El Blog de San José #10
domingo, el 3 de enero 2016
La hora local: 21:16
White Water Rafting
If I had known what white water rafting was really like, I would have worn a different set of clothes. Unfortunately, I instead left the house this morning wearing my favorite pair of socks, my white tennis shoes and black sweat pants. Just about the only aspect of my attire I miraculously got right was my dry fit Wisconsin t-shirt.
The ride bus to meet us was as well marked as the others with “TURISMO” tourism scrawled across both sides. Our wrote to the Pacuare River was made memorable by long tunnels winding through the mountains and deep, canyonous valleys teaming with rainforest canopy that cast a great shadow across our patch of road. Our driver’s breaks were squeaky, a lovely sound effect as we looped up and down in a rollercoaster that made my ears pop with frequent pressure changes.
Upon arrival, “desayuno” breakfast was included: rice and beans (again), eggs, toast, fruit, and juice. Somebody please get me a cheeseburger and some pizza.
Our safety instructor dude was thoroughly bilingual and seeing as four of the people on our bus to the river were Ticos and another two were Spanish, it was fascinating to hear him code switch his whole speech. Perhaps the most amusing aspect was that his English explanations were full of at times relatively vulgar humor that was nixed from his Spanish translations.
Once we were suited up in helmets and life vests with paddles in hand, we broke off into a group of six and were assigned to our extremely hermoso guide, Jhonder. I think being hermoso must be a requirement to being hired in the tourism industry, or maybe it just comes automatically with being Tico.
Jhonder didn’t stand on ceremony, so we were loaded into the boat without further instruction and forced by the current into the middle of the river. In Costa Rica, it would seem, they throw you in the water to teach you how to swim. He gave us instructions and commands in English at first, which we tried to terminate quickly for the sake of our desires to learn Spanish. The funny bit is that his commands were actually easier to distinguish in Spanish. His accented forward and stop were more difficult to catch than his flawless “adelante” and “para. He made a joke of gossiping about us to our safety kayaker in Spanish, telling him that because we seem proficient enough, they’ll have to discuss our performance later. All in all, he was good natured.
There are five levels of rapids. All 52 rapids we were to face ranged from levels 3-4, including the one we started on. The level of rapid is mostly determined less by its difficulty and more by its duration. We moved in a pack of 12 or so boats and our boat was lucky enough to front the line. Trailing us were roughly 3 “safety kayakers” and a photographer.
Jhonder’s commands ranged from: forward, backward, stop, left, right and Pura Vida, which was the signal to raise our paddles into a huddle and shout “Pura Vida” the Costa Rican catch phrase you can think of as roughly equivalent to Hakuna Matata. None of us were particularly happy when after the first two rapids, he suggested each side of the boat take turns jumping in the water to practice a rescue. I was only planning on getting wet on the off chance I fell in the water. Not so.
As we drifted by the current on our way to the next intensive rapids set, our view was tickled by many a species of butterfly, great trees hung with Tarzan-like vines and large, stony rock formations towering on either side. Jhonder also had our eyes peeled for animals that could be lurking in the forest: sloths, monkeys, iguanas, lizards, snakes, birds of all kinds, frogs and foxes among others.
We tipped twice the whole trip. Both times, the four victims included the three on my side of the boat plus the girl sitting across from me. Luckily, both accidents occurred towards the end of the rapids set so that those remaining in the boat were easily able to extract us from the calm waters by pulling us up by our life vests.
At the very least, we didn’t get stuck on a rock like another boat which required all present to be removed from the raft before flipping the raft off and watching it float down the rapids before its occupants were able to re-board.
Our lunch buffet of tortillas, bread, and a seemingly random array of veggies, refried beans, ham, and cheeses accompanied by some unwelcome creepy, crawling visitors, one of which included the largest daddy long legs I’ve ever seen in my life. They grow them prehistorically large in Costa Rica.
After four hours of rafting, our trip was coming to an end, so as a treat before our last rapid, we paddled under a water fall and were then instructed to rather invited to swim in water for five or ten minutes. After ten years of competitive swimming experience, it felt odd to swim while wearing a helmet and adorned by my poor choice of clothing.
About 50 meters (yes, Costa Rica, like most of the world, measures distance in meters) from where we would end our journey, we encountered a young lot reveling in the adventure of bridge jumping. It reminded me of my own escaped cliff diving in Chelan and the rush of terror and adrenaline that comes from that leap of faith of the edge until one has safely surfaced. These kids of nine or ten years old seem to have no fear of heights and enjoyed showing off for the tourists as the soared into the river from fifty meters high.
After thanking Jhonder and purchasing a CD full of pictures, my freezing and wet little body was huddled against the window of the bus. It was raining. Imagine that, rain in a rain forest. However, it struck me as odd all the same, because it was the first time I’d seen it rain since arriving in Costa Rica. Through the mist of the down pour, we saw another bus much like ours parked exactly on the dotted yellow line which separated our lane from that of those driving up the mountain. Police officers with large rifles had the vehicle surrounded. For a country that boasts the lack of a military, its police force appears pretty well endowed.