Dispatch: Flash Back to Arenal


Manuel Luis still tending horses for tourists

This is Manuel Luis. I love the old-timers wherever I travel because they have seen it all. 

Cooper and I were coming down the hill from the waterfall and I stopped in my tracks. I recognized the horse stable, although when I was here last it was made of logs and thatching and sat buried deep in the forest. Back then there was no paved road up the hill, or eco lodge, or visitor center with an $18 entrance fee to the waterfall. The cost was paid by braving the 6 hours up the crude road in a rattling camioneta from the nearest pueblo, followed by a damp and smoldering hike along the river until you finally get to the stable. From there you rode horseback up out of the canopy to view the volcano, if you’re lucky. If there’s no clouds. You had to really, really want to see it back then. 


Now the road is beautifully paved up to a proper town with a school, amenities, resorts, massage and cappuccino. 

But Manuel remembers it the same way I do: remote, quiet and full of birds and butterflies. When I asked if I remember it correctly, if this is indeed the same stable that used to be buried deep off the road? 

His eyes lit up. “Si, si Senora! Eso es.”


The horse tie-up at the Arenal Waterfall

He recounted the changes: How many tourists come through now. How there used to be so monkeys, and many more birds and the forest was full of wild turkeys. A few years ago he captured a male and female turkey and is breeding them in hopes of repopulating the forest. He didn’t seem hopeful. He seemed tired, maybe even a little sad. Or maybe he’s just resigned, which is a feeling I’m relating to more and more these days. 

Either way he seemed grateful to talk about how it used to be, and for a moment maybe it restored a little faith in both of us. A little faith that it was all real, and not just memories that live in our dreams. 

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