Wildlife and landscape photographer

My night with Otto

Report on Hurricane Otto, which passed through the Bijagua area
Costa Rica in November 2016

My night with Otto

It all starts as a banal report on the wildlife of Costa Rica, 12 days planned all around the country to photograph the animals and remarkable landscapes of this territory. A hurricane is reported in the northeast of the country but we will not be in the region before the end of our trip.

After our arrival in San-José we take the road to Bijagua in the region of the Tenorio volcano, I have reserved a Lodge on the heights of the small town, in the heart of nature. We follow the information with interest, it seems that hurricane Otto, category 2, is moving north towards Nicaragua, so we continue our journey and take up residence in one of the chalets of Cataratas Bijagua, the weather is not is not looking good but we take advantage of the rain at the end of the day to photograph hummingbirds and other birds perched on their branches.

The lag and fatigue helping, we go to bed early, but the rain has doubled in intensity. The owner of the premises announces 4 to 5 hours of rain, no need to worry. 5:30 p.m. it is almost dark, the rain intensifies again, I have the impression that a jet of water has remained on the roof of the chalet. The ditches fill up and begin to overflow in places, a little water is piling up in front of the door. We decide to go to bed to recover from the day and the jet lag. 6:30 p.m. the water accumulates in front of the cabin, the wind gets involved and an impressive noise emerges from the river located 25 meters from our cabin. The rain intensifies again and again and the sound of the river with, as if we were caught in the roll of a huge wave, the walls of the hut begin to vibrate, we hear trees falling. At this time of night, we don't want to believe it, it's not possible, it can't be anything other than rain. 7 p.m. the brother of the owner of the Lodge knocks on the door he shouts in Spanish and asks us to come and take refuge in the common area, when he opens the door the water and the mud invade the chalet, we barely have time to put on the shoes, the chalet is flooded. We take our things and run in the rain, in a few meters we are soaked. We follow Irwin in the dark night followed by the deafening sound of the river, the creaking trees and we arrive at the dining room. This is where we will wait for the storm to pass. Irwin yells into his phone for news of his brothers further down the valley, he is barely audible as his voice is drowned out by the crash of trees and the din of the river, we hear rocks rolling down, more trees break and the more the minutes go by, the closer an arm of the river gets to where we are. Each time we illuminate it with the headlamp it has progressed by a few centimeters. The water passes at breakneck speed and we begin to imagine the worst. The lightning illuminates the sky, barely visible under the downpours, taken by fatigue I end up falling asleep on my chair. 10 p.m. the rain has calmed down. We are accompanied to another chalet, a little more sheltered, where we manage to sleep for a few hours.

In the early morning I take my camera to observe the extent of the damage. The vision is apocalyptic, the river has come out of its bed, it has arrived 3 meters from the chalet where we were sleeping before Irwin came to pick us up. Huge rocks weighing several tons have been pushed by the waters, trees over 30 meters high have been torn from the ground and crushed like papier-mâché, the river is still in flood and incredible amounts of water are rushing down the slope at an impressive speed. You can hear the rocks go by, then trees, branches, mud, the area is devastated and the track is not much better. We are stuck. We have to walk down to the village. The owner joined us, we then learn that the hurricane changed direction in the night and passed just above us, we are told that it passed in category 3 and its center touched the city of Upala about twenty kilometers further north. There are 3 very affected areas, including that of Bijagua where we are.

On the way, rocks are placed on the track which, in a bend, collapsed, leaving a hole of more than 8 meters. We pass completely flooded houses, filled with water and mud, cars have been moved, houses shared. The inhabitants thank God for having protected them, a man plays with his daughters, a smile on his lips "it's only material", people begin to clear the fronts of the houses but lower down, after crossing the river, it's is a vision of horror that awaits me, on our road police tape has been stretched around a house, encompassing the piece of road drowned in mud. In what was a garden, p