Walking on water: The Nicoya Peninsula’s ‘Jesus Tree’

May 15, 2019

What is the so-called Jesus Tree?

If you Google the topic, you might find photos taken for National Geographic, Pinterest or Flickr, but it’s unlikely that you’ll discover much more information about this remarkable tree.

According to local lore, El Arbolito Solitario might be 200 years old, and the miracle is that it has lived its life in saltwater within the tidal wash of the Pacific Ocean.

The coastal trail that takes you from Tambor Beach to El Arbolito Solitario is magnificent in its own right. From the muelle (dock) in Tambor, the beautiful nature trek to the Jesus Tree takes less than an hour at a moderate pace.

First you wind down a craggy dirt road and through a salt-blown neighborhood of fisherman and artisans, living close to the sea in tiny homes that pepper the coast. Cocks crow, street dogs scratch and yawn, and locals laze on their front porches enjoying the cool breeze and a cerveza or cafecito while waving at people passing through to make the pilgrimage to El Arbolito.

The smiling faces you encounter along the way provide an intimate glimpse into the culture’s alluring warmth. 

As the rocks and ridges become more prominent, the barrio fades into the rearview mirror and civilization gives way to large, ancient trees, their thick roots clinging to cliffs and leaning over the trail, dangling families of monkeys like tropical jewelry or furry Christmas ornaments. Flowers jut out in bursts of color, and the spectrum of exotic birds squawking overhead is truly impressive, all color and feathers and song.

These jungle gems flavor the journey as you walk in complete peace, hand in hand with Mother Nature. The Jesus Tree awaits.

When asked about the official name of this magical tree, local Juan Carlos Cruz, birder, volleyballer, and manager of the Tambor Tropical jungle resort said it all depends on your background.

“The tree has two names,” he said. “Costa Rican Tamboreños call it ‘Arbolito Solitario,’ or ‘Solitary Little Tree,’ faithful to our custom of giving the termination ‘-ito’ to everything that is dear to us.

“The curiosity about this tree is not only that it grew in such harsh conditions, but the fact that there are no other trees by it. Expat Tamboreños generally call it the ‘Jesus Tree,’ because on high tide it gets totally surrounded by water, giving the impression to be walking on water like Jesus did.”

That is one perspective regarding the origin of the Jesus Tree moniker, but it’s also possible the nickname emerged due to the tree surviving so long on its own in a saltwater home, thereby making it a bit of a miracle.

Some people even claim the Jesus Tree performs miracles for visitors when they ask at the right time, granting chlorophyll wishes and sunshine kisses while answering prayers in the sea breeze.

“Although this is not considered a place of worship, it definitely shows in a good way how locals appreciate and respect nature,” Juan Carlos Cruz said.

“With that being said, a few misguided romantic juveniles have thought that it was a good idea to make markings with their names on the trees bark.”

Perhaps these lost souls were attempting to commune with the power of the tree.

My hope is that future visitors will have a high level of respect when encountering the living landmark.

El Arbolito cannot be branded for ownership by a few star-crossed lovers. It is there for all of us to enjoy for as long as the miracle lasts.

A local biologist, Ruth Rodriguez, believes the Jesus Tree is a Red Mangrove (Rhizophora Mangle), contributing to its longevity.

The next time you find yourself at Tambor Beach, put on your bathing suit and fill a backpack with water, fresh fruit, a good book and some sunblock.

Bring your camera and a pair of binoculars. Hit the trail, breathe in the fresh sea air, bask in the warmth of the sun, and swim in the calm waters underneath the mysterious gaze of the Arbolito Solitario, Costa Rica’s Jesus Tree.

Frank Gillespie moved from New York to Costa Rica in 2010. He is the owner of Rising Sun Realty, which services Tambor and the surrounding areas. He can be reached at +506 8735-5907 in Costa Rica or (716) 218-3325 in the United States. 

Featured photo used under the Creative Commons license. Original source here

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