We were a group of eight paddlers, setting out to run the Upper-Upper section of the Río Pacuare outside of Turrialba, Costa Rica. The plan was to drive to this hidden farm, rent horses for the 2-hour hike to the put-in, and paddle 8 miles of great Costa Rican whitewater. That morning we woke up to the sound of raindrops on the tin roof, always a good start to a paddling trip...
Diego, our Costa Rican shuttle driver, picked us up at 8am at the house of the family we had been staying with. Along with Diego was a group of super solid paddlers from all over the world, including Norway, Israel and Costa Rica. We loaded boats and set out on the bumpy roads to find that hidden farm. I was under the impression that we were going to rent horses to bring us to the river. Well, one look at those horses and I felt bad even trying to have them carry paddles. So we decided against the horses and figured hiking couldn't be that bad.
So we grabbed our gear and started up the hill. The first 100ft. or so was ok, but then we hit serious 8-10inches of mud and who knows what else. I took a quick breather and realized that my husband Jay and I were the only ones still wearing our sandals. Everyone else had either lost of broken theirs in the hike. To top it off, the skies had cleared and it was "wicked hot!"
So after we realized that we were not climbing a hill, but a rather large mountain, it had been a good two hours of hard, back breaking, boat carrying hiking. We still had no signs of a river nearby, so we kept on trucking down this old road for what seemed an eternity. Finally we ran into a local on a horse who said we were close but we would have to climb down this ridge because we were too high on the mountain. Just lovely. By this point we were all dragging the boats with Thule straps. We started to hike down this really steep goat path when the rains started up again. I must say that the phrase, "when it rains, it pours", originally came from Costa Rica. Our steep little goat path turned into a slippery mudslide before long and we ran into some species of killer ants along the way.
Finally we had sight of a riverbed, and followed until it eventually led us to the put-in, well some put-in at least. We weren't positive, but believed we had finally reached the Upper-Upper section of the Río Pacuare. We were all stoked to have reached the river, but soon after realized it was 1pm and it would be getting dark in four hours. So we jumped in our kayaks and tackled the rapids downstream. No one in our group had been on this section of the Pacuare before, but we had a super solid group with Jay Roy and Mariann Saether being our probes.
Overall the run is said to be pretty mellow, however when you mix torrential rains and steep Costa Rican hillsides, you get an amazingly fast changing river. All the tributaries filled in and soon enough flowed from just about everywhere. In my three months in Costa Rica I definitely learned that brown, super muddy water is much harder to read! The flooding river washed out some rapids but of course made others more challenging. Scouting became less and less possible because of our daylight issues and because most of the worlds poisonous snakes live along the Costa Rican riverbeds.
We finally reached the takeout as it was just about dark and everyone was really happy to have made it safely back to the shuttle vehicle. Relived and tired we loaded back into the van and headed to Pocho's bar for una cerveza y una boca. Can't beat a cold Pilsen after a long, hard day on the river.
Tackling the Upper-Upper section of the Pacuare River was a super fun experience, probably something we will do once, but it left us with some great stories to tell. The river had it all, from wildlife to exciting rapids, it was the full jungle experience. Costa Rica is one of the best paddling destinations I've ever been to and even living there for 3 months, we hardly scratched the surface of what can be done there. If you want some epic paddling, grab a flight to San José, hop a bus to Turrialba and you and in a paddling paradise. As they say in Costa Rica, PURA VIDA.
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