Sitting on the bus back to San Jose from Turrialba, I was trying to figure out what the strange feeling in my stomach was. It couldn’t be homesickness, my husband Bruce and I had only been in Costa Rica 3 days and we definitely weren’t anxious to return to the bitter weather that certainly awaited us in Toronto. I hadn’t overindulged on any soft cheeses or ceviche, so it wasn’t an upset stomach…
As I fought sleep, I realized it was a strange brew of regret and excitement. Regret that we couldn’t stay longer because we were meeting friends in Liberia two days from then and excitement because we had just done some incredible things and the rest of the trip promised to be equally exciting.
Turrialba, only an hour and a half bus ride east of San Jose, is a sort of kayaking mecca in Costa Rica. It’s a small town that offers easy access to some of Latin America’s best rivers. The names of these rivers are whispered with reverence by those in the know: Pacuare, Reventazon, Pejibaye.
We arrived in Turrialba late on a Tuesday night, nearing the end of rainy season, thinking it would be the perfect compromise between decent water levels and little tourist activity. One out of two ain’t bad, I guess. There weren’t too many gringos roaming around Turrialba, but it had been raining non-stop for days, making the rivers unrunnable and dangerous. Normally, hearing this sort of information after traveling for 12 hours and across 6 countries, would make any paddler dejected, to say the least. But in Costa Rica the Ticos (locals) have a saying: “Pura Vida”. It’s a catch-all phrase meaning everything from “You’re welcome” to “Relax, chill”, but mostly it means, “It’s all good”.
We had decided to paddle with a company called Costa Rica Rios. Someone had recommended them to my husband, and then when he met Stacey, one of CRR’s guides on the Ottawa earlier in the season, that clinched the deal. When we arrived at CRR, Skip, one of the three American owners, ran out to greet us and help us with our luggage. CRR is a full-service company offering guides, equipment, lodging and food. They have trips that offer mountain biking, surfing, hiking and canyoning, but their specialty is the rivers.
was ready for the “big water” I’d heard about down here anyway. Skip offered an alternative: go canyoning tomorrow and check the levels over dinner. The waters rise quickly this time of year, but they drop equally quickly once the rain stops. Stacey and her team took my husband and I, plus two other stranded paddlers, canyoning the
following day. We rappelled down waterfalls, tried our hand at ziplining, survived a suspension bridge, had lunch at a local “soda” and followed it all up with a visit to a Serpentarium, where we learned how to run away from all the venomous snakes found in Costa Rica.
After an amazing meal, prepared by resident chef Flor, we relived the day’s events by looking at the pictures that Stacey had taken and evaluated the paddling situation. It was decided that the next morning we would skip the Pacaure and run the Pejibaye instead. Although we had our hearts set on the Pacaure, safety was foremost in our minds and the Pejibaye was certain to have some exciting moments because of its high level.
Another paddler joined us at the last minute because he wasn’t willing to offer himself as a human sacrifice to the Pacaure after 4 days of heavy rain. He knew his window for getting any paddling in at all during his stay was closing, so he jumped on the chance to run the Pejibaye with us. Three paddlers plus three guides was a pretty comfortable ratio for me. We had decided that Stacey and I would take the “Shredder” (a two man “cataraft”) instead of kayaks, in case the levels were too high for my comfort level.
It was on the Pejibaye where I finally understood what people meant when they said “there are no flatwater stretches, it’s rapid after rapid”. There really were no flatwater stretches and one rapid quickly crashed into the next. I thanked the gods above that I hadn’t put on any false bravery with my underwear that morning and tried to kayak the river. Just as I was getting the hang of the Shredder we stopped for lunch. Stacy, Skip and Crockett prepared a feast for us and I learned how to make “River Cheesecakes”. My trips down the river will never be the same. We packed up from lunch and headed to the top of the Pejibaye. As I was shoving my feet in the grips and muttering “pura vida” under my breath to calm myself, Stacey asked me if I was nervous. Was it my stunned
deer in headlights look that gave it away? There were some pretty wild moments on the Pejibaye that afternoon, but thanks to our expert guides, there were none that we couldn’t handle.
Two weeks later, as we were preparing to take-off for the journey home, Bruce and I were going over all the amazing moments of the past two weeks and agreed that our stay in Turrialba was definitely the highlight, and almost in unison, we asked each other, “Where next?!” Pura vida…