Selva Leona Waterfall Hike: Part 2
We dismounted our horses in a small clearing around low forest shrub and windswept trees. Nixon Villalobos, one of my guides, led the horses to an overflowing water trough. By this time, Nixon's two small dogs had caught up to us. They danced around the perimeter inspecting the edges of the forest.
A hundred yards up the hill, we found the camp; a stubbly-wooden yurt with a tin roof. The front entrance was open to the valley below. In the center stood a rough-wooden table surrounded by stools buried into the dirt floor. I drank from a bottle of water while Fermin and Nixon told me about the wildlife they've seen living in their rainforest preserve; animals with names like blue-crowned motmot, great currasow and coatimundi.
Afterwards, Nixon and I walked out the back of the camp on a trail curving into the dense overgrowth of the rainforest while Fermin stayed behind to cook lunch.
Descending into the Forest
The dogs wove through the jungle while we walked along the trail. Every so often they would disappear among the trees, only to jump out at a switchback. When the trail narrowed and hillside was too steep, the dogs hiked between us, bouncing down the steps and prancing across the small wooden bridges.
A heavy shade fell over us as we hiked beneath thick ceilings of foliage. Nixon stopped to peer through the undergrowth. In the distance, splashes of falling whitewater appeared between the tree branches.
Another hundred yards down a steep, muddy descent we reached the river bottom; the congress of two small streams sweating in the midst of the old growth rainforest. The water trickled between the mossy rocks and fallen logs that wove paths through streams. Together, Nixon, the dogs and I jumped from rock to rock, stepping single file across partially submerged logs, like a high wire act. In front of us, the waterfall cascaded thirty feet into the stream below.
We sat down near the waterfall's base and enjoyed the cool mist. Around us, life clung to every stone. Plants wrapped around themselves in double helixes growing out the side of the miniature gorge. Trees hung over the flowing mineral water, their root systems exposed along the walls of the gorge, creeping downward. Every vibrant green fiber seemed to reach for the falls, bowing toward them as if praying to a natural altar.
After a time, we turned back leaving behind the rapture of the falls and the forest.
Lunch at Camp
By the time we got back to the camp, Fermin had prepared a cowboy's feast; blackened chicken served on golden fried tortillas, black beans, tortilla chips and fried plantains smothered in healthy dollops of Salsa Lizano. While we ate, Fermin recounted the serendipitous tale of how he had met Leo and started tours at Selva Leona.
The Ride Back
After lunch, we climbed on our horses and rode back toward the farmhouse deep in the valley below. Crossing over the ridge we'd passed only hours before, the morning's mist had burned off in the midday sun. Lake Arenal's dark mineral waters reflected blue skies and cotton-tuft clouds. We looked out over the lake and rippling hills then descended into the scattered textiles of pastureland that make up the Selva Leona Ranch.