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9 above Zero

It rains in Costa Rica. a lot.  Combine that rainfall with mountains, which are in abundance and it can only mean one thing, rivers, and plenty of them.

Forty of them are described in the guidebook, Chasing Jaguars, but there are plenty more, some have been run, some not.  We took two weeks out to go explore, making our arrangements through Fraser at

We hooked up with local paddler Juan Carlos who drove us for our stay, he knows where all the get ins and outs are, and more importantly the best places to eat.

JC was late rocking up to the airport, providing some entertainment for the locals, with us as the main attraction, 6 boaters with all their gear seemed to get the dollar signs racking up in the taxi drivers eyes as they discussed how best they could transport / fleece us in the early hours of the morning.

Our first Jungle put in, we were nervous! Not for the river, the Lower Pejibaye, that was going to be a nice easy section to warm us up, more for the walks to and from the water, inspections and portages, mid stream would probably be the safest place to be, in amongst the white water.  OK, so there is more chance of being struck by lightening than being bitten by a snake but for us Brits, not used to snakes and spiders, they were at the fore front of our minds, none of us too sure how much faith we had in Mike’s venom extraction kit!

JC navigating his way through the streets of Turrialba.  The guidebook splits the country into 4 distinct paddling regions, the Southern Valley, Turrialba, North Carribbean Slopes and the Central Pacific. We headed for the main region, Turrialba for our first week and perhaps the highest concentration of river sections, with most of the put ins an hour or so’s drive from town.

The tarmaced town roads soon give way to tracks of varying quality, this one took us up towards the Upper, Upper Pacuare, we didn’t get much further as the surface deteriorated and the foliage closed in making further progress difficult.

A short walk sees us at  the put in for the Upper Pejibaye, starting at the confluence with the Rio Taus.  This is a jungle corridor section of water, truly stunning with the sunlight filtering through the thick vegetation in only a few places.

Vic has a moment, so as Mikes assists, I do what I can to help…. and take pictures.

We inspect Palomitas, (popcorn) and choose to portage, a tree has blocked the most obvious narrow channel and non of us fancy making the move right with the bulk of the flow pushing under the fallen tree.  A huge spider as I exited my boat did for me, I don’t do spiders, epecially when I couldn’t have picked it up with one hand!

The one morning the Turrialba volcanoe was not obscured by cloud.

Trucks of all shapes and sizes frequent even the narrowest of dirt tracks, JC moved over giving way, making sure the big ass drop was to the truck’s side rather than ours, good skills.

The Florida section of the Rio Reventazon gave us some big water action, despite the levels dropping over previous days, sections above here were too high to be reasonably run, we ran the 3 mile section in the blink of an eye, flowing over most of what the guidebook described.

Lower Bamboo

Snakes, not as bad as spiders in my mind but still pretty bad, poisoness, oh yes.

Agalychnis callidryas, or the red eyed tree frog

Marco, Juan Carlos’s brother spent 7 days a week for 7 months building this canopy walk, 7 zip lines, 3 abseils and a couple of bridges take you high through the canopy of the rainforest, awesome.

Leaf cutter ants abound, carrying loads of unbelievable size.

We got on the Lower Pacuare in high water, JC told us that normally we would normally walk a couple of hundred yards to the main channel from where he had parked, today it was only a few.  A short section, before we overnighted at a riverside camp.  It continued to rain for the rest of the day and night and through the following morning, the river rose some more and Marco advised us that when the two surf waves we could see washed out he stopped running the river, we got on just as the waves were washing out.

Flowing downstream, encountering the first big rapid we hurtled into an eddy, river right, JC paddling with us today, glanced over, saw the river guage, different coloured paint on the rocks river left and told us that at this level the river was normally closed.  We should rest before we continued into the gorge section!  Bobito Falls is the first feature of note, described as a consequential rapid that should be scouted, today a read and run line, tomorrow would be a different story.

Day two, levels had dropped about 45cm, waves that had washed out were now breaking. graby holes were now more evident. Stevie led through Bobito taking the same line as the previous day, he got tickled, I followed, back looped into the hole and cartwheeled through every axis, this was no ordinary beating, I am pinned on my back deck, I can’t get forward to tuck up and my mind is pretty soon made up that I am going to have to swim, I try a couple of futile roll attempts, its no good, I’m being held, beaten and can’t roll.  I also can’t reach the loop on the front of the spray deck, my fingers claw underneath the deck on both sides of my cockpit, I’ve ditched my blades, nice carbon black ones, hope Stevie sees them and picks them up.  My deck releases from the cockpit and I push my backside out, only for my legs to be jammed as they exit the boat by my pelicase.  I have paddled for years with a 1300 peli between my legs, knowing that one day this could happen, today is the day.  I am still being spun and tumbled, I manage to reach between my legs and pull at the peli, I’m out.  I am still being held and tumbled, then it goes quiet, I’ve flushed downstream, not one for opening my eyes under water I have no idea which way is up, I start swimming, after what seems an age I surface, take a quick look round, I see blades, boat, first aid kit, the peli and Stevie coming for me.

The peli has my camera, passport, money, I swim for the peli, telling Stevie to get my blades, I throw the peli to an eddy ahead of me and drag myslef onto the rocks, breathing hard, gulping in lungfulls of air.  Looking upstream I see the others quickly poratging Bobito.  Mike and Rich race past me, asking if I am ok, chasing Stevie and my boat downstream, this is a bitch of a place to loose a boat, Costa Rica, in a steep Gorge with no idea of which bank affords the best exit.  Thankfully we don’t need to explore that option and the boys collect my boat at the end of the next rapid, nice.

Huacas Falls at the bottom of Upper Huacas, cheerfully translated as burial ground.

The three toed sloth, the worlds slowest mammal, algae grows in it’s coat giving it the green tinge, arboreal, living virtually all their life in trees, sleeping for much of the day hanging upside down!

Pacifice Coast, warm waters, cracking way of finishing the trip off.