Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Costa Rica, February 2012 - Day 2

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Our lunch spot along the Rio Picuare is about halfway through our rafting run. It was a nice sandy area where dozens could congregate comfortably. Our guides set up a picnic table with a wide variety of tasty food for everyone.

Last night we finished a good dinner of ribeye, potatoes, veggies, and a very tasty light chocolate tort and returned to our respective rooms bathed in the gentle glow of the pathway lights from below and the wan light of the many stars that were visible in the sky above. It was a lovely night in the Costa Rican jungle. Insects were out buzzing up a storm as the river rumbled off in the distance. I don't think I heard anything much more exotic than those things throughout the night. I slept quite well in my room right up until I woke up just before something I thought struck the roof and caused the building to shake. It happened twice with just a few seconds gap between the shakes of the building. I must say it never crossed my mind that I had just felt an earthquake rumble on through. Mom and Dad felt it too and they too thought some large animal had slammed into the roof. This is, of course, ludicrous because even though the buildings aren't hefty structures no animal is going to cause the structure to shake and shimmy. But until one of the local staff told us what happened a few hours later we had no clue. It definitely did not bother our rest because I fell back to sleep for another 45 minutes and I suspect my parents did too. Some people staying at the lodge slept through the entire event (we learned much later that the earthquake was off the western coast and measured 6.4). Can you call the event exciting when you don't actually figure out what it was and it doesn't really disturb you all that much? Sure, why not. We rose, more or less, with the rising sun. The morning was pleasingly cool though you could definitely feel the humidity in the air. At least I had stopped noticing that my sheets were slightly damp with humidity. I actually did sleep quite well. We found ourselves with a bit of time to kill before breakfast so sallied forth down a path we had not yet trod. The sun slowly colored the trees gold at their tops as we walked upriver to see what we could find. It was a peaceful, as peaceful as the jungle gets I reckon, morning with not too much bird calling yet. I am sure many had been up before us to try and do some early bird watching. Our biggest find was a nifty spider web. It was a good way to start the day.
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Walking the paths at Picuare Lodge before breakfast was fun. Among the cool things we saw were this cool spiderweb and the Indio Desnudo tree.

Our final lodge meal was again superb. You could eat a staggering amount of food if you chose to do so but we limited ourselves to a couple omelets, yogurt and banana filled pancakes, fresh baked bread, and various fruits. The lodge really puts out a remarkable spread and though I understand there is a very gnarly twisty bad road I still suspect a lot of the materiel comes via the river. It is impressive and damn good. It is a good thing you then spend your day doing something challenging and physically demanding because otherwise you might easily gain a surprising amount of weight. Piling into our respective rafts a little after 09:30 we shoved out into the river and were at once greeted by a modest rapid to get our juices flowing. The sky was dotted with a handful of cotton ball clouds and the air temperature had warmed up quite nicely. The water was also comfortable so getting doused was no hardship. Today we knew we would encounter many more class III and even a handful of class IV rapids. The river is running low due to a lack of rain but you still get your fair share of boat swallowing holes and fast flowing chutes full of rocks to bounce off of. Great fun. Juan Carlos did fine work making sure we were where we should be and we only got stuck a couple times which is no fault of his (others got stuck too). The scenery continued to be quite fine though it is hard to tell just how much variety their is as the foliage is so dense as to appear like one great green wall. But people who looked carefully could tell things apart. As we moved we also were graced with more bird life and even some remarkably blue butterflies. We were having a blast. We did take one break before lunch to walk up to a waterfall. It was nice to stretch ones legs but the rocks you climb over are a mite annoying. If you doubt your footing take a paddle to serve as a walking stick. It will help on the descent and not really be a hinderance on the trip to the waterfall. Lunch found us on a sandy bench of riverbank that is also home to some local (indian?) families not far off. We saw some kids playing in the river using very light wooden (balsa? Someone suggested that though it seems improbable to me) boats to play in the rapids. Our guides prepared a big spread of fruits, guacamole, pasta and chicken for us to devour. We did not consume everything and I believe the leftovers were left for the local families. If that is routine then I bet they don't have to worry too much during tourist seasons about getting food. By this time it was early afternoon and we were about halfway done. When we got back into our rafts it was right back into the thick of things with a rapid that drenched us quickly. It is good to get right back into the swing of things.

During a half-hour stretch of rafting one of the kayakers who I suppose was also acting as a rescue boat did double duty as a staff photographer. As you can see many of the rapids had us working pretty hard (nothing probably compared to our guide Juan Carlos). We got drenched several times but the water of the Picuare is warm.

IMG_0226 It was later in this section when we entered a canyon-like stretch of river. The cliffs rose up fairly high and the waters were cast in deep shadow turning them a dark green which was appropriate as they were also fairly deep. No rapids to worry about here so this was a perfect spot to roll out of the raft and take a swim: which I did. The water was comfortably warm and easy to swim in even when you are encumbered by your PFD, a helmet, and a hat whose brim keeps rolling down over your eye blocking your vision. Just floating on my back and enjoying the river flow was worthwhile. The hardest bit was getting back in the boat but Juan Carlos made that easy enough with a great helping hoist that let me easily roll my legs over the bulging blue tube of the raft's side and plop down in the boat. If the weather permits, that is it is warm which it always is, taking a swim in the Pacuare River in this little canyon is a good idea. Just make sure you get out before the canyon opens back up and you're greeted by more rapids full of plenty of rocks to bounce off of. I have no doubt that the entire 28km trip can be done in a single day even when the water is low (and if it is high no doubt you can blaze down the river far more quickly) but I think it would be a sad waste if you're visiting Costa Rica to miss out on a stay at the Pacuare River lodge. We utterly enjoyed our time there and our time spent on the river negotiating its many rapids and quiet stretches. Our trip came to its inevitable end a little before 15:00 I believe. We got ourselves out of the river and had a chance to freshen up a bit if desired (we just changed into dry clothing) before piling into a bus - the same one I think that we took from San Jose - to make the 45-60 minute drive to the hotel we are now at for the night located in the town of Guapiles. It is a nice enough place but really lacks the charms of the river lodge. It sports an Olympic sized swimming pool and has more rooms than seems to make any kind of sense given the area and even if that pool is used by nationally ranked teams for training. Maybe when we do a bit of a stroll tomorrow morning in the town we will learn that the place has hidden depths unknown to us. Time will tell. For now I am going to get myself ready for bed and sleep quite well after the day's adventures. Eventually I will create a video that gives you a much better idea of the kind of river Rio Picuare is from its quiet deep green canyon stretches to its much more lively rapids. But for now enjoy this video clip to get a sense of one of the gentler rapids.
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