Walden World

The wacky and wonderful tales of Beth's and Catherine's global adventures. And all things Walden too.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

White Water - White Knuckles

La Fortuna is a small town at the base of a giant, active volcano that looms over the village like Mount Doom. 'Volcan Arenal' smokes, puffs and spews out lava flows nightly. The volcano may well, again, lose its top in an enormous and violent eruption and take out the town (and Catherine and I with it) as it did when it awoke in 1964.

Not content to settle for this remote but possible danger, Catherine decided that we should try our hand at 'white water rafting'.

Off we go to the the San Jose River to kayak rapids in tiny, single rubber boats. I was somewhat concerned as the San Jose River was widely known as home to many, many crocodiles. Each time I would ask a local about crocodiles (which are endemic in Costa Rica) they would assure me: "Not here, but in the San Jose River..."

When I found that we were to be kayaking the San Jose, I asked our guide if any tourist had been attacked, eaten etc. In true Tico fashion, the guide averted his gaze, smiled slightly and replied (with an arched eyebrow): "Not yet".

The guides, rough and ready tattooed Tico men who liked nothing better than adrenaline pumping, near death adventure, were thrilled that we could start our journey on a tributary adjacent to the more sedate, crocodile ridden waters of the San Jose: As luck would have it, the authorities were releasing water from the giant hydro electric dam upstream resulting in a torrent of white water perfect for those who like to live 'large'.

Adding to the sense of impending doom, was the Peter Weir-ish ear-splitting drone of thousands of cycaidas who were drowning out the "very important safety instructions" being shouted at us by our guide in broken English.

As she had failed to comprehend any of the instructions, and, after taking one look at the river, Catherine advised our guides that she was too afraid to go by herself. One guide quickly and chivalrously offered to sit in her seat, behind her, and do all the paddling and steering.

I, in my decidedly unfetching bathing suit, purchased from the bargain bin at "Bikini Hut" in "Shoppers World Brampton" circa late November, was not offered similar assistance.

We carried our craft to the water's edge after using the "facilities" (tall grass) all the while walking cautiously in light of the warning from our guide to "watch out for snakes".

A guide then put my kayak into the drink and, while bracing his entire body against the current in order to remain standing, asked, over the roar of the the water, whether I was "ready to go".
I shouted back "yes" and was released.

I immediately shot down the rapids wildly spinning in circles like a top. All I could recall of the "very important safety instructions" was that, should you fall out of the boat (a very real possibility at this point) never try and stand up or grab anything as you will shatter all your limbs. Instead you are to keep your body ramrod straight and, like some stolid corpse, let the rapids pull you along whilst you wait for the the guides to find you and then throw you a life line.

I soon realized that the "thrill" of shooting rapids is somehow lost when one is backwards the entire time. As I spun down the river, furiously paddling, all I could hear was the sound of rushing water and my very laboured breathing. It brought to mind the scene in "Deliverance" wherein the hapless city slickers flee down rapids under hillbilly shotgun fire, only to find a very dead "Drew" smashed against the rocks in a disturbing position.

At a more calm junction in the waters, I espied Catherine and her helpful guide in their boat resting peacefully against the shore. The guide was piqued that I had not followed him to the side but rather was spiralling rapidly past them, down the river. He shouted at me to turn my kayak around and come over to the side. I, in a panic, shouted back, with some choice expletives, that it was not for lack of trying that I was continuing on my way down the river.

After finally reaching the shore, shaking like a leaf, I was assured that the worst (or class 3) rapids were over.

Later as we rounded a bend, we were greeted by the sight of the bloated carcass of a dead cow, surrounded by a flock of munching vultures. I could only conclude that the hapless cow had been on an earlier bovine "white water rafting adventure" and had failed to pay attention to the "important safety instructions".

While I survived this, our first foray into "adventure tourism", it ruined me for any further such ventures.

Travelling to Monteverde a few days later, Catherine was excited by the prospect of enjoying a famous "zip line tour". Here tourists put on a small harness, atttach themselves to slender wires and race high above the forest canopy from platform to platform without regard to the clear and present danger they face.

Catherine, brave and stalwart woman that she is, did indeed take the canopy trip, even amid gale force winds, all the while securely tethered to an instructor, who did the braking for her, as she was too afraid to go by herself.

I instead, had elected to tour the local cheese factory which, incidentally, is run by pacifist Quakers.

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