Catarata Del Tora-Forgotten and lonely waterfall attraction.  With the opening of La Pez Waterfall Gardens, business has slowed dramatically for this attraction that used to be home to many species, like hummingbirds, butterflies and even included wild cats.  The steep hike down to the viewing area is well-worth it as you will be in the crater of an old extinct volcano looking up at the 300 ft waterfall. However, new ownership has breathed new life into this gem. And they even offer lodgings. Visit http://www.catarata-del-toro.com/

THE WONDER THAT AWAITS AT CATARATA DEL TORO, COSTA RICA

We love waterfalls. Every adventure we take, we seek out these majestic flows. And Costa Rica has plenty of them.

We meander the windy back roads. The Costa Rican landscape all around us. We ascend through a hilltop town. Wild hydrangeas grow along the ditches and the buildings are starting to crumble. I sit in the passenger seat of our rental car. I'm taking it all in. We zip by a faded sign with the image of a waterfall. And an arrow pointing in its general direction.

“Stop the car.” I put my hand on my husband’s shoulder.

“What?”

“Stop the car. I saw a sign.”

He pulls over and I jump out. Eager for more information about the waterfall. I scurry back a block or two while my husband puts the car in reverse to follow me. And there it is…a faded blue and white sign with the picture of a waterfall. It says Catarata del Toro and points to the left.

There is a man sitting on a milk crate, near the sign, in front of his shop. I point and ask him about the waterfall. He continues to peel what looks like plantains and points to the road on the left. I thank him and hop back into our rental car.

“That way.” I point out the lonely side road to my husband. He doesn’t hesitate or ask questions, he just goes in the direction I state.

The road is full of pot holes and weaves its’ way through farm land. Then down a ravine where air plants grow on tall trees. We aren’t even sure if we are heading in the right direction anymore. But the adventure is too interesting to turn back now. We have a full tank of gas and that’s all we need right now.

As we reach the bottom, another sign indicates the waterfall is growing near. Our excitement mounts. A large dilapidated sign for the attraction looms ahead. The yellow and red paint chipped. We wonder if the place is still operational. The sign says they even have animals like parrots and black panthers. But when we pull into the parking lot, disappointment slaps us in the face. There is no way the place has animals. It looks deserted. But we are hopeful when we see an open sign above the gate entrance. What the hell, why not check it out? We made it this far…

The gate squeaks as we push through and a man moping the tiled floors of an open-air restaurant area looks up. We ask him if we can see the waterfall and he ushers us over to the edge of a cliff. The railing is rusting in spots but when we peer over the edge...

We ask the man if we are able to go do to the bottom where a viewing platform is visible. He gestures for us to follow him to a kiosk where we pay a minuscule amount and he gives us a hand stamp. He tells us in broken English to be careful. The trail is not perfect. Then he looks down at my feet and chuckles.

My painted toes wiggle in my rhinestone studded flipflops. While my husband smirks in his sturdy running shoes. I am notorious for wearing the most inappropriate shoes for these types of adventures. I give the man a wave like it’s no big deal and he shrugs, pointing us towards the trail.

“Really, honey? When are, you going to learn to wear proper shoes?”

“Never.” I give my husband an affectionate smack.

The trail is dirt and so far, easy to navigate. The birds chirp their happy notes in the trees around us. We reach the top of a set of cement stairs and make our way down, down, down. (Going down is the easy part, going up was exhausting and I felt it for days after.)

After hundreds of steps down into the crater, the trail narrows and parts of the path have fallen away. Later, my research would suggest that this used to be a small volcano. It erupted and left a crater where the water soon found its way to. I hold on to tree roots that are sticking out of the mud wall beside me and duck under and plantain tree full of fruit.

The rush of the water hits our ears and we leave the walls of the crater to reach the viewing platform. We are 295 feet down. The waterfall plummets over the edge to hit the pool below. Along the pools edge are trees and debris left from the monsoon rains months earlier.

The air is moist from the spray. Birds circle overhead. The foliage all around is as green and lush.  My daredevil husband leaves the platform and heads straight down to the waters edge. Since I am more cautious around water (I’m not a strong swimmer), I stay on the platform. I sponge up the beauty of my surroundings. And I congratulate myself on finding this precious hidden gem.

Reluctant to leave, we start the long hike back up. But not without many breathless breaks along the way. I am dizzy from the heat and exertion. But, so exhilarated from the beauty of the place. I am not paying attention to my footing...

No, I do not slip or fall. I almost step on a poisonous snake! A lime green slithering creature crosses the dirt path in front of me. He slinks out of the leaves without my noticing. Just as I am about to step down, my husband warns me and I jump back in fright. The snake continues on his way while I bend over, resting my hands on my knees, a stream of swear words escape my lips.

That would have ruined everything. A poisonous snake bite while in the middle of nowhere... Hospitals or medical help miles away. Maybe the near by village would have a medicine man or a witch doctor, but I could only hope that he could save my life. But that's not how my story ended.

I left Catarata del Toro with a sense of astonishment. How could this place stay hidden among the jungle?  I ponder why the amusement has gone to the wayside. But I smile to myself as I watch another tourist couple pull into the parking lot.

They are completely unaware of the wonderful sight that awaits them.

Coco beach's delightful dogs

Coco Beach is a small fishing village situated along a sandy horseshoe bay in the Guanacaste Region of Costa Rica.  This area has become popular with young adults and the town is now building it's infrastructure based on tourism.  

We heard about Coco Beach from other guests at our resort and thought that it sounded worthy of a visit.  We had rented a small Jeep-style vehicle and hit the road early so that we would be able to enjoy the full afternoon sun at this unknown destination.  Coco Beach or Playa del Coco, was only a 40 minute drive from our resort (Occidental Allegro Papagayo) and we were excited to see what this "town" had to offer.  Besides the usually hot spots for refreshments and rows of souvenir shops, you could also purchased a snow-cone type of dessert  from a Costa Rican pushing a cart on the board-walk. (These slush puppies have several names including Raspados, Granizados and Copos). We love to try new foods while travelling and the price was right.  (About $1 Canadian).  The man filled a cup with shaved ice, covered it with snow-cone syrup, put two heaping tablespoons of powdered milk, more shaved iced and syrup, and topped it off with condensed milk.  (Definitely an interesting combination but authentic to the area.)

We decided to eat our treat as we walked along the ocean board-walk but about halfway through, the "Copos" was losing its' appeal.  We stopped and sat at the end of the walk, feet dangling, watching locals fish with nothing but a stick tied with fishing line and a hook. (They weren't catching much on this particular day but the wives and children were snatching silvery fish when ever they washed on shore from the gentle waves that ebbed and flowed).   I  was about to throw away the rest of our treat when a sad dog made his way over to us.  He was short-haired and tan in colour with the saddest, most lonely eyes I had ever seen. (Yes, I'm a sucker when it comes to cute animals). The poor thing must have been hit by a car for he held up his back leg and limped when he walked.  I didn't have the heart to shoo him away so my husband suggested we offer the pup the discarded treat.  The dog was overjoyed and lapped it up eagerly.  

With drippings of the "Copos" still on his snout, he lay down beside us and allowed us to pet and croon over him.  He became our best friend for a mere 3 minutes and 11 seconds, until...he saw another dog on the beach.  Just as quickly as he appeared, he was off running with his companion.  And the limp?  Gone.  That's right...we were "played" by a Costa Rican dog.  I assume he had been hit by a car once before (or saw another dog with an injury) and had learned that tourists were soft and kind-hearted, and willing to provide him with food when they saw he was hurt.  What a cleaver little fellow to deploy this tactic on unexpected visitors.  (I am now sure that this particular dog has eaten his fair share of "Copos".)

Even though that mutt graced our lives for only mere minutes, he will leave a lasting impression in my mind forever.  It goes to show that no matter your situation, you can always find a way.