As we've been showing you, there has been a lot of flooding along with the week of rains across the country. We've had one drowning and a few people rescued, but apart from that no major landslides or flash floods in populated areas. But, what looks to be a flash flood in the upper reaches of the Cayo District caused an entire waterfall to disappear! That waterfall is called Che Chem Ha, famous for its beauty. But that beauty is no more! Yesterday, Jules Vasquez went to see what happened to it - here's his report:...
Jules Vasquez reporting
We found Lea Pleitiez taking in the breath-taking vista of the Vaca Plateau - a quiet moment of reflection, and you probably couldn't find a better place for it as the expanse unfolds into so many mesmerizing shades of green.
But her reflection is tinged with sadness; she takes a deep breath, because she remembers what was here up until Sunday.
The famous Che Chemha falls, 214 feet of cascading waterfalls - gorgeous travertine limestone structures, a picture of natural perfection. But on Sunday, all of this was gone when she woke up:
Lea Pleitiez, Living in Area for 40 years
"Then I go down to the waterfall to see what happening because there were heavy rains. I was thinking about going hiking in the area but then I saw the huge destruction that happen to the waterfall and then I telephone my son Gonzalo."
Gonzalo Pleitiez, River and Cave Guide in Area
"At first I was a bit skeptical and I was trying to think, here is my mother calling me early in the morning (how bad could this be), I'm trying to think, my mother (sometimes she likes to dramatize things), I said alright, let me go check it out, get it out of my system, give her the benefit of the doubt, but when I really got here Jules, it really shocked me."
What shocked him was this: raw, exposed earth, churned soil, toppled trees clinging to their roots - a waterfall is still there, but it's on damaged earth, ugly against a verdant backdrop.
This palm tree is one of the many that was toppled but managed to just barely cling on.
While this towering Bullet Tree was spared, you can see the soil holding its roots is barely holding together.
The best guess is that the heavy rains produced something akin to a landslide, which caused the waterfall that they had known to tumble down - leaving a gash in the earth spitting out this gush of water. It's still breathtaking, but this picture taken before can show what happened. The waterfalls which is in the middle of the screen? All that was washed away, where it's pouring down now was dry land, to the left of your screen.
And now, this current shot, the area that's been stripped on the right of your screen, that's where the luxuriant falls used to be, now it's bare.
They estimate that about 200 square yards of land was washed away, taken over the cliff:
Gonzalo Pleitiez, River and Cave Guide in Area
"What was here 48 hours ago was a very dense rainforest with a large overhang where we had swimming pools; we had chairs for people to sit. We used to have beautiful trees with monkeys that use to come up almost every single day and you know 48 hours later all of that is gone into an incredible raveen."
"What was down there before?"
"What was down there was a very dense rainforest; large trees that you could not even see a creek running below the jungle."
But now all you see is the creek, and the exposed earth as the water and the flotsam mauled down the forest in its path, leaving this naked swathe of brown. From the flattened area, the water rolls down the creek, to the upper Macal River which on this day was turbulent, churning and tossed by rain:
Antonio Morales, Lived/Worked in area for 50 years
"That means that it was so strong and maybe the help of water with the tree was pushing up like a dozer - the water was pushing everything."
Morales, who has lived here for most of his life, and used to haul Chicle out of these forests says he's never seen anything like it:
"To me it looks very strange because there are so many years that have here."
"Have you ever seen something like this in all the years in the bush?"
"For me it's a big damage. I have never seen this before. I have never imagined my water fall one day would disappear. For me it's very sad because I came to appreciate the water fall for a long time. I use to go down there and take a nice bath, some American people come here to marry under the curtains of the water fall, but now it's gone."
"A 214 foot water fall just doesn't disappear like that with a small amount of rain. Something is definitely occurring to the geology."
One theory is that the nearby Vaca Dam, its containment wall over-run by the swollen and rolling river issuing its angry spray, could have played a role in the unusual event:
"We never used to see the creek go dry but eventually as dams and other natural phenomenon began to occur the amount of water that this creek was pushing was reducing by great quantities. These last few days we're having so much rain, something unimaginable happened with the amount of water that this small little creek produced taking what use to be our childhood water fall away."
Adam Patrick Warrior, Visiting Che Chem Ha For Years
"What happen with that is when the water flood and especially by the dam where they dam it up - that water use to flow in one area and then it doesn't flow again - then all of a sudden it gets that surge of water. Maybe the vegetation changed because of the absence of water or maybe the earth itself gets a lot dry and brittle and this could cause that type of thing."
But, there is a plus to it - the event has exposed an area that had been covered for centuries:
"We don't know that much information about the actual geological history of this waterfall. It has been however for I would say millenniums and one of the cool things you can actually see if you walk down there today is all breakdown - you will notice a lot of fossils that are coming out of the rocks that broke apart - lots of old fossilized leaves and snails which is pretty interesting. Long ago we had pre-historic animals running about and some of them may have had their last days near rivers or creek sides."
Now, it may still look like a powerful waterfall - but what you see now is not the famous, wondrous Che Chem Ha - even Lea's dog seemed to sense something had seriously changed and all she has are these pictures to remind her:
"You will miss it?"
"Oh yes for sure. It's so beautiful before - very nice. When you have this in your mind and in your heart and you see this disappear - you become so very sad. I am sad for sure to see this water fall destroyed."
Adam Patrick Warrior
"The earth always changed, so for me I am glad that I had enjoyed it the way it was and it has its own beauty still even as it is."
"To one day realize that piece of your back yard where you grew up is now gone forever because I know that this will never be reclaimed in my life time. It's very emotional, we can only mourn the death of the water fall - it's gone."
Well maybe not altogether gone, but definitely shifted. The area though is still charming; the smaller falls are still intact, water still runs in a torrid flow over a vertiginous edge, there's a great view of Vaca Falls. We even saw a flock of oscillated wild turkeys with their iridescent plumage in the bush…the lesson? Life and nature go on:
"It has to happen, you have to stand it and so I don't feel bad, I don't feel too nice too but it has to happen."
Che Chem Ha is about 40 minutes from San Ignacio and it's still a great place to visit. You can reach the Morales family which operates a small restaurant and inn at 660-4714.