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Conquering the Mighty Pacuare

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The Fearless Four along with Hal the Driver are on the way to doing just this when our car breaks down. Two days before, Hal had picked it up from the shop where it’d been for a week. Driving these roads does a pretty thorough wear and tear job on your suspension… Since we’d had no major work done in over a year, we figured it was time. Well, apparently, they missed something.

We were an hour or so outside Cartago, two hours from home and twenty minutes from the rafting company doorstep. Something rattled, started smoking, the car died… We called the car guy back home, he will send a tow truck. I called the raft guy up ahead, he’s sending the van. The guilt at having to leave Hal sitting with the car on the side of the road while we went to have fun fun fun was…. really not that bad. I did leave him the phone, but the boys and I had phone cards and the country is thick with teléfonos públicos. Right? No sweat. Besides, sacrificing the phone made up for not feeling guilty. Worth it.

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A NOTE: My unrealistic Pollyanna expectations of life and people leads to some real disappointing moments. I always expect the best of people, believe they will do, say, act like fair right-minded individuals. Despite substantial evidence to the contrary, I think everyone deep down – except juvenile delinquents – basically adheres to the Ten Commandments and that when they fail, it’s not for lack of trying.

But the truth is what people will do for a buck should surprise no one. After this trip to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, if I am ever surprised again, I am a fool.

The van picks us up, we arrive at the main office, chat a bit, meet the other two rafters who will share our cab from the end of the raft trip to the Parismina ferry. Then Raft Guy pulls me aside and says, "Can I ask you for $20 for the driver? I know that’s what he’s going to charge me." I’m confused by this request – wasn’t that lift from our broken down car complimentary? [Oh, hahahahaha! Sometimes I hear myself talk and have to laugh.] I hand over $20. He hands it to the driver, who looks like he won the lottery. He didn’t look like he was going to charge anything… I feel a tad had.

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On the other hand, RG only charged me $50/person for the day of rafting. I think it’s usually $95 each… I wonder briefly if I’m going to make up the difference little by little? Whatever – I’m happy the driver got 20 bucks. Now: let’s get rafting!

The six of us and a red-headed guy with headphones and a don’t-talk-to-me-’tude on load into the van and drive for an hour on a steep narrow extremely bumpy road at the bottom of which are two 6-people rafts, a little pink kayak, 6 more people and two guides. Mr. Red Head gets out, stretches, takes off his headphones and becomes Mr. Entertainment. Turns out he is the kayak driver and the spotter. His job is to stay a little ahead and make sure no waterfalls or black holes developed overnight….

We get hard hats, vests, oars and instructions from our guide. We quickly learn what to do when he says:

FORWARD! (Row forward)
BACK! (Row backwards)
GET DOWN! (Get down into the bottom of the raft)
GET UP! (Sit back up on the side of the raft)
HIGH FIVE! (All of us touch the tips of our oars together)

OK. That’s it. We are now ready to tackle Class III, IV and V rapids. All of which we do and it is great, GREAT fun. The boys loved it. I loved it. At one point, I left the boat except my foot was stuck under the seat in front of me… That was really odd: whole body airborne, attached to the "earth" by a big toe… it happened in slow motion. The Class IV and V rapids sure felt dangerous, but the most dangerous ones only lasted 30 seconds or so. Long enough to come over a wave, stare down into the yawning hole that you are SURE is going to flip the raft and scatter your babies among the rocks… Long enough if you ask me. If you asked the boys, they’d say, "HELL no!" They ALL want to do more. Bring on the yawning holes.

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But bring them on tomorrow, because today we are totally worn out from all that FORWARD, BACK, GET DOWN, GET UP, HI FIVE! We all struggle out of the rafts, I tip the guide $20 – he was GREAT! Up the hill where the other couple and the four of us pile into a waiting taxi, heading to Caño Blanco where we will all get the ferry to Parismina.

In the taxi, I notice the maria (the meter) is already at 4700 colones. I wonder about that but only briefly – it hardly registers because I am so wired and tired from the day. Besides, Raft Guy has told me repeatedly, even that morning, that this ride costs $25. The driver introduces himself and tells us the ride will take a little over an hour. We take off.

Somewhere around 45 minutes, I notice the maria again… it’s at 17,000 colones (roughly $36). I am confused: how could this be? I assumed he wasn’t going to use the maria… why bother when we are paying $25? I ask the driver about this. He hems and haws. Says Raft Guy has the wrong info. I remember the maria starting at 4700 at exactly the same time as Mo, who is in the front seat, does. We ask the driver about this – the first time I’ve heard Mo ever use his Spanish voluntarily. The driver has no answer and sits silently. I think he looks a little nervous, but he’s not talking. I drop it. I know for a fact I am not paying over $20 for this ride (the Other Couple will contribute at least $5).

We get to Caño Blanco. The cab driver and the maria say 18,500 colones or $40. I say $25. We go back and forth, me and the cab driver. The Fearless Three and the Other Couple stand quietly by. I’m pissed. This guy was trying to actually steal money from us! Finally, I ask the Other Couple for $10. I add $20, hand it to the driver and walk off.

I can see his dilemma. He is looking off into a far away place, like he is so martyred, when the truth is he tried to steal our money and didn’t get away with it. Finally, shaking his head in disbelief that he’s had such thieves in his car, he gets back in it and drives off.

Meanwhile, the ferry driver is a little cowed. Yessiree, I can be fearsome. He politely informs us the ferry ride is "un mil" [$2] each and shall we go? It is getting dark, we pile into the "ferry" which is actually a little banana boat looking thing, sits low in the water with a topper, wet floor, two life vests to share between the 8 of us (including the driver and his assistant)… But quick ride and 15 minutes later we are landing at Parismina.

Ah. Parismina. Such adventure lies ahead…

2 comments to Conquering the Mighty Pacuare

  • I went rafting only once, years ago. We didn’t get helmets. The drive to the top was akin to tunas in a can, packed and HOT. It was thrilling but when the action died down, the guides thought it would be funny to push us out of the raft with their paddles. When the guide sitting beside me tried this on me, I instinctively reached out for anything to hold onto and it happened to be his jewels. I got him right between the legs with a deathhold grip. He grabbed me and I didn’t go for a swim. Everyone laughed but I was truly pissed. How dare them push us out with rocks and fast running water everywhere. This was in Manual Antonio. Needless to say, this was my last rafting trip. So glad you all survived. It is more dangerous than people imagine and who do you call when something goes wrong? THIS IS COSTA RICA and You’re ON YOUR OWN! Be forwarned. singed, Yo-Yo

  • The truth is you are on your own everywhere, but you just get lulled into a false sense of security in the states… sounds like that guide deserved the death grip. what an ass. i’m not sure i would go with this same outfit again. as you point out, i just didn’t feel totally taken care of. it can be dangerous – that is part of the fun, but you really want to know they can take care of you in an emergency! i did not feel that way. good point!