Published: September 18th 2008September 18th 2008
The last time I went whitewater rafting almost 10 years ago, I was knocked out of the raft before the trip even began, not making a good first impression. I had a great time, but wasn't in any rush to go back on a raft. When it was decided that whitewater rafting was going to be one of our primary activities while we were in Costa Rica, I was a bit hesitant at first. You can only imagine that these rapids are going to be beast, and I honestly wasn't sure how "safe" the actual trip would be. None the less, I knew this would be an awesome expierence, so I put on my rafting clothes and headed for the Rio Pacuare.
Waking up at 5am while on vacation wasn't my idea of a good start, but if you want to hit the rapids, you have to wake up early. A tourist van picked us up at our hotel and we headed into downtown San Jose to pick up the rest of the rafting group. One thing that I immediately noticed was that at 6am on a Saturday, downtown San Jose was bustling. I mean, absolutely bustling. Stores were open,
restaurants were in full swing, and people were just jammed on the streets. At 6am, on a Saturday!! What the hell were these people doing? I have no idea, but I guess if you're going to start the day, you're going to do it right. We got all of our rafting group, which turned out to be all Costa Ricans, one Japanese girl who ended up rafting with us, and then our group of gringos. Occassionally, the guide on the van would crack jokes at us because he assumed we didn't speak Spanish. Well, he was right, but little did he know that I was actually a Spanish minor in college and understood most of his quips. I just played dumb which was fun. It took us about 2 hours to get to the head of the river, with a stop for breakfast along the way. This included our favorite dish of the trip, gallo pinto, which is simply black beans and rice. However, add the Costa Rican hot sauce, and you're in for a treat. It's some kind of orange pepper that they use, but the flavor is uncomparable to any Tabasco or hot sauce I've had before. We
drove through some really cool towns along the wat as well, with colorful buildings, open markets, and places you could just tell were run down. Once we got to the river, we slathered on some sunscreen and headed to our rafts. Since it would be easier for her to understand the commands in English, our Japanese friend joined our gang of 5 for the trip. Thankfully, our guide, Danny, spoke English very well. After some safety instruction, we were off!
The structure of the Rio Pacuare is such where you have a staggered system of class III and IV rapids (pretty damn strong for those of you who haven't rafted before). What happens as you go down the river is a series of rapids, then a calm patch. This continues for the duration of the trip. At first, after we finally got our stroke pattern down, we were cruising through some gentle but quick rapids. We then hit a series of good class III rapids where we had to paddle our asses of to gain some good speed. As the trip progressed, we got to some of the toughest and biggest rapids before the halfway mark. Now, as one
may note, there are certain safety procedures you must take when doing a trip like this. One of the most important is what to do in the event of a dangerous rapid. If it's mild, you lean in to the center of the raft, sticking your paddle inwards. However, should this be a rapid of gargantuan proportions, you are supposed to immediately jump and crouch down into the center of the raft. This command is known as "get down", but to our guide Danny, everytime we had to perform this command, we got a big "Holy SHIT - GET DOWN!!!". Needless to say, we had to do this quite a few times on the trip. This was mainly during the class IV rapids which were very intense, and all had names like "The Punisher" "Big Horse" and my favorite "The Toilet". What's great about the Rio Pacuare is the awesome waterfalls, cabins, and natural beauty you see as you have stretches on some of the calmer parts of the river. No wonder National Geographic named it one of the top 10 best rafting trips in the world! (Didn't find this out until I got back). Suprisingly, throughout the duration of
the trip, no one got knocked out of the raft, but a bunch of the Costa Ricans did. Can't handle your own river huh? We chuckled at this delightful fact. After clearing a bunch of rapids for 3 hours and 19 miles, we had come to the end of our trip. I actually wanted to continue down the river further, but all good things must come to an end. We had an ok lunch, and headed back to San Jose pretty exhausted from rowing all day.
One observation that I will point out from the van rides to and from the river was Costa Rica's unhealthy obsession with American 80's music. The entire way to and from the river, we heard nothing but REO Speedwagon, Michael Jackson, Blondie, Tears for Fears, just to name a few. In fact, there are a few radio stations in the country that specialize in nothing but 80s music. Furthermore, understand one of the radio advertisements, I was abel to decipher that there was a big Boy George concert that was going to happen in San Jose 2 weeks after we were there. Probably the biggest concert to hit Costa Rica in years. What
also stuck me was that all the Costa Ricans knew the words to the songs, yet failed to properly speak English. Interesting, eh?
The pictures were taken by the rafting company from a water kayak, which are actually some really good shots. Would I take on this river again? Absolutely.
Until next time, safe travels
There are more photos below