Saturday I woke up around eight o’clock to the blazing sun, and remembered that I was lying in a tent, in the middle of the Costa Rican jungle. I was camped with approximately 2,000 other adventurers, but I had taken the time to carefully select a palm tree for shade off the beaten path.
I got up and stumbled around in my typical mid-morning haze, securing
essentials like drinking water and breakfast. Then I went to wait for
the shuttle back to the parking lot near town, where I could catch a
taxi to the waterfall. Once I got into the back of the converted
chicken-wagon, I asked the one other passenger if she was going to the
waterfall, to which she replied “yes, and I have a car and I can drive
you and it has air conditioning”. She ended up driving me and a few
other people there.
This waterfall, like most water features in Costa Rica, was surrounded
by jungle, but once we were inside, it comprised a multi-level oasis
with around five different levels, each including a placid pool in
which several topless women frolicked. Each pool’s water cascaded, of
course, into the next level.
We walked uphill to the highest waterfall, which fell about 35 – 40 feet into a deep pool. Naturally, I saw this as an opportunity, and
hiked up to the top. The thing about this cliff is the water running
off of it has carved a natural waterslide. As in, there’s a convenient
place to sit down and prep yourself before pushing yourself forward
and riding a waterfall off a cliff into the pool below. Preferably
while screaming something celebratory.
I went down it, then went back to recruit a yoga teacher to come check
it out. This is probably a good time to mention that the music
festival I was attending, Envision Festival, is about half Yoga
After I went down the waterfall again and the yoga teacher
chickened out, we ended up following some other people we had met at
the festival to a secret beach, Playa Ventanas.
This beach was about 15 minutes from the waterfall, and required a
short trek through light jungle.
When you get to the beach, every first timer inevitably stops in
wonder at a beautiful and extremely tall tree at the entrance, whose
roots rope and intersect across the jungle path you’ve been following.
This tree, while strikingly impressive, is nothing compared to what lies ahead.
About 20 feet down the path, you get to the beach. The entire right
(Northern) side of the beach is held in by a cliff of about 100 – 150
feet. At the base of this cliff, there are several caves: triangular
holes in the rock. As with the tree, when we first got to the cliff,
we were momentarily stunned and held in place at its entrance. When
you walk to the mouth of the cave, you look into it and see that it
goes all the way through, some 150 to 200 feet, ending in the open
ocean. We stood there for a few minutes, unable to move, so powerful
was the feeling of wonder. Finally we walked inside.
As we entered this cave, we could clearly see the light at the end of
the tunnel. As it was quite close to low tide, we felt the damp sand
beneath our feet as we padded in, staring up at the dark ceilings and
walls of damp stone all around us. Before long, we were wading, still
compelled and enchanted by the light at the end of the tunnel.
Because the caves go all the way to the ocean, waves crash in through
one end and flow through to the other. So as we’re wading, we feel the
water lapping gently against our feet just as we would on the nearby
beach. Then as we got into deeper water, we were swimming and diving
through the waves, the sound of their crashing resonating in every
surface at once. The acoustics in the cave were varied and amazing, so
that if you found the right area with a suitable alcove and a ceiling
angled in the right direction, the crashing of a 5 foot wave was truly
thunderous, inspiring awe and new levels of joy.
We waded and swam through wave after wave, until finally we were 50
feet or so from the mouth opening to the ocean. Here the waves were
big enough for us to body surf. And what was particularly fortuitous
is that the water flow pushes you straight through the cave, rather
than into any of the stone walls, so you had a perfect environment to
ride a crashing wave through this amazing natural tunnel, the sounds
above you like nothing you’d hear in the ocean. So we body-surfed
through a cave for a few hours.
Afterwards, we walked along the beach and
climbed a rock face up about 30 feet to a natural step, where we sat
and watched the sun and the waves crashing on the expansive beach.
After sitting there for a while, we noticed these fruit pods crashing
down around us. Every few seconds, another empty pod of some
unidentified fruit would fall within 5-10 feet of us. Unsure whether
it was the wind or a tree about to collapse on us, we looked up and I
spotted that it was a monkey, running from branch to branch, eating
whatever fruit was available, and tossing the spent shells over his
Together we all saw yet another gorgeous sunset, this one framed by
the bay sheltering our secret beach, and silhouetted by a number of
rocks we climbed jutting out from the cliff face.
We then went to wash the salt off in a naturally occurring lagoon,
because what beach is complete without a fresh water source to make
your walk back as comfortable as possible?
How The Night Starts At Envision
Some of us went back and had dinner on the way back to the festival.
Once we got back around 8:30 pm, the real party started. Though Envision is a concert festival, the first bands don’t go on until around 8pm, a good hour and a half after sunset. So by that point it is quite dark,
the only illumination coming from bright green or red papier-mache
pylons. And, of course, the fire dancers.
One of the stages at the festival is set up democratically so that the
dj is only about 3 feet above the audience, so that dancers can get as
close as possible to him and the belly dancers or other performers at
the front of the crowd.
Opposite the DJ stage is another stage, maybe 70 feet back, on which
after dark there are non-stop performances of aerial dance, that is,
incredibly talented acrobats climbing and suspending themselves from 40
foot bolts of silk as they bend and dance their bodies into all sorts
of surprising configurations. And then come the fire-dancers, wielding
balls of flame on the ends of chains, staves with flame at each end,
hand fans encrusted with flame, hula hoops accented with six fireballs
apiece, and, of course, flaming swords.
Amid this stimulus we danced for hours and hours. As the night got darker, the crowd began shedding clothing, until half-naked bodies filled the crowd in flickers of strobe and firelight.
Nature Rocks Out
We kept dancing until dawn. I decided that with it getting light out,
it might finally be time for me to head back to my tent. I started
walking back, and realized on the way to my tent that I could hear not
only the music coming from each stage, but some foreign, low and
resonating sound that seemed to be coming from a patch of trees. I
walked around those trees and found that in fact, the sound was coming
from the middle, and up high. These were howler monkeys. What was
amazing is that the monkeys’ sounds fit perfectly with the music was
playing, as if they were singing along, contributing their own
personal brand of cacophony.
Once back at the campsite, I ran into some fun kids who offered me,
among other things, champagne with which to toast the morning, because
the famous Sunrise Set of renowned DJ Random Rab was about to start.
Rather than going back to bed, I of course returned to the concert
for one of the most moving shows I have ever seen. This artist was
able to convey such joy in our existence and the dawning of new light
that I will probably never see a sunrise again without thinking of
Of course as the day gets brighter, the bare bodies you’ve been
struggling a bit to make out during the night bounce and gyrate in
glorious sunlit wonder. The ritual of passing from night to day in an
unending flurry of dance acts as a kind of portal that makes extensive
nudity not only normal, but in fact the only sane expression of
Plan Your Night Around Your Sunrise
I continued dancing through the set in the hours of brightening sky,
and finally saw sunrise proper when hanging from the top of a 30 foot
jungle gym, hung with soft cloth yoga swings from which reclined and
dangled upside-down various human bodies.
The new day having dawned, I walked under one of the semi-shading yoga platforms and did some amateur yoga, stretching out the muscles I had used that day while a ubiquitous cluster of revelers passed a joint
around an ever-growing circle. As I practiced standing on my head, or
attempts to do so, a young yoga practitioner peeled down to
her underwear and began her practice near me.
The night of the full moon, the festival had been over for several
days, but people were so inspired by the experience and the
environment that they stayed around in local hostels and
eco-collectives. It ended up that around five pm, about 6 people from
my hostel were gathering to celebrate sunset.
We walked out into the middle of the perhaps 70-yard-deep beach to
watch the sun come down. The beach is
known as Playa Ballena, or Whale Beach, because of a singular landform
– there is a peninsula jutting out from the beach that fans out at the
end, creating an undeniable facsimile of a whale’s tale.
We watched as the sun set over this landform, and the moon rose. Now,
as was somehow destined to happen, sunset coincided with a rapidly
receding tide, which meant that the entire 70 yard deep (and miles
wide) beach was covered in millimeters of water, flat and reflective
Standing, as we were, in the center of a gorgeous
beach, midway between jungle and waves, we saw not one, but two
spectacular sunsets, one in the sky, and one reflected in the pools of
radiance extending infinitely into the horizon.
This was, of course, not enough, because there was also a full moon,
and through some form of astrological kismet, the moon was directly
opposite of the sun, but held prominently in the sky, unobscured by
the ample and glorious jungle. The moon, too, was reflected, stretched
and amplified into a shimmering earthbound beam of light that
stretched to the treeline, where it met jungle, mountains and valley
on its way up to the moon.
The net effect of this was as follows: Traveler sees group of people
of love standing on the beach, staring, speechless, at the sky.
Traveler runs along the beach to talk to them, perhaps make a clever
comment about them being struck silent. Traveler is overcome and
dumbfounded by the sheer stimulus of natural wonder. Again, the double
sunset and double moonrise were happening at the same time, and
extended to the end of our field of vision in either direction. So it
was incredibly difficult to decide which direction to look in, each
holding a vision singular and unforgettable. Traveler forgets
completely about other beings and even his own existence, enraptured
by the simply incomprehensible beauty assailing his senses.
This relinquishing of self was only interrupted by the blurry but
beautiful naked bodies of two girls moving languidly towards the
ocean, beckoning for him to join.
Obviously, I joined, flinging my shorts onto the beach as quickly as
possible, hoping that they would make it past the tide line. Because
it was a full moon, it was light enough for us to swim out and dive
naked through wave after wave, spin around and hold each other, float
each other, toss naked girl from arm to arm, and float on our backs
seeing only an oblivion of unmitigated stars.
Having cleaned off and dried off, we found ourselves alone on this
pristine, infinite beach, and spent some time on our blanket looking
up at the stars, before a friend showed me how to use the fire staffs
she had brought with her.
After an untold duration of star-worship we went back to our treehouse
penthouse and got some rest for the new day.