After pondering a vacation destination earlier this year several friends suggested Costa Rica, and one was kind enough to recommend the company she'd used, Package Costa Rica.
As well as providing a menu of pre-packaged tours they let you go a la carte, picking the activities you want to do, and a timescale, and they work out the itinerary (and price) for you. So a few months ago we chatted about my requirements and they put together an interesting tour, and I find myself out on the balcony enjoying the cool evening rain.
Yesterday's travel was marginally more complicated than it could have been. I'd been working from San Francisco for the previous two weeks, which has the drawback that there are no direct flights between SFO and San Jose Costa Rica (SJO). So I took a two hour flight to Phoenix, and hustled between gates in the one hour layover between flights to catch the connecting flight.
Both flights were operated by US Airways, who proved competent, although nothing much to write home about (although I could have done without the 5.45 start from San Francisco). The one stand-out moment was realising, two hours in to the five hour flight from Phoenix that a meal wasn't included.
A Package Costa Rica rep. met me at the airport, and dropped me at the first of what will be several hotels over the course of this stay, the Best Western Irazu, 20 minutes or so from the airport. It's clean, comfortable, and has a well stocked bar. The WiFi though, is decidedly odd; the phone (Nexus One) connects with no problems, the Mac laptop refuses.
The welcome pack from Package Costa Rica included a suite of tear off vouchers for the various events that have been arranged, along with pick up times and locations, which has meant that so far I've had to do very little beyond show up at the right time. Another plus point.
Today was white water rafting. Not something I've done before, and it'd be hard to think of a better place to do it. It's described as
Experience the thrill of white water rafting on the world class Pacuare River! The scenery while rafting is just marvelous. The vegetation that will surround you plus the power of the waters will transport you in to a great wild adventure. The equipment will be given, and a specialised guide will instruct you on how to manage yourself in to the strong currents of the river.
The tour bus from Rios Tropicales collected me from the hotel at 6.10 this morning (yes, 6.10, I need to stop these early starts). I was the last but one stop, and the mini-bus was already quite full. Collecting two others from the next hotel we started the ~ 2 hour drive to the Rio Tropicales base of operations.
There breakfast was laid on. This would have been useful information about 3 hours previously, as this wasn't in the notes, and I'd got up at 5am (or, as my body viewed it, 4am given that Costa Rica is an hour ahead of San Francisco). Having already eaten I settled for a second coffee to help get jump started, and took a few photos.
This was also the opportunity for everyone to get changed in to the gear they'd bought for the rafting. This was slightly alarming -- I'd assumed that this would be provided. Visions of wet-suit shorts and suitable footwear had occurred to me before leaving, so I was in waterproof walking boots, shorts, and a t-shirt.
Ah well, nothing ventured and all that, and I figured that the worst that would happen would be that I'd have a slightly soggy journey back in the bus at the end of the day, so pressed on. If this is something you ever plan on doing I recommend learning from my experience though, and pack a change of clothes.
Anyway, another 45 minutes drive and we made it to the embarkation point on the river. This included the safety briefing from the guide, covering topics such as what to do if you fall in (try and float with your feet pointing down the river, don't try and stand up), correct procedure for hauling people back in to the raft, that sort of thing. The last 15 minutes were down a very bumpy broken up road that could give California a run for its money in the "terrible road" stakes. But I digress.
To the boats, where we put on the appropriate gear (helmets and lifejackets being provided, as well as a paddle), divided in to groups of six, and met our guide, Henry. All told ten rafts were to set off that day. I took the opportunity to turn on MyTracks on my phone and slipped, wrapped tightly in two plastic bags in to a zip pocket.
Henry gave us a brief tutorial on the various directions he'd give in the raft, including the everyone-in-the-middle-we're-going-to-crash one, and the everyone-come-over-to-this-side-so-we-don't-tip-over one. But really, how hard could it be?
We set off.
Any expectations I may have had that any part of me would stay remotely dry during the journey were rapidly set right. It's no exaggeration to say that it would have been drier to have been floating in the river -- then at least your head would stay dry. The initial Class 1 and Class 2 rapids were enough to throw water over all of us, but it was actually fairly pleasant, being quite warm. The Class 3 and Class 4 we encountered a little later were drenching.
Also, not actually as scary as I'd imagined. Although there's plenty of time to admire the scenery as you're quietly drifting through the quieter spots on the river, negotiating the rapids themselves is a frenzy of paddling, shifting weight to stay in the raft, keeping an ear open for the commands from the back, and gasping as another wall of water crashes over you. There's very little time to actually focus on what's going on around you.
Those lessons on how to rescue people back in to the raft came in useful a few times over the three and a half hours we spent in the water. Not, I hasten to add, because any of the members of my raft would be so gauche as to accidentally fall in. But we did manage to haul aboard a few members of other rafts that had found themselves suddenly launched in to the water. Amusingly, most of this seemed to happen during the quieter stretches on the river.
After about 18 miles, and 3h30m of this we arrived at our final destination. I wasn't expecting it to be quite so difficult to walk ashore as it was, but it turns out that when you've been sat down for that period of time hanging on and paddling, trying to stand up straight and not fall over is a significant test of balance.
Our landing point was only 10 minutes or so from the same base that we'd had breakfast at. Lunch was laid on, traditional fare of salad, rice, beans, chicken, and very tasty that was too. There were also changing rooms and showers, but as already explained, somewhat superfluous to my requirements...
And then the ~ 2 hour bus journey back to the hotel, and a chance to compare notes on the day with fellow rafters.
So far, Package Costa Rica have done an excellent job. Tomorrow I'm off to see a volcano, a wildlife refuge, a waterfall, and spend a bit of time on horseback...
Oh, and the phone survived, staying dry through the whole adventure. Resulting in this map
View Rafting in a larger map
Some useful tips for white water rafting I learned today.
- Bring a change of clothes. You will not stay dry.
- Synthetics dry faster than cotton.
- Any electronics should be (at least) double wrapped in plastic, and in a secure pocket somewhere.
- Don't bring anything you intend to use on the river that's not already waterproof. For example, don't expect to bring a compact digital camera and use it during the slow periods. It's possible to buy waterproof (completely enclosed) disposable film cameras, use those.
- No sun lotion on your face, or the backs of your legs. It'll run on your face, and significantly worsen the grip your legs have on the boat.
- Make sure your hotel room has a hair drier -- this is invaluable for drying out the hiking boots that you're going to need tomorrow.