Wet season boating in Costa Rica

By Chris Wheeler (first published in 'CKUK' magazine)

Day 2 - were cruising down Costa Ricas classic paddle, the Lower Pacuare, through a jaw droppingly stunning gorge, with clear water from side streams cascading over waterfalls and into the river. The paddling was however, rather tame grade 3 and I was starting to daydream.

Day 10 - wed endured a 3 hour slog through the jungle, with 30 kgs of boating and overnight kit, to get to the river and after only one hour of paddling over rocks, we were confronted with two bad options. We had a choice between either a) running the committing gorge and 60ft waterfall blind or b) hauling our boats up a near vertical 60 ft high wall of jungle and then down another 90 ft high wall of jungle. We opted for option b) but heaven knows, afterwards, we could understand why the infamous Steve Whetman opted for a).

So, which one is the real Costa Rica? Whetman style epic adventures deep in the jungle, or big volume picture postcard grade 3? Wed headed out to Costa Rica to find out, and being self confessed white water tourists, we were armed with copies of the new white water guidebook, Chasing Jaguars, and cameras, dangling from our necks.

We were a mixed bunch. 4 of us were looking to scare ourselves silly on grade 4/5- Mark, Andy M, Simon and me. Andy L was usually up for paddling most of what we did, often at the very limit of his comfort zone after much coercion. The mature member of team, Dave, was recuperating from a dislocated shoulder and was looking for some nice fluffy grade 3 and off the water flora and fauna. Cheryl, Simons long suffering girlfriend, was looking for grade 2/3- and to spend some time with him for once! So, were we all going to get what we were looking for, or would not still be talking to each other by the end of the trip?

Peering out the window as we descended to land at San Jose, Costa Ricas capital, I was confronted with a familiar sight- low cloud- and then out of the gloom came something all together less familiar- a sprawling city surrounded by hills, covered in dense tropical rain forest. Welcome to the Tropics and the Third World! (sorry, Less Economically Developed Country, LEDC). Jet lagged and disorientated, my boating buddies, Andy McMahon, and Andy Levick, and I staggered out of the airport to be greeted by the advance party, Dave and Mark. We were barely functioning but thankfully Mark saved the day by diving into the chaotic jungle of taxi drivers and coming out with a minibus with roof rack that would cope with 7 paddlers and 7 boats, and after much pushing and shoving as we squeezed boats and paddlers into and onto the bus, we were quickly on our way. As we headed out towards Turrialba, the Costa Rican capital of white water boating, 40 miles to the east, I stared out of the window at the passing scene. Motorways and McDonalds, it all really looked quite developed. 2 hours later and we were still on the road, winding around hill roads past some very basic houses- Costa Rica still has some way to go and the further you venture away from the strip from the airport to downtown San Jose, the less developed it gets.

We arrived at the popular kayaking Mecca, the Interamericano Hotel, which was situated in a rather dodgy, scruffy part of downtown Turrialba, next to the old railway station- no, this was not the Hotel Intercontinental! After the standard diet of rice, beans and beer, we crashed out, with no idea of what was going to happen next. The next morning, as if by magic, everything just seemed to fall into place. Luis, the English speaking hotel manager had rustled up a breakfast buffet and our taxi driver for the week, Martine. Martine didnt speak much English and to our shame, we certainly didnt speak much Spanish, but he knew the way to the local rivers and just as importantly, drove a truck with an open wagon to the rear for the boats and lots of seats to the front. Enough to cope with the whole group when it was finally assembled entailing 7 boaters, 7 boats and mountains of smelly wet kit! More importantly still, hed drive us pretty much anywhere at any time of the day or night- if we offered him enough dollars. We were in business.

So, we headed off to paddle our first classic, the Reventazon. 2 sections, the Canon and Dries, had been blighted by dams (a truly Worldwide problem) and so were too low, so we decided to opt for a gentle warm up with the 4 sections downstream of the Dries- 18