Río Celeste in the Rain

I’m told rain is coming. On the days that reach 92, 95, 97 degrees and the air conditioning at school breaks, I’m told rain is coming. Every morning after having woken up the night before around 2:00am to a pillow drenched in neck sweat, I’m told rain is coming. I’ve seen intermittent evidence of this, small drops heavy with potential, but so far this supposed relief from the heat remains a rumor.

Two of my roommates, Erik and Sigrid, are moving back home to Sweden in a couple weeks after living in and traveling around Latin America for the last 7 months. I’ve had the privilege of becoming very good friends with the couple and am dreading their departure, but I know life will bring us back together again. As part of their see-as-much-as-possible-before-we-leave campaign, we decided to visit the famous Río Celeste, a river known best for its vibrant turquoise color. Located inland and at a higher altitude in the Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio, we were advised to pack our rain jackets, a thought that thrilled me to my very core. As much as I enjoy life in Costa Rica, my body was not built for this constant sun and heat. I hoped for a reprieve.

The three of us went along with an expat family also living in Potrero: Andrea and Linda, their two tween daughters, and Andrea’s mother and her husband who were visiting from North Carolina. In two cars we drove to the park, spying grey clouds and feeling our ears pop as we reached higher altitudes. We arrived to our cabins in the early evening and were able to spend some time in awe of the river’s brilliant blue before enjoying a typical Costa Rican dinner prepared by the cabins’ owners.

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As the sun went down, so did the temperature and for the first time in months, I happily threw on an extra layer for dinner. The nine of us enjoyed each other’s company over fresh fish and chicken before heading back to the cabin I was sharing with the Swedes for some pre-bed card games.

I slept all the way through the night and even slipped under the blanket at some point because I was chilly. Bless up.

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We awoke Monday morning to a light drizzle and thick fog blanketing the treetops. We ate another typical Tico meal for breakfast in preparation for our morning’s hike to the waterfall through the national park. By the time we got to the park around 9:00am, the rain was coming down steadily. I bought a $2 poncho to put over my $70 raincoat because Columbia apparently makes useless products, and off we went. Five minutes in, I gave myself a mental pat on the back for opting to wear my Teva sandals instead of my hiking boots because the mud was really on another level. I’d had visions of seeing sloths and tropical birds on this hike, but could focus my eyes only on the ground and my energy in staying upright, engaging in a sort of dance with the slick mud and rocks.

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We made our way to the end of the trail, passing over rickety bridges, climbing steep stairs, spotting natural hot springs, and catching the occasional intense whiff of volcanic sulfur along the way. There we were able to see the origin of the river’s distinct color. Río Celeste is fed by two other rivers, Río Buena Vista (“Good View River”) and Quebrada Agria (“Sour Creek”). The combination of the specific particles in Río Buena Vista and the high acidity of Quebrada Agria results in the turquoise of Río Celeste.

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One of the cooler things I’ve seen, I tell ya. We turned around to make our way halfway back before taking another turn to see the park’s waterfall. The trail’s foot traffic had increased a bit, so finding the balance between passing and letting others pass without slipping and dying was a fun challenge. (If I can give any advice about this, it’s to begin this hike early in the day to avoid the crowds, especially if you plan to go to the waterfall.)

The rain had become more of a drizzle, but it was still difficult to differentiate between the sweat and water dripping down the side of my face. We followed the sounds of the rushing water and hustled down the 250 steps to the waterfall, the first of its size that I had ever seen. The fog was still low and the water was loud and powerful. I could have stood there for hours.

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We trudged back up the stairs and the only thing I could think about was how badly my glutes were burning. By the time we got to the top of the staircase, I was admittedly ready for the hike to be over. The rain had majorly slowed down and my poncho/raincoat combo was beginning to feel like an incubator. Onward we trudged, dodging even more oncoming traffic and focusing still on the ground beneath us.

By the hike’s end, the rain had stopped entirely. Of course. I bought a much-deserved ice cold pipa at the park’s entrance before peeling off my poncho, jacket, and shirt. I attempted to scrub off the mud caked onto my legs and feet, put a dry shirt on, and climbed into the air conditioned car for the drive back to the coast. As we got closer to sea level, we rejoiced at the sight of blue sky. Though we were trading the lush, green colors of the jungle for the various shades of brown on the dry coast, we smiled, knowing we were going back home.

Back at the beach, we still have no rain. This past week, the air conditioning went out at my school two days in a row. For about 24 blissfully cool hours however, the burden of beach life was temporarily lifted and I got the rain I’d been wishing for, plus a little more. I know the rain will come soon and I’ll be grateful when it does. But for now, I’ll enjoy the sunshine while she’s here.

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