Friday, February 15, 2008

Costa Rica 29

Yawn. Another 6am morning. The one good thing about the hotel we were staying in was that breakfast was included. Across the street at a little coffee shop, but included all the same. After consuming some very good coffee and a dabble of scrambled eggs, we headed off to the tourist office to start our tour de jour. A Safari Tour River Float!

We were on time but, alas, our guide was not. We sat around for 30 minutes and the van, pulling a trailer loaded with our raft and several plastic kayaks, pulled up. We loaded into the van and said hello to the people already in it. A family from Philadelphia. With kids. I was not impressed. All the way to the river they asked one stupid question after the other. Meantime, I had the furthest back seat in the van, next to the window with the sun shining in. Can we all say HOT!

After what seemed like eons, we turned off the main road onto a dirt one, passing by a huge field of mother-in-law tongue. All nice and neatly planted in rows. Must have been for some nursery or something. It was strange to see. The road ended in a little turn around parking lot and here we stopped and were told to get out. We were right on the bank of the river and the entire area around us was surrounded by huge bamboo trees. Having to go pee, I ducked behind one. What a mistake. I was instantly half consumed by swarms of huge mosquitoes. B said he had better go too, before we hit the river. I recommended that he go the same place that I did because it was so private. He came back scratching and itching. Hee, hee!

It turned out that only the three of us were going to be in the raft and the family was going to kayak down the river. Husband, wife, two semi-teenage daughters and two boys. The river was brown, wide and looked like it was flowing fast, although no rapids. I was starting to feel queasy, looking down at it. We had to negotiate a steep, muddy bank to get to the water and then literally jump into the raft. But we made it safely in, arranged ourselves, put on our life jackets and the guide pushed off.

I was instantly petrified. There was just so much water and I hated not being able to see what was under us due to the brown, brown, brownness of the water. And I was sitting on the edge of the boat, not on one of the seats in the middle. I think this was done to keep the boat balanced. B kept leaning over and asking if I was alright. Maybe because my face was a ghostly white and I was hanging onto the side ropes for dear life! All I could do was nod. I couldn’t even speak at that point.

We hadn’t been in the water even ten minutes when the guide, who was also in control of paddling and steering, headed us into shore toward some giant tree with elephant trunk like roots running down the bank. He didn’t really beach the raft but pulled up and grabbed one of the roots to hold us steady. The reason we had stopped was because directly above our heads now was a sleeping sloth. Well, I say let sleeping sloths lie. Big deal. I had already seen enough sloths that I was not overly impressed. (how quickly we become tainted!) We stayed in this position far too long. He was waiting for the family in kayaks, that launched just after us, to catch up so that their guide could point out the sloth to them. Of course, the girls screamed like little girls. As if it was going to drop down and try to kayak with them. I was totally disgusted with them and very glad when he shoved off and steered us back to the middle of the river.

By now, after about 15 minutes on the river, I was starting to calm down and sort of, but not completely yet, enjoy the ride. The scenery certainly was fantastic. Mostly the shore line was above our heads and we were always looking up to see stuff. As we rounded the next bend, my new found semi-confidence came crashing down around me.

We were in the middle of the river, which was probably 100 feet wide at this point. As we rounded the bend, there it was. A huge, fat crocodile, sleeping peacefully on the river bank. The thing had to be at least 32 feet long or thereabouts! To say it made me nervous is an understatement. It could have easily tipped over our rubber raft or bitten a huge hole in it should it have chosen to do so. To my utter horror, the stupid guide started to paddle us over to it! I let this go on for about 3 swipes of his paddle and I turned around and told him that we were quite close enough, thank you. B and L wanted to get closer but they could see I was beginning to panic. The next step being hyper-ventilation and the next murder to anybody who continued to stress me. So the guide just kind of hovered us while we took pictures. As we were doing this, the family approached and we could see them rounding the bend. They had not yet come into view of the brown menace. Our guide made a Shhh! motion with his fingers to his lips. A sign the other guide with the family immediately recognized and he informed the family to shut up. But he did it nicely. Thank God. Otherwise I am sure that those stupid girls, who were sharing a kayak, would have screamed to the heavens. Thus waking up and pissing off the crocodile who would promptly consume all of us! Leaving the family and the sleeping crocodile behind, the guide turned the raft downstream and we were off again.

Even though I kept all body parts in the water after that, I did start to relax and enjoy the ride. We saw many types of iguana, lizards, birds, and even a tree full of howler monkeys. Boy, they were loud, warning us to go away.

Eventually, in this 3 hour tour, we came to a wide bend in the river and the river bank was low and jutted out into the water, forming a landing spot. We pulled over and the guide broke out a cooler full of bottles of cold water and juices. We eagerly helped ourselves. Surprise, surprise. Family caught up with us and joined in the break and refreshments. The guides used this time to play with the kids, mostly the boys. They had a long rope with a float attached to it. This is thrown to somebody should they fall overboard or tip over or something stupid like that. Then they are pulled back into shore or the boat. The guides had one boy after the other swim out to the middle of the river and then would throw the life line to them and pull them back. They all seemed to be having great fun. For my part, I kept thinking that where there was one crocodile, there had to be others. Nothing, absolutely nothing, would have convinced me to swim out to the middle of that river. Even though they offered to “rescue” us too. Finally, game time over, we were back in the raft and once again floating along.

Except for rounding another corner and seeing a herd of crocodile food, otherwise known as cows, lazing on the river bank, the rest of the trip was uneventful and just plain relaxing. I was totally surprised with myself when we pulled over to the side of the river where some steps had been semi carved into the muddy embankment and realized that the trip was over. I wanted to continue on down the river for awhile. B, L and I made our way up the embankment to where it was flat and left our guide at the side of the river. He was waiting for Family to catch up so he and the other guide could bring the gear up the embankment and load it onto the waiting trailer.

Even though the rafting tour was over, the adventure was not. We were led a short distance down the road, away from but yet along the river. We ended up at the small farm of a Tico family. They evidently owned the property where we came ashore and the tour company had contracted with them to serve the tourists a little snack. We were treated to homemade Yucca bread, homemade white cheese (very salty and not pasteurized), fried plantains, coffee and fruit juices. It was a very pleasant experience, sitting there with a real family, in their real house, eating just plain, but very good, food.

We finished our snacks and loaded into the van again and were driven back to town. All in all, a very satisfying little tour and one that I would highly recommend and certainly do again.

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