Archive for November 2008
Wild Costa RicaCategories: Travel Adventures
A storm was brewing when my plane touched down in San Jose, Costa Rica, late at night. After making my way to a motel in Santa Ana, I crashed around 1:00a.m. Just as I was about to doze off, the room began to rock. I wasn’t sure at first if this was a low blood sugar attack, a poorly constructed hotel shaking under heavy gusts of wind (I was on the second floor), or an earthquake. After three rounds of rocking and rolling, I decided it must be a quake – on the plane I had read that there are active volcanoes near San Jose. The next morning, I learned we were rocked by a 6.4 quake centered in the Pacific Ocean off the Panamanian coast . . . a bad omen perhaps.
Wind and rain changed my plans over the next few days. This was the first of two big storms from the north that hit the Caribbean side of the country while I was there, flooding the lowlands and displacing about 40,000 people from their homes. So I focused on five other regions: the Central Valley west of San Jose; Quepos and Manuel Antonio on the Pacific Coast; the Monteverde cloud forest; Arenal Volcano (and hot springs); and La Paz Waterfall Gardens north of San Jose. To get around, I rented a little Suzuki Jimny 4×4. But driving is more of a challenge than fun in Costa Rica, a bit like being IN a video game, especially frustrating because street names and building numbers are virtually non-existent. Had it not been for a GPS unit I rented with the vehicle, finding places would have become one misadventure after another.
One of my favorite shooting locales in Costa Rica turned out to be the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, a private reserve near the epicenter of a 6.2 earthquake that struck a month after my return to the States. The quake and its 2000 aftershocks triggered more than 246 landslides in this steep, mountainous, rain-drenched terrain near Poas Volcano. About 40 people died, 2,238 people were displaced from their homes, and 128,135 people in 61 communities were impacted in the nation’s Central Valley (Costa Rica is a little smaller than West Virginia). Repairs to roads damaged by the landslides are expected to cost $15 million (in a country with a Gross Domestic Product of only $26 billion). So for Costa Rica, this was a significant disaster; even though it came through international news as little more than a blip on their radar.
La Paz’s centerpiece attraction is a precipitous gorge cut by a cascading river, accessible via a walkway (at least 1/4 mile long) with stairways engineered into the cliff, bringing visitors close to the roar and spray of the waterfalls — truly an awesome attraction. I carried an umbrella to protect my camera gear from the spray. Reports suggest that landslides destroyed this cliffside trail with its gazillion steps and lush tropical overgrowth, not to mention the wonderful plant and animal exhibits on higher ground.
Follow-up: Fortunately, both La Paz and the adjacent Peace Lodge, under the same ownership, are being rebuilt and reopened six months after the quake. While there, I stayed nearby with a Russian family owning casitas for rent on the edge of the canyon. I fear they may have lost everything in the quake – no news yet on that front. ~ TW
View of stairway in the La Paz River gorge before January 2009 earthquake, La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Costa Rica
View of lush tropical vegetation overhanging the La Paz River at the bottom of the river gorge before the January 2009 earthquake, La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Costa Rica