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www.doitnow.co.za | Adventure • 43


inH2O:

Words by Adam Gray Photos by various photographers

C o sta

a c i R K ayak in g I boar ded a plan e in Mun ich that was destined for Costa Rica, only to arrive thre e days late r. To be hon est I didn’t care whe re I was, I was just happy to be don e with flyin g.

, has a lot to Apart from paddling, Costa Rica, which means 'Rich Coast' and peaceproud a are offer. Rich in Latin American culture, the people er I went I Wherev 1949. in back army loving nation, having abolished its elmed overwh ntly consta was and people smiling was greeted by happy, is a small it h Althoug you. help to were they willing and friendly by how from east to country in size, just 464km from north to south and 274km the world's of t percen four hosts that y west, it has an ecological diversit number of a and ranges in mounta ing stretch total biodiversity, long ean Sea, Caribb nt iridesce the find you'll east the To es. volcano active sts, rainfore l tropica find to west the Pacific Ocean and in-between you'll and Coffee lls. waterfa se turquoi and lush green valleys, clear rivers , especially farming form the backbone of its economy, along with tourism among the first and world, the in fifth ranked is country The rism. ecotou Index. Its ance Perform Americas, in terms of the 2012 Environmental today an and 1950s the as back far as environmental protection laws go mass. land 's country the of 20% s protect system extensive national park around is Costa Rica has a great public transport system, so getting the cities around and in car or bus by not a problem. However, travel winding narrow very the ally especi , raising hair often and little villages is recommend don't I which roads, d pothole foggy on up high , passes 200km travelling at night because it's scary and reckless, and a simple for saying one have Ricans Costa (The road trip can take four hours! ul beautif g Passin life.) pure means which vida', every situation, 'pura kayaking the a, Turrialb to headed I'm ions plantat coffee and sts rainfore nobody has capital. My plan is to meet other kayakers at the hotel, but localtypical small, a in meal a had I stepped forward. That evening it all when that's and h Spanis speaks ne Everyo rant). style soda (restau about this ng dreami been have I in. kicks reality and real very es becom Guatemala, trip for such a long time and having spent two years living in ing to the Return h. Spanis my on up g I am looking forward to touchin from about heard I'd who s, Kuiper van Kees an hotel I met Dutchm Marland, Kylee with up met we d followe that days the In rs. paddle other Infantes, a Canadian kayaker, and a Spanish couple, Javier and Isabella ROI. who both paddle for Team ROC

40 • DO IT NOW June | July 2012

The next eight days were spent paddling together on a river that ranged from extremely terrifying to wow! The scenery always picturesque. In this part of Costa Rica the most popular rivers to kayak are the Rio Pacuare and Rio Reventation, both world renowned for excellent highvolume commercial rafting trips. Some easy class 2-3 paddling can be done on the Rio Pejibaye, so even if your are running class 4-5 rivers it's always good to paddle something more gentle and relaxing, just to have a day to enjoy your surrounds and let your mind rest. We tackled the Rio Vereh, a tributary to the Rio Pacuare, which is a fully committed run that entails a mandatory eight-metre waterfall and many continuous grade 4-5 boulder gardens, all enclosed in dense jungle gorges. Next up was the Rio Orosi, a dinosaur boulder garden with tight runs and small eddies to make - it was seriously technical and hectic. We ran this twice and with its many, many siphons and undercuts, I'm still trying to figure out why once was not enough for us.


Paddler Adam Gray Photo Javier Infantes

www.doitnow.co.za | Adventure • 41


Adam Grey pointing at an iguana Photo Jennifer Goetz

Rio Pacuare - Adam Gray & Isabella Infantes Photo Javier Infantes

Rio Bueno Vista - Adam Gray Photo Javier Infantes Rio Bueno Vista - Javier Infantes Photo Adam Gray

The days that followed were spent paddling various other sections of these rivers, and the part that really sticks out in my mind was Rio Reventation. It had been raining for the past two days and we were worried that too much rain would mean no paddling. After speaking to a few locals and being told that it was a no go, as the river was too high, Kees, Javie and I decided to have a go at a 58km run, in seven hours. Having paddled this section three days prior with less water I was feeling comfortable about the challenge ahead. But we soon realised that all the rapids were pushed up a class due to all the rain. Throughout the morning we stopped often to take a breather. Already in the first hours of paddling I'd taken two serious spankings, my lifejacket barely able to contain the furious beating of my heart. As the section was so long we didn’t have time to scout, but we also weren't keen to see what lay ahead because it was so intimidating. Four hours later we finally arrived at our take out. The day had been trying, but that's exactly what I love about kayaking, what draws me to this sport. I am totally in the moment and nothing has my attention except the river. A few days later we said goodbye to Kees, who was on his way south to Columbia. Having pretty much paddled all that was possible, it was time for us to move on too. Javier and Isabella had a rental 4x4, which meant there was no put in or take out we couldn't make. We packed up and headed south west to San Isidro de El General, a bustling metropolis that is the gateway to southern Costa Rica. It is the region’s largest town and a major agricultural and transportation hub, and boasts some beautiful architecture. Although it is not on any of the tourist routes, it is home to the Rio General, a river known for its large, rolling rapids. Here we met Fillipe Lopez, who runs a little rafting operation and has a wealth of knowledge on the area. On our first day Fillipe took us to the upper reaches of Rio Buenavista, a section he hadn’t paddled before, but he knew of the two portages, a tricky 14km section and that it's steep and doesn't have many big eddies. The river was beautiful, framed by green rolling hills and steep gorge cliffs, which also made scouting difficult. Kylee, Javier and I enthusiastically took to water, but unfortunately Kylee's boat cracked and she had to walk out. This allowed Javier and I to pick up the pace, but a little further down we were forced to do a one-kilometre hike through dense jungle to scout around a blind corner. Unfortunately the scouting wasn’t worth the hike, but the paddling was well worth the effort. We eventually got off the water just before sunset, happy after such a rewarding run.

42 • DO IT NOW June | July 2012

Cuppachino monkey Photo Jennifer Goetz

Our next adventure took place on the Rio Chirripo Pacifico, a river that holds much respect amongst the Costa Rican kayaking community for its must-make lines, tight slots and big boofs. The water was quite high on our first day, so we paddled the lower section, enjoying the ride until we got to a rapid that's graded by the guide books as a grade 6. Unaware of what we were getting into, we took a line that ended in tears, a bent boat and a lost paddle and elbow guard. We were lucky considering what could have happened. That night we sat under clear skies contemplating risk vs. reward. By the next morning the water levels had dropped and the upper section was good to go. With the previous day still fresh in our minds we cautiously entered the canyon and scouted a lot more this time. By the time we left the river that night, you couldn't wipe the smiles off Javier's or my face. Rio Chirripo Pacifico is a river I've wanted to paddle for a long time and the experience was everything I had dreamed of and more. Many people have asked me why Costa Rica? For me as a paddler it's simple. Costa Rica has an incredibly exciting geography; south east of San Jose is a mountain range called Cordillera de Talamanca that splits the country from north to south, which means on the east and west sides there are run offs that produce an unbelievable network of rivers boasting endless whitewater runs. And being in the tropics, where rainfall is abundant, the rivers powerful and the scenery amazing, what more could a paddler want?

My time in Costa Rica was truly magnific ent, thanks largely to my fantastic sponsor s Fluid Kayaks, whitewatertrainin g.co.za and X-Kajaks Lofer. I was privilege d to have paddled some sections that have never been paddled before and seen some places that will only be seen by the few who paddle there. Pura vida Costa Rica! •


PADDLING | TRAVEL: Costa Rica Kayaking