There is a river here around the Lake Arenal area that is called Chollin. It means, “scratches.” I picture lots of branches that will catch one’s skin. However, it is so named because the surfaces of the rocks are uneven and rough, much like a pumice stone. The locals prefer to visit this spot at night and we have been invited to go. They call it the hot river and I am curious. I am concerned because this is a 3-4 hour venture, past my bedtime. I have responsibilities in the morning. Also, it’s been raining and there is a possibility the river will be cold. Please don’t have me out too late, and freezing. But I really wanted to go, how could I not?
There are seven of us in total; three volunteers and four workers of the ranch. I am happy to have guides and lucky to be seeing the world through their eyes. We take about a 40 minute van ride to the other side of the volcano. As we arrive I notice that there are quite a few vehicles here. “Wow, people really do come here at night,” I say to myself. We disembark, each with his or her backpack, snacks, and beverage of choice.
We walk the dark street a short distance and take a trail entering the forest. We continue down about 100 meters. The full moon from the previous night is still a bright, round sphere. The white clouds covering the sky gives the forest a soft glow. The trees surrounding provide so much cover and protection, and ambiance.
Water begins to appear and as we step in to make our way across, I find that the water is cold. No! Please. I crave warmth. It only took two more steps to calm my spirit. The water is hot, and delicious. You can hear the rush of the river as it flows over the rocks, creating small rapids. There is no actual embankment here, only little perches created by the rocks to place our things. But it is just enough. As I unload my pack, candles are brought out to light our area. They are tall, thin, and white and give a mysterious glow to further enhance the magic of this moment.
I’m in the river up to my knees, and I can’t get out of my clothes quick enough. I’m ready to submerge. I felt as though I was sinking into a hot tub, but with a temperature that could be sustained for hours. The current is pretty fast, but feels safe. We have a small pool deep enough to sit in. The trick, I am told, is to place your back against a good rock and lean back like a recliner. It totally works. The body relaxes as the flow of the current cascades over the shoulders. You can’t believe. Words don’t do it justice. I’m so grateful we are doing this. I’m grateful for saying yes. I allow this moment to envelope me as I look up to the sky in wonderment. I am so blessed by this amazing time of life. The silhouette of the tall, thin trees provides artwork against the soft white clouds. The leaves are various shapes and sizes. The tree with the barren branches bleeds into the one with circular pods that resemble mums to me high in the sky.
After a time I decide to make my way down across one of the rapids to see what is beyond. I am told to walk slowly and carefully to avoid a spill that would result in “scratches.” I follow in my own sure footing over a branch and into a rush of water. I join a couple of friends as we work to hold ourselves in place while we settle into the flow.
It may sound strange, but as I look around, I am immediately transported to the opening scene of The Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disney. This ride is viewed from a well oversized canoe floating gently through a winding river. The stage is that of the swamps of Louisiana. It’s dark. You can here crickets and see fireflies glowing at their intervals. The only other light is that of a yellow bulb on the porch of an old wooden shack. The stationary resident sits outside under the light, probably escaping the great heat of the south. I have always been endeared to this image because it reminds me of parts of home in my state of Mississippi.
The setting here has captivated me with its familial feel. I can see along the route of the river small pockets of still water. The soft, warm, yellow glow of candle flame penetrates the shadows. In the darkness, highlighted by the moonlight, I see shapes of people. I feel so much peace and awe. And I’m sharing this moment with good friends. It’s a little cooler here than home and the sounds are different, but my feeling is the same. And you know what? I am not cold. Not once.
We move around sharing stories of our lives with one another. The conversations are rich and abundant and I am happy to be finding my tribe along the way. Seeing a land like this with native countrymen provides such a wealth of knowledge and information. It turns out that the river we are in is heated to this temperature because of the volcano. I did not realize that it was currently active, but it is. The stream flows along the side of the volcano and is heated from ground up.
I learn that the rocks that make up the riverbed are all volcanic rock. “Wow!” I think to myself. So cool. The floor of the river is small, polished rock. The larger rocks, those we use as chair backs, are a rich black with specks of crystals in them. I learn that there are three or four types of rocks. These in this bed started from water, gases, ashes, minerals and sediments from within the volcano. The eruption causes a biochemical reaction; they are called monzonite. I notice that they are not completely solid, with almost a hint of give in them. They are light enough that they get thrown from the volcano out into the surrounding lands. So this river that I am bathing in is clear and clean and full of healthy minerals.
Eventually the moon peaks out from the clouds. I already know how that makes me feel. However, seeing the reaction of these young boys floods me with a deep sense of respect and admiration. In a country that does not have a lot of money, circumstance, material wealth, these men are connected to the beauty of the earth. They show their respect and instantly gain mine even more.
The ride home is a quiet one. It is well after midnight by now. Each person cuddles into their own comfortable spot to be lulled by the vibration of a slow moving vehicle traversing the uneven roadways. We say our goodnights and part ways, each to their respective piece of the ranch. I tuck myself into the warm safety of my bed, and curl into the gratitude I feel. The joy in my heart from a life well lived is immense as I drift into a deep, restful sleep.