This word holds a power that makes me tremble. Hearing the word spoken evokes feelings of the unknown, the abandoned, and the unexplored.
A few months ago I found two lakes within old maps from 1961 that appeared to be hiding waterfalls.
After overlapping an orthophoto from 2005 and images from Google Earth, I began to wonder… What happened to the Lakes... do they still exist or have they disappeared?
Does the waterfall exist?
I studied new GPS navigation techniques to search for this legend in the mountains of Braulio Carrillo for over three months. I confided in the closest members of my team and decided to do something that nobody else had before,something that was thought to be impossible: The expedition Ayil.
6 days and 5 nights in the foggy mountains of Talamanca, Chenille National Park.
The terrain was untouched.
We entered the fog that crept between the mighty mountains and eternal forests of Talamanca, passing giant trees, and hundreds of critters; walking until night fell.
As we camped we crossed our fingers, praying that the jaguars were not near.
At nightfall the cats surrounded the camp.
I slept beside my machete, with my military knife pressed against my chest.
There was nothing left to do but to listen to the eerie sounds of the forest and anxiously wait for daylight to come.
The legend of the Ayil lakes kept me awake.
During the day, the thought of the phantom lakes and the mysterious waterfall weighed on me heavily, adding to the 30 kilos of weight from my pack that bore into my shoulders, making each step a victory of its own.
After crossing a river and making our way through the jungle with the help of the machete, we discovered what appeared to be a little mountain village. Its inhabitants spoke very little Spanish and looked as if they were from another country. At first we were strangers to them. But after some rounds of Cacique (Costa Rican liquor) as comfort grew, we began explaining to the families what we were looking for...
"There used to be two lakes that reflected the sacred mountains, they were dyed red by the blood that our people shed protecting these lands, a black panther protected us and gave us these lands."
"Cerro Tigre (the mountain) is the home of the panther that protects us, the panther guards the lakes, and gives us the Waterfall."
_Garcia finished in a hoarse voice_
After hearing the legends of the locals we finally left for the Lakes and were thankfully able find them. And with them, we encountered their ghosts.
A dense fog hid a petrified forest of palms, and a swamp of wild reed where the horses hid from the rain.
Night was approaching and a small trail of steam formed on the surface of the small pools of the river.
The ghosts of the lake.
Behind me towered the Mountain Bola, in front of me the fog was diffusing between the canyons of Tiger Mountain.
Marotos words echoed in my head...
"No one manages to climb the mountain alive..."
"He who manages to reach the top should be able to see the ghosts of the lakes and the rainbow at night."
Could this be true?
None of the team members understood what kind of magic was happening in this mystical place. Our awe continued to grow as we realized that by some miracle we would arrive at the waterfall for full moon.
Here there is no sunset, the fog confuses the weather and you do not know when the night will come.
Marato had indicated that full moon was the perfect time to fish in the river. He said that when the lakes were there they were abounded with fish but when they disappeared the food became more difficult to find.
The unsolved mystery consumed me more each day:
What caused the lakes to disappear?
Why do the natives hide the story?
The longer we stayed with the natives the more their trust in us began to grow and the subject of the black panther was more openly discussed. It was difficult to understand; no matter how hard I tried, they did not want to tell me what it was that had made Costa Rica's largest mountain lakes disappear.
After 3 days we arrived at the waterfall, it stands in absolute solitude, surrounded by lush greens.
The scale of this place is monumental. The rocks at the bottom of the water fall were massive, holding gravity and energy completely of their own as they sat sturdily, watching the waterfall. The river was hidden beneath these stone momunments.
Hot Springs along the walls of the waterfall offered us warm water to accompany us down the cliff.
We were in awe that the waterfall really did exist. And by some magic, a double rainbow greeted us shortly after we entered its dominion .
The waterfall looks towards the national park, La Amistad. At its highest point you can see how infinite the forest is which conceals this place. As I stood on the edge I realized how little of my own country i actually know, and what still remains to be explored.
Ayil faces the sea and is shielded by the jungle of its mountain home.
The heart of Talamanca is still alive.
Ayil is a waterfall of eternal rainbows.
Ayil is Costa Rica
Ayil we are all.
AYIL is possible.
A big thanks to Felipe Alfaro and Esteban Quesada for being part of the team on this extremely strenuous and intense expedition.
Translated, Edited and Spiced by Zolie Lousie
Boulder, Colorado, USA