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  • Sarah Reijonen

Diary of a Wimpy Girl: Rafting in Costa Rica

Jackson, our 16-year-old nephew, Spank, and I at the Pacuare River Lodge after our first day river rafting.

I am not an adrenaline junkie. Sure, I’ve jumped out of a plane in New Zealand and surfed a wave in Tahiti, but those things don’t come naturally to me. I mean, do they really come naturally to anyone? I want to know who looked at a flat piece of wood and thought, Maybe I should lie down on that, swim it out into the crashing waves then try to stand up on it—that sounds like fun!

Rafting is in that same vein—which is to say, on the daring side—but I’ve have ridden a giant raft down rolling whitecaps a few times, as well as a not-so-giant-Walmart-raft-for-2 down the chocolatey Amazon River—now that was interesting (it’s fine, our guide was just testing the idea on us).

I entered the raft on the Pacuare River in Costa Rica the same way I enter any raft or adrenaline-based activity: with trepidation. My least favorite part is the preparation and the explanation of all the ways you can quickly become a mangled bag of bones floating. My anxiety heightened as our guide explained what to do should one of us get trapped under the raft. I’m pretty sure he was talking to me. My knees went weak just with the pep talk.

“Stay calm (yeah right) and feel your way along the bottom of the boat,” he said.

I got locked in a bathroom for all of 4 minutes the other day in a Costa Rican coffee shop and came out hands trembling. No way I would stay calm gargling water under a rubber floatation device of death. Hell no.

But, I stuck with it. I’ve done this before, it’ll be fine, I told myself. All of this is just precautionary, like when the flight attendant tells you how to put your oxygen mask on, except you aren’t the one flying the plane.

I guess neither was I, really. Our rafting guide would be our pilot. I was simply part of the engine. But he would get me to where I wanted to go (the end of this tour) and hopefully, unscathed and not riding under the raft.

View of the Pacuare River from the lodge. Yes, this is the river I was fretting over.

The first day of our rafting trip was an appetizer of what was to come. I quelled my fears with a few deep breaths as Spank hummed the pump-up tune to Ozzy’s “Crazy Train.” There was no backing out; plus, I didn’t want my 16-year-old nephew thinking his aunt was lame.

The first section of the trip leading to our lodge where we would stay the night was only about an hour downriver. We blew threw it then thought, That wasn’t so bad until our guide Jorge said, “The hardest rapids today will be the easiest ones tomorrow.”

Perfect. No rest for the wigged out, non-adrenaline junkie.

Thankfully, they kept us occupied the rest of the day with a jungle hike to a waterfall and swimming hole, pointing out poisonous frogs on the way. After that, we came back to the lodge and played a dice game before eating dinner and heading to bed, where Spank tried to hide from me the fact that he killed a bullet ant there a few hours earlier. Some days it just feels like everything wants to kill you.

It rained most of the night, broke for breakfast then down poured again as we made our way down to the river, helmets and life jackets snuggly secured. Again, Jorge went over the safety measures and introduced our Costa Rican kayaking Hasslehoff. He was there to come to the rescue should I go pinballing off boulders. Reassuring, but also another sign to my insecurities that this was dangerous, not the typical activity for this slow-paced paddle boarder.

The rain subsided as we headed down the river and we into the unknown.

When you know something bigger is coming, it’s hard to enjoy the small stuff ahead of it, but I tried.

I looked around, admiring this foreign landscape that was literally out of a movie—“Congo.” Vines covered the massive jungle tree like a blanket, a sticky, sultry, like-sucking blanket starving that tree of sunlight and ushering in a slow death.

Death. Nope, can’t let the brain go there. Every time we finished a rapid, Jorge would say, “Take a break, move your legs. Look at that waterfall!” He talked us (but mostly me) through it like a yoga instructor guiding you through hot yoga, talking away so you can keep your mind off the incessant sweating and probability of passing out.

But, as we hit more and more rapids, I checked them off of my mental to-do list—yes, massive Type A personality—and finally put all that building adrenaline to good use. I even found a way to enjoy the ride. Isn’t that what’s most important in life? We know we’re gonna get tossed by the waves. Sometimes we might even get trapped under the raft and feel like there’s no air left to suck in, and just like that, you feel your way out and can breathe again.

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