Thursday, August 2, 2012

Costa Rica: White Water Rafting

(I meant to be on this a couple days ago, but it's the Olympics, man!)

Our first morning began bright and early with an hour ride to a place on the Rio Toro north of the volcano.  Every day the hydroelectric dam systems release extra water into one of two rivers for a few hours, and the tourist companies are in contact with them to catch the ride.  Desafio offers two levels of rafting options, 2-3 and 3-4, and we opted for the latter, which was rougher.  No experience was necessary for either, though.  In our weekend package deal, if you weren't a rafting type, you could go on a riverboat nature cruise.

Our guides met us as we unloaded from several vans and gave us safety and command instructions, then issues us paddles, life jackets, and helmets.  We loaded onto boats in groups of 5-6, but due to numbers and groups that had come together, we ended up with 4 plus our guide, Luis.  The other couple was a little older than us, so he placed Mike and me in front.  The whole trip he cracked me up because whenever he would tell us to stop paddling, he would say "Stop, guys!" but his Spanish accent made his enunciation come across like he was frustrated or annoyed.  He wasn't, though it took me about 30 minutes to realize it.  He always looked like he was having a blast.  I would, too, if I got paid to to this.

We got really wet really fast.  Fortunately, Luis had splashed us up pretty well right before we pushed off.  He said he was getting it over with so we wouldn't be afraid to get wet.  The water was cool, but the heat made it feel mostly refreshing.

Overall, we were pretty comfortable.  At least in a thermal sense.

Twice we went through an area where it was safe to "ride the bull," which is to sit on the very front and hold on to a strap looped though an eye.   Luis offered first choice of the experience to the women because with such a small crew, he needed more power on the paddles available.  I got to go first.

After a few of these plunges, I slipped and bounced backwards and into the footwell.  I'm not going to post the pictures of  the boat with my legs sticking straight up.  You'll have to imagine that.

We paused in a "calm" area of the river and everyone who wanted could take a couple jumps or dives off a boulder.  The current was still pretty fast and below were some rocks, so you had to jump out pretty hard and then swim fast back to the rock for another go or across to a beachy area.

Here our guides flipped a boat, emptied some stowed bags, whipped out some machetes, and created a yummy snack for our group.  Everyone got as much as they wanted.

Then it was back on the water for more fun.  We passed several small homes and farms.  By American living standards, the people we saw were pretty poor, but they didn't seem to feel that way about themselves, and that was also our general experience in Costa Rica.  Many smiled and waved as we went by, especially the kids.  I chose this last picture with the other lady "bullriding" because in the corner you can see two wires, which are part a of the pulleys and baskets we frequently saw stretched across the river.  Luis told us the primitive system was used by the local people to cross the rivers to get to their fields or herds or for the kids to get to school.  Sometimes, he said, you'd see people moving small herds of sheep or cattle across this way, one at a time.  It was much cheaper than building a bridge, and much easier to replace or repair in a washout.

 At the end of the trip, all we had to do was take off the safety gear and put the paddles all together in a pile. Then they drove us to a tiny inn with a restaurant to change into dry clothes (we left our bags with the drivers) and have some lunch.  The buffet style meal was described as the "typical" food the locals eat- beans and rice, chicken, seasoned fried potatoes, fruit, and fried plantain.  The cafe had a bar as well, but you had to pay for the beers, which most the group's guys thought was a worthy sacrifice.

Meanwhile, the extra safety guides who had come along in kayaks put together CD-ROMs of photos they had been taking.  Since rafting doesn't really lend itself to taking your own photos, almost everyone bought one.  The tech-whiz divided the shots into separate folders named after your guide, so you only got pictures of your raft.  Even with that limit, our disk had 133 pictures plus a folder of some 100+ nature shots (not from our trip).  The price was based on your traveling group.  For couples or families, it was $20; for the group of 5 college kids, it was $40, but they were allowed to share it how they wished once they had it.

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