My day starts early, or at least earlier than usual. I climb out of bed at 3:30 and mindlessly sip a cup of coffee before leaving my little brick house to catch the only local bus by 4:30. For roughly an hour, this little ‘engine that could’ dips and bobs across the amorphous mud-holes and obstacles along the 30 kilometer dirt road separating my village from the main ruta. When we finally reach the highway, the paved road allows us to finish the next 30 k in roughly half the time. I am in the city of Coronel Oviedo by 6 am. At the bus terminal I disembark, buy a quick breakfast of tortilla so’o (more or less fried dough with meat inside) and mandioc, and then catch the next possible bus to Villarica. This bus heads south, away from the flat expanses and lightly undulating hills of the north, and into more textured territory of the Guira and Paraguari regions. The sun is peeking now, I can finally tell the difference between the night and the dawn; the latter is lazily approaching. It reminds me through its flickering between the eucalyptus trees that it there is no rush. No rush at all.
On the horizon, the goddess appears in the form of purple mountains silhouetted against the pale morning sky. She is lying on her side, sleeping despite the rising sun, those distant hills composing her endless curves and the seductive pitch and slope of her feminine figure. Her features are hidden, masked in the dark velvet shadows, so that one can only discern the boundaries of her physique, the highest ambition of this folded land and the threshold between earth and sky. The silk sheet draped across her sleeping body is crumpled slightly, causing the only small inconsistencies in her otherwise perfect disposition. A fold here, a fold there. These mountains appear divine, like distant ghosts as we drive southward in this virgin morning light.
After reaching Villarica, I have a bit of a wait until I can catch my next bus to La Colmena--almost, but not quite, my final destination. Around the bus terminal, vendors toss out their curious lines into a sea of traveling fish, hoping with varying levels of confidence to catch a bite. Beggars with strong indigenous features navigate the labyrinth of bodies with their children in tow (and often one on the hip as well) pleading for alms or food.
Barefoot and wild-looking, the homeless orphans (either literally or practically) dodge between herb-stands and food booths with no seeming purpose other than movement for the sake of itself. Taxi drivers bombard those waiting for busses, hoping to convince one or two that a quick shot across the city or across the country in an unreliable, unmarked car is a better bet than a bus that may never show. Through this madness, my fellow Peace Corps volunteers appear like sore thumbs. It is funny how easy it is to pick out Americans even in this tumultuous mass of humanity. Within an hour, our connecting bus arrives and we find ourselves in La Colmena by 10 am.
To reach the our final destination, the waterfalls of Salto Cristal, we must first solicit a local truck driver to take us up into the mountains. After finding a local willing to make the trip (and on faith we take it, that he will also make the return trip to pick us up at the end of the day), we pile in the back of a pickup and start the drive. The road leads up through a winding pass and to the peak of the ridge that is visible from the streets in La Colmena. After this, the land sort of levels off into rolling hills of sugar cane and forests. The right combination of twists and turns is impossible to remember along these dirt roads, so we really are at the mercy of our driver. We reach a small farm house seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The falls are on the property of the house owner, so we offer him several dollars to allow the group of us to visit for the day. He agrees and we descend the trail leading to the base of the waterfall. Eventually, the trail disappears and we begin scrambling down a near-vertical rocky crag on all fours. When we reach the base of the valley, we follow a small river for several hundred yards until we reach our prize.
Projecting straight from the earth before us is a massive hundred foot waterfall. The water flashes off the slick rock on the summit above us, its source lost in the haze and sunlight. It cascades down the scraggly face of the cliff and enters a crystal clear pool of water before us. The pool must be 30 feet deep minimally, as none of us could touch the bottom despite our best efforts and despite leaping from a platform on the cliff face roughly 20 feet above the surface. Layering is easily visible in the sedimentary rock that composes this formation. It is the unique properties of this stone that has given rise to the near perfect conditions of the site: a shallow shelf that extends to the edge of the basin, a deep central pool and a steeply rising, yet easily surmountable rock face.
We spend the day swimming, sipping wine, smoking cigars and leaping from whatever heights we dare into the water below. This place is buried within the forests of Paraguay and access (as we have seen) is extremely difficult. We have our fun but always in the shadow of concern that an injury out here would mean extreme amounts of pain for a very long time before medical services could be reached. Still, we tempt our fates a little--what is life but just that?
As the sun looses sight of us over the imposition of the waterfall and the day begins to fade, we retreat once again up the rocky gorge to our driver, hopefully awaiting our return. The return trip is gorgeous as the setting sun seems to mourn our departure. I smoke one final cigar as we descend from the mysterious heights of these sparsely populated mountains. The sugar cane is being blown in the gentle breeze that has been forced up to these peaks somewhat reluctantly by the persuasive means of altitude and pressure differentials. This huge monoculture ocean surrounds the Salto Cristal, that jewel of natural beauty buried deep within its sweet, perennial waves. My skin prickles from the an entire day of full sun. It is half with joy and half with pain that I feel the sun’s kiss until well into the night as it lulls me to sleep with quiet pulses of warmth.
from Salto Cristal,