Forward-stop-backwards-stop-lean in-stop-high five!

Published: April 19th 2014
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Breakfast at Alex's place is great. There's fresh juice, fruit, home made bread and jam, really lovely ripe avocado and scrambled egg. We meet a gorgeous little baby bundle of fluff, a nocturnal piccachu (that's not what it was really, but the name escapes me). Instead of taking hold of this little creature by lifting it up you have just put out your arm and it naturally clings to you with its paws. It wasn't quite old enough to use its tail to curl around yet. It kept tying to nibble my nose with its tiny little teeth. The poor mite had been orphaned and was being looked after by Alex. Whenever a bird or animal is injured people bring them in for Alex to look after and hopefuly release back ito the wild.

The area around the lodges has been planted up with a good mix of native tree and shrub species and over about 25 years or so Alex has created a little paradise for both humans who come to stay in the quirky lodges and for the visiting wildlife, all attracted to this little gem of a place. Alex is a man with a big heart and a generosity of spirit who loves to share his knowledge and experience and obvious love of Costa Rican wildlife and environment. After breakfast he takes us off to see if he can find a sloth who likes to come and visit and there he is, a furry hair ball up in the trees.

We are promised a trip to Alex's Wildlife Rescue Centre and reserve later in the day but first we are due to go for the next of the 'all of the above' options I mentioned before. This one is white water rafting - a first for me and something I've always been a bit wary of. Water really isn't my thing, so the thought of hurtling down rocky rapids in a blow up boat is a bit of a scary prospect for me. I'm up for trying most activities unless I KNOW I will definitely hate it though so I find myself in the group nervously donning buoyancy aids and crash hats and concentrating hard on all the directional and safety instructions. This had been made much easier by our tour guide Brian's advice on the journey to the river. He used to be a white water rafting instructor before moving to leading Intrepid tour groups so gave us loads of useful tips including what to do if we fell in or if the boat flipped over on top of us. He was also going to be canoeing down as part of the safety crew with us which was reassuring.

So our instructions basically went

• 'forward' paddle forward in synch with each other,
• 'backwards' paddle backwards in synch,
• 'lean in' put paddle up in the air and lean into the boat,
• 'get in' jump down into the well of the boat.

There were also instructions involving just the left hand side of the boat or the right hand side. This was all done on land and was a lot to take in. We all looked a bit apprehensive as we got into our boat and perched on the edge of the blown up side sections with our feet wedged into certain key spots.

And so we were off. In our boat were Miles (complete with a GoPro camera on his helmet) and Markus at the front, me on my own in the middle on the left hand side, and Kathryn and Franziska at the back. Our instructor was shouting instructions from the very back as he steered. He was very polite and added 'please' to every instruction and was very encouraging. After negotiating each rapid section he got us high fiving with our paddles up in the air and shouting 'Pura vida!' which is the Costa Rican positivity response to any enquiry as to how you are and basically translated means 'pure life'.

We were beginning to feel we were the A team of the four other boats until suddenly we went through a really rocky section and Miles tipped in! It was all a bit heart in mouth until we managed to get hold of him and the instructor dragged him back into the boat while we were still hurtling down some rapids. Poor Miles had taken a bit of a battering on one leg on the rocks but was still bravely smiling and saying he was ok. At least he would get some cracking good GoPro footage (they are waterproof cameras if you were wondering). It was hard not to lean in all the time after Miles' experience but we tried to follow the instructor's directions to the letter and worked really hard with our paddling.

We stopped for a breather at a calmer section of river with a waterfall and had a little swim in the water and drank from the waterfall. Then we got in the boat and were off again. It was so hard paddling with loads of rocks in the water rushing past but we all did really well keeping in synch and following the foward-stop-backwards-stop instructions. It was really intense and physically hard work paddling in such strong water so it was great getting to the end of each rapid section and high fiving our paddles and having a short breather.

We stopped again and got out to have some fresh pineapple and water melon that the canoe guys had brought down with them. One of them had also been going ahead in his canoe, nipping out out at certain points and taking photos of us all as we flashed past. A few people were jumping in a deep section of the river from the opposite bank/cliff - dare devil Markus got a cheer as he jumped in.

We set off again and really got into the swing of it. What a buzz. I was absolutely loving white water rafting, much to my surprise. Some of our group in different boats had also fallen in so I was relieved to have avoided a spill myself. We got to one really bumpy section and Markus in front of me was so close to going in. I managed to grab hold of him and haul him back upright before he was a gonna! Unfortunately a little later poor Miles was the unlucky one yet again and fell in once more. Luckily this time the water was shallow and he was able to stand up and get back in the boat pretty easily.

All too soon we pulled up at the end point and went to claim our celebratory beer and swap tales with our fellow rafters over a tasty lunch, all provided as part of the trip.

Looking back at Miles' GoPro footage was great - he'd slowed down the footage of his tumble backwards into the water and his accompanying shout of wooooooaaaaaaahhhh was hilarious.

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