How Not to Fall off a Raft

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And that’s how you do it. With style and grace. Ahem…

It’s Midnight in La Fortuna, a buzzing little town overshadowed by a striking volcano, and my first weekend in Costa Rica. I was extremely glad to be out of San Jose and into the wilderness, the real Costa Rica, nature’s playground. Merrily drinking local beers with an American and Canadian group of room mates, who initially thought i was Australian, I was so impressed with the hostel. Swimming pool, bars, hammocks, computers, beautifully kept… ten bucks a night. Bargain. The atmosphere was so friendly, people would sit on windowsills and greet random passers by, rum in one hand, ukulele in another. I love this country. After a rowdy pool session and a few pina coladas (one of which decided to smash on my hand, the bugger), it was obviously the best idea in the world to go up to the friendly reception man and book a white water rafting trip for one at nine the next morning. Class five? Sure! I can handle that. The others had been that day and it looked like an absolute blast. This was going to be great! Pura Vida and all that!

Eight am alarm. Everyone was very much awake and chirpy, and threw the clothes at me that I’d left by the pool, laughing. My new friend gave me her garish pair of crocs. She was all to eager to get rid of them, and I needed something similar to wear for rafting. RAFTING. Oh yes that’s right. Well this’ll be fun. Why did the man at reception let me book that?! He smirked as I sat down with my towel and very large bottle of water. But I’d come to Costa Rica for an adventure and to take every opportunity, and in no way did I regret it. Despite stumbling towards the bus in my bright purple flowery crocs which were too small for me, I was excited. Maybe a little nauseous, but I think that was the beer not nerves.

I immediately felt at ease when I met those I’d be rafting with, and was so glad when I was put in the raft with an interesting and fun American couple, and a pair of slightly eccentric but lovely Canadian sisters. The other option was a group of busty and loud twenty-something girls who couldn’t tell how to put a helmet on let alone fit a life vest over their surgically enhanced assets. In fact, that would probably have kept them afloat anyway.

After our safety briefing we were off, and any dash of hangover had been thrown out of me by adrenalin and a face full of water. There were scary moments, but it was amazing. We worked as a team, listening to our instructor as he drilled out the same instructions: ‘forward everybody!’, ‘okay stop please’ ‘let’s go chicos!’ ‘everybody in!!’. The raft bobbed down the immense rapids, our seemingly insignificant arms paddling away as hard as they could. We all jumped into the middle, lent to the sides, stopped paddling, kept paddling. It was mesmerising. There were big drops which threw water over us, others that made us laugh and/or scream. Then, just as I realised that I maybe had the knack of this, hey maybe I could be a professional…raft…person….this is the best thrill of my life, there was a jerk and I flew forward.

It was all in slow motion… I was going to fall off for sure. One hand gripped the paddle and the other the side of the boat. My face hit the life vest of the person in front of me. I grabbed on for dear life. I hoisted myself back up.

All in about five seconds. Five seconds in which the photographer, who frequently kayaked so naturally past us to get good pictures from the giant rocks ahead of us, managed to take quite a few pictures of my (not so) graceful decent. A look of pure delight. Then fright. Then my arse. But hey, I didn’t fall off!

Which is more than I can say for another member of our team. One jolt and he was off, his yellow helmet visible over the white froth. Our instructor was on it, calmly telling him to keep his body straight and the rest of us paddled towards him. As the rapids carried him down, he dipped under the water, it would have been so easy to panic, but that is never in the least bit helpful. As he nears us his girlfriend shouted ‘your shoe!’ as his flip flop sauntered past us. Perhaps it was better to get him out of the water before his lost shoe, so we all grabbed him and hoisted him into the boat. The instructor even managed to save both his flip flops. Celebrations all round.

His picture was not taken, but we still got some classics. Including this:

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At one point our raft even came to a stop as it lodged on a large rock with an even larger drop. It wouldn’t budge. As we all went by instructions and sat at the back of the raft, leaning backwards, our instructor cooly jumped up and down at the front until it started to move. It dropped, and although my heart felt like it jumped right into my throat, it was great. And that man has nerves of steel.

After a trip to beautiful secluded waterfall and some fresh pineapple and watermelon, as well as the arrival of what looked like a jungle man who hopped into one the rafts, we made one last rafting trip to the collecting trucks, casualty free and free spirited. Two and a half hours of white water rafting were two and a half hours of pure adrenalin packed fun, I had a grin on my face the whole time (mostly). Surrounded by lush rainforest and not a single other tourist in sight, it really felt like an adventure. If you’re up for a bit of a challenge and the potential to get soaked, I’d definitely recommend class five rapids in the Arenal area, but there are always less intense ones. It didn’t end there as we visited a nearby organic farm, and though I didn’t agree with the living conditions for the cows and pigs, it was otherwise very interesting with alien-like fruits, free flying hummingbirds and Costa Rican musical entertainment. We even made a sugar cane alcoholic drink, but after one sip I realised the floor might appreciate it more than I would. We traveled back refreshed and invigorated, ready for another adventure.

Such an amazing start to an awe inspiring trip. Just remember not to wear flip flips when rafting – the one and only time I’ve appreciated  pair of crocs!

Arenal Backpackers Resort.

Amazing ‘hostel’, though I wouldn’t call it even that. I made so many travel companions here whom I met up with again throughout the two month trip. Such a bargain with great staff and chilled atmosphere (unless your wrestling in the pool after a few beers). Can book all local tours/activities at reception. Views of the volcano over lush palm trees… paradise. http://www.arenalbackpackersresort.com/

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