San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Beds of Stone for Weary Bones

IT might not be the ideal scenario of vacation fun, but spending a night sleeping, surprisingly well, on a solidly constructed stone platform in a gash of a cave hewn by nature from a cliff behind a waterfall, is actually a pleasant and comfortable experience.The exhausting struggle to reach this eerie place may have influenced such a deep night’s sleep. Although a mere hour-and-a half of hiking to reach the Casa de Piedra (Stone House) at the Diamante Falls, which drop from the Tinamaste range close to Dominical in the Southern Zone, every step was a steep, sweaty effort in high humidity and heat.Within minutes, our group was scarlet faced with clothing drenched at the effort to clamber the precipitous, but well-maintained trail that leads up through dense coastal rain forest to the falls.Theory has it that the Brunca indigenous group used the cave in pre- Columbian times, but today the cave and 200 acres of surrounding first growth forest are owned and managed by Jon Chapman, founder of the Tree of Life organization.THE group is a non-profit, Christian community providing people from all backgrounds with unique experiences through challenging adventures to help foster spiritual renewal and a reassessment of life’s values.The adventures can involve several day visits to the Casa with rappelling, canyoneering, tree canopy exploration and horseback riding.We were a small group, hiking our precious Semana Santa free days with guide Luis Molina, of Sarapiquí Outdoor Center, a small adventure-based agency specializing in well-off-the-beaten-track tours.His trip instructions assured us that the cave boasted sufficient bedding, candles and cooking facilities, which only served to pique our curiosity further. Not only were we to walk through breathtaking forest trails, but there were luxury cavern comforts at the end.CERTAINLY our frequent recovery stops were rewarded with excellent birding – Molina’s keen ears and eyes picking out a motmot, laughing falcon, ant shrike, toucan and black guan.The final stretch was thankfully downhill, accompanied by an increasing roar of substantially falling water when suddenly around the last twist of the path, the huge horizontal crevice gaped at us ahead.The Diamante Falls crash down in three main streams over the cave but because of its depth and shelter, the area is mostly dry apart from occasional drips, where imaginative predecessors have planted shrubs and flowers. We tottered over a tree-trunk bridge and along a shale strewn ledge to reach our petrified lodgings.RAISED stone platforms tucked in at the back serve as multiple sleeping areas, mattresses and comforters soften the uncompromising reality of un-sprung bed bases. Further along, protected with rustic handrails from the vertical drop to the right, a cooking area with stone tables and even fresh-from-the falls showers have been set up.At its highest, the roof reaches more than two meters, giving ample room for meal preparations. Latrines are discreetly located along the path in the forest well away from any water source.After catching our breath, admiring the room with the view to beat most others and downing quarts of juice, Molina guided us along another trail to reach the top of the main Diamante Falls, thankful for a steel hawser to protect us from the 200 meter sheer drop, shuddering at the tale of a lone, foolhardy photographer who ventured too far over the brink and was swept off by a gusty uplift of wind, but inspired by the majestic views of the Pacific coastline toward Manuel Antonio.THIS broad ribbon of water is visible from various parts of the main coastal highway close to Dominical – it was very satisfying to be at this end, right in the heart of the view so to speak and the pool at the base more than refreshed both body and spirits.The recent Coast-to-Coast Race came through the area, as kayakers rappelled down the falls as part of their grueling challenge. The thrill was also offered to us (we decided to postpone it for a future visit).Back at the casa, we devoured the vegetarian rice meal prepared by Molina and as dusk fell, we gathered on a wooden bench at the edge of the cliff to peel our eyes for star spotting helped by fellow hiker and veteran astronomer José Alberto Villalobos. With his piercing laser indicator light to guide us, we had glimpses of Orion, Taurus, Sirius and the Pleiades before clouds stopped play.LIKE roosting birds, by 8 p.m. we were more than ready to seek out our stone perches and settle for a night’s dreams to the splashing of the falls, but also conscious of an integral peacefulness and serenity. A choice haven for soul searching and inner contemplation.Getting there: To Casa de Piedra: 4 hours south of San José via San Isidro de El General road toward Dominical, 2.5 km from Platanillo with signs to the Diamante waterfall and Camp Santo Cristo.Contact Tree Of Life c/o Jon Chapman; APDO, 49; San Isidro de El General; Perez Zeledon 8000. Or e-mail or call 771-6200 for more info. The Web site is the tour:A two-night/three-day trip with Luis Molina at Sarapiquí Outdoor Center costs $80. It includes the overnight at Casa de Piedra, and a Dominical hotel, visits to Nauyaca waterfall and Playa Ventanas with transport and some meals.Tel/fax: 238-2313 or 352-8935

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