Terra: Río Sucio – Parque Braulio Carrillo, Costa Rica
On our way through Braulio Carrillo, our bus driver asks if we can make a quick stop. He asks if we have ever been this way before, and when we reply that this is our first time through the national park he smiles and says that the stop will be worth it.
Río Sucio runs through the heart of Parque Braulio Carrillo, and flows underneath the motorway. It’s actually a tributary of the San Juan river. There are rough patches of gravel to pull over on either side of the bridge, however the location remains largely undeveloped.
Río Sucio means dirty river, and the name is at least partially misleading. There are two rivers that wind their way down from the mountains, and converge at this point. The clean river, el Río Honduras, flows naturally from springs and runoff from deep in the rainforest. Near crystal-blue in color, it’s everything that you would expect to see in the travel brochures.
However, the rust-colored hue of Sucio is the real attraction. Springs from Volcán Irazú carry iron and sulfur deposits down from the mountains and mix with Río Honduras at this point, where the road crosses the river. The coloration, and the lingering wafts of sulfur, are completely natural and are a wonder of the natural world. The orange-stained boulders on the river’s edge mark the high water levels from earlier rains. There is no unnatural pollution or contamination behind this phenomenon, and can even support various forms of freshwater life! There are (some) fish in there!
The rivers mix in a violent churn, and over the course of several hundred meters the colors blend into a greenish tint with white caps peaking over the rocks. The contrast in colors are striking, and blend in a hypnotic swirl. It’s rather remarkable for being in the middle of nowhere, and my biggest fear is that this stop-off on the side of the road is probably slated to become the next big attraction on the ecotourism boom.
No doubt, with the current popularity of Costa Rica’s thriving eco-adventure economy, there will be zip lines and gift shops. The gravel pull-offs on the side of the road will be paved, and vendors will set up shop, waiting anxiously for bus-loads of foreign tourists. On the other hand, you’re pretty much standing on a major highway in the middle of nowhere. The heart races as 18-wheelers zip by your head as you line up for photos. Walking single-file is recommended since the road curves at both ends of the bridge, and most drivers are unaware of your existence until they’re right on top of you. Due to the increasing popularity of this place, a sidewalk might be nice. In fact, if the civic engineers of Costa Rica could take just one piece of advice, sidewalks in many locations should probably become a national priority.
Michael Van Etten
The LEAF Project
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