excellent! I like my volcanoes a bit lively.Rincon - hot mud pot

They choose Las Pailas, a 1½ hour walk through thick woodland, over a rickety chain-link bridge, and out into the open. A maze of half-built concrete paths criss-cross the trail, broken plastic ribbons of “Don’t Cross” tape snapping in the wind. There are whiffs of rotten egg, and a number of muddy pools. The whitish-grey mud is dry in some places, or steaming gently from yellow-crusted fumaroles, but in others is bubbling thickly, gurgling and spitting like an enormous pan of sauce on an over-hot stove. Las Pailas means “Cauldrons”.Rincon - boiling mud

D: (happily) Look – read the sign. We could be scalded and gassed at any moment.

He waits eagerly for a catastrophe, but remains unscathed.

At the far end of the trail, they reach a pretty stream, crossed on a wide log. They pause. L bends to wet her hands.

L: Weird! Feel this – the water’s warm.

 

Their second walk is longer – 2 hours each way – to reach the Cangreja Waterfall.   They check with the ranger that the water will be flowing, despite the dry season, and set off, through deeply shaded woods.

D: I think I’m being bitten by something.

L: Here – put on insect repellent. It’s called “Deep Woods”. It should be perfect.

They stand in the twilight of the forest floor, listening to the wind sweeping through the canopy above, and to the isolated call of an unseen bird. The path ahead is wide and flat, criss-crossed with innumerable tree roots.

D: It should be known as the “Forest of the Stranglers.”

L: Err…why? Are there murderers?

D: No. Well, actually, yes, in a way.

L: Seriously? Have people been strangled in these woods?Rincon - strangler fig

D: Not people. But look. A lot of these trees are strangler figs. They grow in dark forests like this, where they need to reach the light fast to survive. It’s clever evolution.   Their saplings sprout half way up trees, from seeds left by bird droppings.

L: That’d give them a good head start on anything growing up from the forest floor.

D: Exactly. The saplings shoot quickly upwards to get their heads into the light, and downwards to get their feet into the ground.

L: Which explains all these damn roots I’ve been tripping over.Rincon - fig roots

D: But all that frantic growing tends to strangle and kill the original tree.

L: Poor tree. That’s a bit evil. Is that why some of the trunks are hollow?

D: Yes, the cavity’s the space left by the dead tree. And see – sometimes the figs grow these great buttress roots, so that when the original tree dies, they don’t just fall over. Ouch. I think I’ve been bitten by something.

L: You can’t have been. You’re covered in bug-spray. It’s psychosomatic.

Rincon - path to waterfallThey walk on, and emerge into open grassland, the path now sloping gently downhill, giving far-reaching views down towards the coast. The strong breeze ensures that even in the midday sun they are not too hot. Occasionally they are “spritzed” with a mist of water blown down from the hilltop.

L: It’s a long way for a waterfall. It’d better be worth it.

D: We’re nearly there. I can hear it.

L: I bet there’s 300 people and no room for us to sit.

D: I can see it. There aren’t 300 people. There are……seven.

A final rocky descent through woodland leads them to a large clear pool fed by a white curtain of water cascading from 40 metres above.

L: It’s absolutely beautiful! Definitely worth the walk.Rincon - Cangreja Waterfall

D wades in. The water is refreshing, but not painfully cold. He swims lazily across, climbs out and stands happily under the fall, which pummels and needles the top of his head. The water is colder here. However, on the other side, in a little corner, a small stream trickles down a boulder and into the pool. The water from this stream is as hot as a bath.

The following morning…

L: Sorry. Not my best choice. But at least we had a bed.

D: Which was too small. You pushed me out.

L: And a bathroom.

D: With no hot water. And bare wires poking out of the shower head. It’s a miracle I wasn’t electrocuted. And dinner was horrid.

L: What are you saying? The pudding was tremendous!

D: There’s nothing tremendous about rice pudding. Unless you’re a very small child.

This morning they are driving to the other Ranger’s Station, at the south-west corner of the park, known as Casona Santa Maria. The 3km track is barely passable in places and they weave their way around boulders and in and out of deep ruts as though on a 4WD obstacle course. Eventually they arrive at a flat manicured grass clearing surrounded by forest. To one side is a dilapidated barn, which is empty apart from a small desk and a filing cabinet in one corner, on top of which are several decomposing snakes in glass jars. A cheerful ranger appears, shakes hands with them, and signs them in.

Ranger: There’s one trail – 3km out, the same back. No, not steep, but it can be a bit slippery in places. Have fun amigos!

They set off along a broad path in the woods. Their first stop is at a waterfall.Rincon - waterfall

L: Gosh – I don’t think we’ll be swimming here!

They admire a torrent of angry white water crashing over a 10 metre drop and into a swirling, frothing pool below.

L: I read somewhere that 32 rivers have their sources in the park. It’s a really important water catchment area for the region, because most of Guanacaste’s so dry.

D: Oh. Fascinating. Can I have the insect repellent? I’m being bitten.

He sprays himself carefully and thoroughly.

Further on, they encounter a large family group, arguing noisily in French.

Teenage boy: We’ve had to turn back. There’s a river to cross and no bridge and our parents wouldn’t let us wade it. You could do it, but you’ll get wet!

On they go.

L: That doesn’t sound right. The ranger would have mentioned it, surely. He just said things might get a bit slippery. They must have taken the wrong path.

D: Umm….Oh.

The broad track stops at a wide, fast flowing river. There is no bridge. Downstream it drops steeply over boulders.Rincon - wading river

L: I expect this qualifies as “a bit slippery”.

D: It’s not so deep.

L: Let’s wade it then.

In the middle, the current tugs at them, the water swirling around their thighs. They stagger across and out, slipping on wet rocks, and carry on, feet squelching. After a while they stop to wring out their socks and air-dry their feet. Then continue.

D: Oh.

L: Another stream. This one’s smaller though.

She wades straight in and across.

L: Shall we squeeze out our socks again?

D: Yes, but hurry up. If I stand still I get bitten.

L: That’s impossible. You’ve sprayed. You’re imagining it.

Further on, they descend to a wide shallow river bed giving off a strong smell of rotten eggs. Rocks have been arranged to form a cluster of knee-deep hot-tub-sized pools. The water flows in clear and peaty-brown, and out white and silty. They wade across the first pool.Rincon - hot springs

D: Cold.

And into the second.

L: Freaky! It’s properly hot, like a bath. And seriously eggy. Where’s the heat coming from?

They sit in it for a bit, trying to work it out. The third and fourth pools are tepid, fed from the hot pool flowing into them and then cooling. However this pool must be being heated from the ground.

D: Well, we’re sitting on volcanic magma – molten rock.

L: Are we? That doesn’t sound awfully safe.

D: Cold water seeps into the ground, and when it reaches the magma, it’s heated up and pushed upwards and back out. Either as hot water, like here, or as steam like in the fumaroles we saw yesterday.

L: What about mud pots?

D: That just happens when the hot water gets mixed up with mud or clay underground and so breaks through the surface as bubbling hot mud.

L: Have you been reading about volcanoes again?

D: Yes. I like them.

When they get out their skins and swimwear smell of eggs.

On the way back, they detour, following a small meandering path through the forest, promising “cold water pots.” Rincon - cold water potsAt a deserted clearing edged with dead trees, is a wide muddy area with water trickling through it. The stream is cold, and yet vigorously bubbling away. Here the fumes are heady, nauseating, almost overpowering. They explore, in places finding holes within which the water is boiling fiercely as though from a jacuzzi on full power.

L: I don’t understand. How can the water be bubbling and cold?

D: It looks like a spring – I reckon cold water is emerging from the ground here, but there are volcanic gases escaping too, through the water, making it bubble.Rincon - cold water pot

L: What sort of gases? Poisonous ones?

D: Umm… carbon dioxide, and the stink is hydrogen sulphide I think. Which is very bad for you.

L: Oh.

D: We’d probably better go – I think my eyes are melting.

L: I thought you liked your volcanoes a bit lively.

D: I do. But now I’m feeling queasy. And I’m sure I’ve been bitten.

L: Do you think you’ve got a neurological disorder? Maybe your imaginary itches are a form of Tourette’s or OCD. I’ll book you an appointment.

They reach the car.

L: Ah.

D: What?

L: I think I might have been bitten.

D: Ha!

Despite all the insect repellent, they are both covered in swollen red bites.

Rincon - Cangreja Waterfall 2

Volcan Poas & La Paz Waterfall

P1020141-small

Lush green meadows below Volcan Poas

 

D: We need to get there as early as possible, before the cloud rolls in, or we won’t be able to see into the crater.

L: Nearly there – look – “Volcan Poas 12km”.

D: It’s so lovely and green up here. And meadowy. It looks just like Wales.

L: It must rain a lot. Uh oh. All the cows are lying down.

D: The air’s so fresh. We’re at about 2500m I think. That’ll be why.

L:   The cloud’s building. Drive a bit faster.

D: It’ll be fine.

L: We’re in the cloud.

D: It’ll blow though and clear in a minute.

L: We’re still in the cloud.

D: OK, we’ll try again later. Shall we go and find La Paz Waterfall instead?

 

Half an hour later, at the Waterfall Gardens entrance…

L: HOW MUCH?

D: Stop shouting.

L: Sorry. It’s the shock. FORTY dollars? Per PERSON?

D: You’re shouting again.

L: Sorry. But FORTY dollars?

D: Still shouting.

L: Sorry.

Ticket office woman: Here’s a map. You can walk down through the gardens, visit the hummingbird enclosure, the butterfly enclosure, the snake enclosure, the frog enclosure, and view the waterfalls. The circuit takes about 2 hours.

L: But, FOR…….

D: (Interrupting and steering L out of the door) Thank you very much. We’ll just go away and think about it.

L: That’s more than the Cotswold Wildlife Park. Which takes all day to see around. They’ve got a RHINOCEROS for chrissakes!

D: The guidebook says the La Paz Waterfall is really close to the road. Let’s just carry on down the hill a bit further and see what we can see.

L: OK.

D: Good. In you get. I’ll drive.

L: (muttering) Forty dollars…..!

D: Sigh.

The road winds steeply downhill for a few hundred metres, and then hugs the near vertical walls of the hillside as it crosses the head of a gully on a clattering steel bridge. And there, right there in front of them, a fierce cascade of water tumbles 120 feet down the cliff from above, to a rocky pool, and then under the bridge and away.

L: Wow.

D: Cool.

L: (indignantly)   You wouldn’t even have been able to see it from the Gardens.

D: Yes you would. I can see a sort of viewing platform right up at the top. Anyway, let’s go and look.P1020129-small

They walk down to the pool at the foot of the falls. The slippery rocks are hazed in a great mist of spray being thrown up by the force of the water. They make their way back up to the car, where two other vehicles have also pulled off the road.

D: But the book says you can walk right behind the waterfall.

They look around.

L: Well, any path there was has clearly disappeared. There was a really bad earthquake here in 2009. People died. The path must have fallen. No-one else is expecting a path – they’re just taking photos from the bridge. Wherever are you going?P1020140-small

D leaps nimbly across a muddy ditch by the road, and sets off along an almost invisible and very narrow ledge half way up the cliff.   Water trickles down the face of the rock wall and the tiny path is crumbly underfoot, and slippery with spray.

L: What are you doing? Come back! It’s too dangerous!   You’re going to fall! I can’t watch! Oh, hang on, stay there, let me take a photo. Go right a bit.

The path widens and D finds that he can walk easily to a spot right under the falls, watching the immense angry curtain of water cascade over his head and down into the pool 60 feet below him. He beckons to L who disappears, re-emerges, and makes her way cautiously along to him.

D: See, it’s not so bad. The first bit’s the trickiest. What on earth happened to you? You’re covered in mud.

L: (grinning). This is fantastic! Oh, I fell in the ditch.

 

Later that day….

D: I think we’ll be OK. The cloud’s much higher than this morning.

L: Nearly there. “Volcan Poas 3km”. We need to get a move on – the Park closes in half an hour.

D: We’ll be fine.

L: The cloud’s coming down.

D: It’s not. If anything, it’s lifting. We’ll be fine.

They reach the entrance to the Volcan Poas National Park. The gates are still open. The woman at the ticket booth is eating a sticky bun. They wait politely for her to finish. She smiles gratefully and licks her fingers.

Woman: Do you want to go in?

D: Is there still time?

Woman: Yes, but you won’t see anything. The crater is full of cloud.

D: Oh.

Woman: It’s better in the mornings.

D: Except this morning.

Woman: Yes, except this morning.

D: We’ll try again tomorrow morning.

Woman: We open at 8.

 

The following morning….

D: Look, it’s a beautiful morning.

L: Yes, but for how long? Hurry UP! This is our third and final chance to see the volcano. Run!

D: There is no point whatsoever in running to breakfast. It doesn’t start until 7.30.

They pack the car, check out, and are at the breakfast room door at 7.25.

L: The door’s locked.

D: It’s not 7.30 yet.

The door opens and they rush in and sit down.

L: OK, eat fast. We need to be out of here at 7.40.

The proprietor turns on the coffee machine and begins to cut up fruit, very slowly. At 7.35, cutlery arrives, followed by glasses of fresh strawberry juice.

L: I cannot believe that this is happening so slowly.

D: The strawberry juice is very good. They grow them up here.

Fruit arrives. They eat it. And wait.

L: Shall we go?

D: What about my scrambled eggs? They’re included.

L: Am I the only one who understands that this is an emergency?

The eggs arrive. And toast. D munches happily. L fidgets.

L: There’s a puma in the garden.

D: It’s a goat.

L: Oh. Have you finished yet? The cloud’s building.

D: There are no clouds. D’you need any more of that jam?

Eventually they leave, drive up the now familiar road to the Volcan Poas park gates. They arrive at 8.20.

D: Told you. Still no clouds.

L: Well. They could be hiding just around the corner.

They walk along a broad track towards a look-out point over the edge of the crater.P1020150-small

L: Holy moly.

D: Very cool.

They lean over the wooden railing and gaze across a mile wide crater below them, complete with a milky turquoise lake at the centre, from which steam is gently wafting. It looks huge, and beautiful, and dangerous.

L: Did you notice the evacuation instructions on the board back there?

D: Yes. This is one of the world’s largest and most active volcanoes. Every so often it gets a bit lively and they have to close the park.

L: How d’you know?

D: I’ve done my research. If I wasn’t a translator, I think I’d be a vulcanologist.

L: Since when?

D: Since yesterday. Ask me anything.

L: Does it spit fire?

D: No – sulphuric acid. It makes acid rain and acid fog – you can see over to the left, which must be downwind, how bare the hillside is, and how brown and stunted any vegetation is. Apparently every now and then it damages the nearby coffee and strawberry crops.

L: It looks pretty calm today. Can we go down into the crater? Are there any paths?

D: No – no-one’s allowed down there. Too much acid in the air. It’d burn your lungs. And your eyes. It might look calm, but it could shoot a massive geyser of hot sulphuric steam miles into the air at any moment.

L: Miles?

D: Well, maybe not miles. A couple of hundred metres. But we should be OK up here – the crater’s 300 metres deep.

L: Alright then. Go and stand by the edge, and I’ll take a photo. And another one. Hold me while I stand on the railing. Just one more. Oh, and one from over there.

D: Get on with it. D’you want to go and see the other crater?

L: Definitely. Is it like this one?

D: No. The other one isn’t active – hasn’t been for 7,500 years. It’s got a good lake though. Here’s the sign – Laguna Botos. Follow me.

They follow a paved path winding uphill, for about a mile. Overhead, dwarf cloud-forest vegetation closes over their heads, creating a twilight tunnel. They overtake an elderly American couple in matching sunhats, holding hands, stopping to breathe. A little further up, they suddenly emerge into dazzling sunshine, and in front of them is a deep blue crater lake surrounded by lush green forest and flowering shrubs.

L: It’s so beautiful!

L shades her eyes from the glare of the mid-morning sun reflecting off the clear, cold water. The American couple reach them and sink gratefully onto a bench.

Man: I’ll sell you my hat if you like. A hundred dollars.

L laughs. He grins, holding out his floppy sunhat. His wife pats his knee fondly.

 

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Laguna Botos- Volcan Poas