San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

In Search of the Secret Waterfall: Rubber Boots Recommended

Deep in the forest of the Caribbean slope, somewhere between Puerto Viejo and Bribrí, they say there is a secret waterfall. Following rumors and vague instructions to look for people from the Kéköldi association, we set out to find it. Do you know where it is? we asked Tommy Thompson of Turística Cahuita. There s about six or seven of em, he said. Each company takes people to a different one.

Had we read the recent Tico Times article about bird migration (TT, Oct. 13),we d have known more about Kéköldi Wak Ka Koneke, but alas, we were there to research that as well we knew only that it was an indigenous association with an iguana farm 200 meters south of such-and-such corner store outside of Puerto Viejo. Hoping to find a way to the most secret waterfall the following morning, we stopped at the indicated corner store to ask who, what and where was Kéköldi.

I m the president, said Sebastián Hernández, who was at the store to pick up a few items. He said he d take us to a waterfall, a good, hike-three-hours-in-the-mud type of waterfall, and we should meet him there tomorrow morning at 7, wearing rubber boots.

Although we were late and without rubber boots, we met the next morning and marched with Hernández up to the iguana farm.What can we expect to see? Everything, he said, including raging downpours.

Through another stroke of good timing, we missed all the downpours, except for the secret one, the KéköldiRiver one, which blasted us with cool, misty air after a three-hour hike and a muddy descent into the middle of the forest.

First we saw hundreds of iguanas, piled on top of each other in various enclosures according to age, at the association s iguana farm.

We are prolonging the agony of a dying species, Hernández said.

Though the association might release a million back into the forest each year, he said it can t overcome the iguana s vulnerability to human predators.

The trail went up, mostly along ridges, and Hernández stopped every so often to point out a frog, a cacao fungus or a spike-barked jabillo tree where iguanas live. We actually saw several types of frogs, including the native Talamanca rocket frog, Colostethus talamancae, and the rana de hojarasca, which looked almost exactly like the tan leaves it sat on.With the help of our guide, we also saw an eyelash viper, several packs of bullet ants, an agouti, some fox bones and a jaguar footprint.

Hernández is three terms the president of the 24-member Kéköldi Wak Ka Koneke, the civil association that owns the land we hiked.

He lives with his family near Kéköldi s scientific center and bird observation tower, which we reached after an hour-and-a-half uphill hike. Hernández works part-time at the Talamanca Caribbean Biological Corridor, a biodiversity and sustainable development organization based near the store where we met.

He and his wife, Marixa, conversed in Bribrí while we rested on the clean wooden platform the center is three years in the building, so far and learned a bit about migrating birds, many of which were on their southbound commute to Colombia, Venezuela or as far as southern Argentina.

Former bird-counting volunteer Ken McEnaney, now visiting with friends from Massachusetts, pointed out a double toothed kite resting in yonder tree.

We continued to the tower, an 11-meter structure made of casha wood Hernández showed us where they cut the trees, and explained how they cut 23 to build the station, and planted about 2,400. Along the way we saw many other giants, including the pilón and almendro some of these trees we saw also on the highway, heading up the road from the Caribbean, strapped to the back of trucks.

Hernández said the idea of managing a forest is a pure lie, and that harvesting lumber has never been sustainable. The Kéköldi association has been buying private parcels of land for about 15 years and now owns between 300 and 400 hectares, Hernández said, pointing out reforested areas that were cattle lands or rice plantations when the association purchased them.

Much of the land is sprinkled with cacao trees, formerly a regional export crop, and, before that, the source of coins (cacao beans) for certain ancient cultures. On the way back down, Hernández broke open a ripe yellow pod and shared its sweet, creamy, somewhat acidic white matter with us. (You spit out the giant seeds, unless you want to save them for hot chocolate.) He also plucked us a few sweet carambolas, or star fruit.

On top of the bird-watching tower, several scientific types with binoculars were calling out observations and clicking their counters.

At about 222 meters, we could see forest all around us, the southern Caribbean shoreline in front and faint clouds of circling birds in the distance.

From the tower to the waterfall, it s an approximately 45-minute hike, mostly downhill, Hernández said, but we managed to do it in an hour and a half, dancing often in the mud, and remembering his advice about rubber boots.

But there it was not just any secret waterfall, but the secret waterfall; that s what we told ourselves, anyway we splashed around in the cool waters (well, one-third of our party did), ate a little snack and began our brisk hike back to our launching point, where we arrived, muddy from the knees down, only two hours late for the person picking us up.

For more information about Kéköldi Wak Ka Koneke, its scientific center or trips to the waterfall, visit or call Sebastián Hernández at 884-2671.


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