by Dick Springgate on "Okanagan"

There was a brief mention of walking. In fact it would do us good, having been confined aboard the boat for the last few months but, man, is it hot! A mile walk is not in the least bit appealing. Besides, the tractor looks like it came from the 30's, something my grandfather would have used to plow his fields back in Muncie, Indiana. So we opt for the adventure of being pulled along in the two wheeled cart behind the loud and smoky beast. Adolfo, all of fifteen years old, fires up the vintage engine and with a huge belch of exhaust and a blast of hot air, we are off.

We catapult down the flat, dirt track at nearly three miles per hour, winding past fields of grazing Brahma cattle and groves of huge Ceiba trees. The heat of the day settles on us and shimmers on the near horizon, baking our bodies and turning us yet a darker shade of brown. We settle back and immerse ourselves in the beauty of this country. The trees on each side are beginning to flower and we delight in the loveliness of the resplendent flame trees with their huge orange blossoms. The wind stirs a bit and treats us to a flower avalanche as the petals pave the dusty way before us. Yellow and brown birds flit amongst the brush.

Gradually, the flat fields begin to take on a different character as we near the hills ahead. The bird population seems to have tripled in the verdant surroundings. The jungle encroaches and the stream, which has been almost unnoticeable off to our right, is now close. Some of the indigenous women from the local village stand hip deep in the river washing clothes, scrubbing them with a harsh soap and slapping them vigorously on a flat rock, before rinsing and hanging them on nearby limbs to dry. Our wagon rocks and rolls its way along the rutted track for another fifteen minutes until, at last, we come to a halt in a turnaround surrounded by dense greenery and bordered by the clear stream. We climb out, grateful for the silence as Adolfo turns his machine around and chugs off into the distance.

Off to our left two trails head in the general direction of the mountains. One climbs steeply uphill while the other apparently follows the river. We pick the river branch as most logical and easiest, and for once beat Murphy's law. Immediately we are in a different world from the grazing lands behind us. This is jungle! Maybe not the heavy jungle of the Peten, near Tikal, but jungle nevertheless, and plenty of it. Philodendrons grow parasitically up anything that is vertical and reach astounding heights. There are many palms, some the typical coconut palms, but the grace and splendor of a fifteen foot high palm shaped like a Chinese fan, entrances us.

We work our way across the face of the hill as the narrow path winds and climbs through rots, rocks and vines. I hear a nervous giggle from behind and something mumbled about poisonous snakes. The snakes seem to be keeping to themselves but we see numerous lines of leafcutter ants crossing our path, all burdened with a leaf several times their own size. They must always take the same trail for their miniature course is deeply worn and rutted.

We begin to descend into an obvious gorge as the jungle thickens. The sound of the river increases, reverberating off the now steep walls rising on the bank opposite us. The trees from an umbrella over our heads and give us some respite from the heat of the afternoon sun. Soon the path switchbacks several times as we continue our descent. It is slippery in places an we smell the first hints of sulfur coming from the hillside. Roots become welcome handholds as we drop the last few feet to the river.

Suddenly we enter a grotto of loveliness! All around, and for many feet above, the green of the jungle overwhelms us. The clear stream tumbles downwards in a series of small cascades and the rocky, pebbly bottom is easily seen. Liana vines hang down some fifty or sixty feet from the trees on the steep slope opposite.

In the middle of all is, perhaps, one of the loveliest waterfalls we have ever had the good fortune to see! It rises majestically to a height of thirty or forty feet, is probably equally as wide and falls almost vertically down a rocky wall into a clear deep pool surrounded by jungle. Large limestone boulders and walls descend to the shore of the pool from our side.

The waterfall is actually a side stream with the river entering from stage left through a series of twisting, convoluted drops and boils. A small rock is situated perfectly just below the heated waters of the falls, allowing a single person to bathe from it in 105 degree ecstasy. When the heat is overwhelming, a small step to the side or a headfirst dive into the cool pool of the main river offers a wonderful contrast. Just beneath the heavy deluge of hot water and behind the falls is an overhanging promontory which allows enough space for several people to duck under and enjoy a sauna, jungle style.

We remain for two hours, swimming, showering, enjoying a picnic lunch in the coolness of the jungle shade. On a later trip, we will return and explore further up the gorge to a place where the main river comes out of a two hundred foot high wall and, in so doing, forms a series of deep and interesting caves. Some of the caves extend hundreds of feet into the mountainside and in one place we hear the echoing roar of the underground river many hundreds of feet below.

At last we must depart. Our "tractor man" will be waiting and the thought of a frosty cerveza at the finca's small restaurant is tempting. We take one last look, soaking in the "specialness" of this place and easily understand why it is called "paraiso" paradise!

Other Stories

November 9, 2012
© 1997-2012 Phillip Landmeier