If you haven’t been to Costa Rica, put it on your bucket list. I’ve been to other central and south American countries and had heard Costa Rica is “touristy”, but this isn’t something that resonated with me while there. Instead, I found it friendly, clean, accommodating and stunningly beautiful. This was what was on my mind staying at the Pacuare Outdoor Center overlooking the legendary Pacuare river a month ago. The crew (all better whitewater paddleboarders than myself) and I had just paddled to the POC on our boards, but now I was going to trade my paddleboard for a seat on a raft to paddle the decidedly NOT frisky rapids. These were the real deal.
I’m a paddler that has an inherent desire to stay on (or in) my craft. I’ve swam plenty of times, falling off my board, but I’ve never swam class IV rapids and I was hoping this time wasn’t going to break my streak. With our crew I felt pretty damn confident (although anything can happen). Our guide Diego, began guiding at 15 years old and is now 30. He knows his stuff, not to mention the other paddlers in the raft were Natali (who guided on the Grand Canyon for years), Jason–who was brand new to rafting but a strong paddler in other craft, and a local kid who was in training to be a guide. The Pacuare is known for its beauty. It didn’t disappoint there. Waterfalls cascaded into the river and we made our way through various landscapes, mostly with the jungle surrounding us along the canyon walls. The rapids were fun, Diego nailed the lines, and aside from the local kid falling out of the boat (twice in one set of rapids) we paddled without issue. Even his swim was dealt with, in “textbook” form getting him safely back in the boat…twice… and keeping the raft upright. Way to go Diego and team! The last couple miles were mostly frisky ripples, and I briefly SUP’ped, for a few small rapids, but was mostly basking in gratitude to have just experienced this stunning river with such amazing people.
Having the Pacuare under our belt, the team schlepped the rafts and loaded up to head toward the Carribean coast. Side note–our packing was always somewhat humorous with Brittany’s jeep having a personality of her own. Its security system had a lot to “say”, as if she were an integral part of the team (in fact she WAS, since we had lots of gear and the jeep was loaded with it). We were driving toward Puerto Viejo, a little beach/surf town that reminded me a lot of Paia in Maui but more “rasta-fied” with the Carribean influence. Back in the land of bicyclists juggling their surfboards while negotiating traffic and the frequent need to check out the pedestrians milling about scantily clad in their bikinis. This felt strangely familiar and I liked it. We made our way to our resort, north of the downtown, but once settled in, went back to town for an outstanding dinner and drinks after. The club was called “Hot” something… Rocks? Box? I honestly don’t remember but when the live band took their break a two-person team wowed us with their show–sort of like a mini- Cirque de Soleil. The woman was particularly impressive, hoola hooping no less than 7 hoops in ways I didn’t think could be hoola-ed.
No need to bore with the rest of the details. We spent our final day together doing touristy things–eating, shopping and site-seeing. More monkeys, sloths, and birds. The Amazing Vacations crew made their way back to Turrialba and I ventured on, meeting an old friend from when I was 12 years old, who had lived with our family for months, in the USA as an exchange student. We’d loosely stayed in touch, and now we were reunited after over 20 years. I stayed with her in the jungle mountains outside of Hone Creek for several days where I was introduced to sweat-lodge drumming/singing, moon dancing and jungle interval training. Life is full of unique learning experiences if you’re open to them.
I took a shuttle from Puerto Viejo to La Fortuna where I enjoyed a final solo mission before wrapping up my trip– in search of waterfalls, the volcano “Arsenal” and sunshine. Full transparency… I was really struggling with the non-stop torrential rain. Rain in a way I’d never experienced. I’m no stranger to rain, having grown up in the Willamette valley, and rainy weather is fine when you’re paddling. But when you’re trying to sight see, or enjoy the beach, it’s sort of a bummer. Especially rain like you jumped in a pool. And then never got dry. This was my personal journey of overcoming the uncomfortable surroundings– a situation where you’ve looked forward to what should be sunny, central American reprieve from the winter at home, and then it rains the whole time. I became “one” with the rain on my walk home from the observatory outside of La Fortuna. I never did SEE the volcano since it was obscured by the clouds and weather. However, after Uber had no cars to drive me the 6 miles to town, I began the walk back and made literal, the metaphor of life–dancing through the rain. I looked around me, and going at a much slower pace I noticed the beautiful countryside. The regular rain would be interrupted by the pounding rain, and for those minutes I found various forms of “cover”. And then continued my walk. I felt good. I felt strong and like I’d somehow returned to “me”. Here’s the thing: international travel is frequently hard and uncomfortable, both physically and emotionally. But if you’re willing to deal with the discomfort it’s important and enriching. You get wet, but eventually you’ll get dry. It’s like life, and I’m up for it.
If you’re interested in more details give me a shout. If you’re headed to Costa Rica and need ideas, I have many. Check out Amazing Vacations. Check out Canopy Adventures. I can’t speak highly enough about Chilamate Eco retreat in Sarapiqui.
Photo credit: Brittany Parker
Thanks for listening…see you out there on the frisky ripples.