Steve, Frazer, Adrian, Landymore,
Matt, Martin, Graeme, Ian, Rob
Nine brits in Costa Rica
I realise that several other posters have been to Costa Rica so I'll attempt to
highlight the differences for a large group (9 in our case) flying boats from the U.K.
This trip took place at the end of the rainy season, 9th-26th October 1994, so we also had
high(ish) water throughout. Between us we were quite experienced, with only one paddler
with no experience outside the Alps. The rest of us claim: Turkey, Norway, British
Columbia, Grand Canyon, Nepal, Zambezi and Chile on our curriculum vitae.
For simpler approach, why not try Rios Tropicales, a very major
raft firm come kayak hire company.
In general a large unsupported trip to Costa Rica is very easy to run. For a
(supposedly) third world country the roads are excellent, medical facilites are available,
hotels are clean and the food and water are edible. No detailed knowledge of Spanish is
required, the locals are very friendly and invariably helpful. If you want to try remote
paddling then we all felt this was a good place to start out.
Getting there: We flew with American Airlines from Heathrow to San
Jose via Miami carrying our boats both ways free of charge. tip: don't pay for the flights
until you have a letter to this effect, $7500 is a powerful incentive.
Getting around: With nine people using local buses and hiring taxis is
impossible. We hired two 4-wheel drive isuzu jeeps for $90 a day. To us this seems quite a
reasonable price. We made careful notes of all the prior damage and actually got $5 back
at the end from the hire company. Obviously they are looking to take you for all they can,
but a little careful thought and repeatedly pointing out that you are 'not american'
solves those problems.
Driving around, particularly after dark, is an experience likened to playing on a space
invader. Many potholes are over 6 inches deep. tip: get a good map before you arrive. We
had a 1:650,000 map of the entire country which really didn't suffice. Lots of `Donde este
....' and rapid hand waving plus some psychic navigation definately required.
Using local transport to get to and from rivers would appear to be tricky, with a
single vehicle hitching or getting a taxi to run the ferry seemed to work if you were
prepared to wait around. Our general impression was thet the raft companies were less
helpful than elsewhere but this may be due to the high leech density (see Turrialba
Guide (Mayfield + Gallo): Sorry, this is the worst guidebook any of us
have ever seen. Even the put-ins and take-outs are flaky, not mentioning the obvious road
if the option is to pay a raft company. Sections are laughably overgraded (maybe due to
grade deflation since the guide was written ??), leading you to make potentially dangerous
decisions. Luckily everything we did was consistantly bad (take off at least a grade and
ignore any level warnings).
(gauge readings are for Angostera Bridge on the Reventazon, Huacas falls on the Lower
Pacuare and at the put on for the upper Pacuare, all the gradings are ours, include all
the usual disclaimers).
Reventazon, Power house, 2.10, III
Good, easy warm up.
Reventazon, Peralta, 2.10, V
In reality IV with three V bits, but wouldn't want to portage them. You can sneak Jungle
Run (which looked nasty) down the left at this level.
Reventazon, Pascua, 2.20, IV
My favourite section, chunky IV with some monster holes, felt more continous than Peralta.
Reventazon, Pascua, 1.85, III-IV
At this level you can play comfortably, most of the monsters have gone leaving some nice
waves. Guides 1.55-1.65 seems very dubious (far too low).
Lower Pacuare, 2.00, III
Very scenic. Get on down a 4WD track 2 miles upstream from the guides 'mule track'.
Upper Pacuare, 1.85, IV (2 portages)
Nothing down to the guides rapid with a tree in it (which is still there). We portaged
this (hate trees). Jumping Bobo was protected by two nasty stoppers at this level. Guides
timing is all wrong, 7 of us got on at 11:30, spent an hour eating a packed lunch and
still finished before 5pm. The section map is also a complete fiction, lots of fun in the
Upper Orosi, IV, 15 cms ?
Far easier than the guide makes out, bit of a scape at this level.
Lower Orosi, III, can't remember but a lot higher than the guide
Short float, cold water as most of it comes in just upstream from a dam outfall.
Lower Balsa, IV, 30cms ?
Get on half a mile below the dam site by driving into the hotel grounds, follow the 'To
the river' signs. Excellent pool drop section.
Upper Balsa, -
Don't bother, not enough water or mental , Balsa is near Fortuna.
Penas Blancas, III+ into I-II
Long slog but saw crocodiles in the river.
Pacific, surfing Estrillos Oueste
2 feet slow break, sea was so warm just needed shorts.
Haggling etc: Unlike most third world countries we've
visited haggling does not seem to be a way of life. The price
you get quoted is usually (but not always) close to the going
rate. Don't expect much more than 10 percent from haggling.
Being able to speak spanish isn't necessary. Two of us speak
very broken espanol, the rest got by quite happily, picking
up the odd word and waving hands.
Turrialba: Haunt of far too many kayak bums paddling 'manyana'. All
are keen to hear what you did today and are thinking of doing tomorrow, possibly so that
they can pontificate about how good they are, mainly to try and leech river trips. When a
group of them finally get their arses in gear to go and do the 'Upper, upper, upper Orosi'
you invaribly see them back in town 2 hours later. The game seems to be wasting your life
wandering aimlessly from bar to bar carrying a set of wooden paddles and a beat up old
slalom bouyancy aid. Can't comment on how good they actually are, in the two weeks we were
around none of them actually made it to a river.