The guidebook said to buy knee-high galoshes in town before venturing out to the trailhead in Tenorio National Park on the western edge of Lake Arenal. We drove through the sleepy town of Bijagua, and I rolled my window down to ask a police officer for clarification on directions in extremely broken Spanish. We didn’t see any stores that even looked open, so after a game of charades in which we roughly figured out how far we had yet to drive, we continued down the road.
After spending hours on a decently paved road, the turnoff onto the heavily potholed road bumped us back into our Costa Rican reality. We crept along for several kilometers at a slow 10 MPH before turning into the grassy lot at the entrance to the park. Twenty dollars changed hands and, after attempting a failed pantomime act to ask about the status of mud on the trail, we headed off in tennis shoes.
Unlike the trails we’d walked in the Monteverde area, which were moist and shaded by rainforest cover, the trail to the Rio Celeste was lined with different kinds of vegetation. We passed people early on the walk, inquired about the status of mud (there wasn’t any) and continued on our way, happy to finally stretch our legs in a new part of the country.
Within a short while, a second trail dropped off to the left. The rocky stairs leading down were steep, and I held on to the flimsy rope to guide my steps.
At the bottom was a waterfall unlike any other I’d seen before. Brilliant aquamarine water poured over a rocky ledge. I realized that every waterfall I’d seen in Costa Rica had been different, and this one was no exception. This water was the color of a teal crayon, a bright ballet costume, an Easter egg. It wasn’t the color of any water I’d ever seen before.
And there was a slight sulfuric smell in the air, a result of the volcanic fumes at work beneath the surface.
I stood in front of the waterfall for a picture. My blue shirt blended in with the background.
Shoes damp, I hauled my body up one rocky, steep step at a time back to the main trail.
Further up river, we discovered a still pool of aquamarine water. It didn’t seem to be moving at all, and at the edges, a few small bubbles bounced along the surface. Somewhere deep beneath our feet, the earth was churning, and this otherworldly colored water and hot springs were an accidental result.
We crossed a bridge, then veered toward the right, where we found a break in the trees and a fence to hold curious people back from the water’s edge. It was here that two separate rivers—both brown—converged and immediately turned into a single, strangely blue river.
In high school, I remember pouring two different clear liquids into a test tube, which then immediately turned into a color of the rainbow. There were formulas filled with numbers and letters that explained how and why this happened, but here, on the bank of the Rio Celeste, far from anywhere in Costa Rica, I watched science occur right before my eyes. Like a bizarre experiment, it really was something I had to see to believe.
We stood, mesmerized, muttering “weird” and “wow.”
Just hours before, when we debated whether rubber boots were necessary, we never thought we’d see a color that could only be described as Rio Celeste.