“¡Cuídate para las culebras!” (“Be careful of the snakes!”)
That was the last thing I heard from the raft as it slowly faded off into the distance. Quite possibly, it may be the last group of people I see for the evening as well.
The plan began with the intent to visit a group of indigenous people called the Jamikari (ham-ee-car-ee). I knew these people solely from my previous guiding job. Our safety boater, Octavio, is one of Jamikari. We used to travel to their village during our two day rafting excursions to teach our guest about their way of life. The village has been visited by volunteers in the past who have obtained electricity, running water, and soon, Internet as well. They are located at the top of the mountain in the center of the Pacuare River. A place that can only be traveled to by two routes; either hours of walking through the rainforest or traveling halfway down the river proceeded by an hour long hike straight to the top. Naturally, I choose the river method.
My morning started by dropping my bag off at the casa de Minor after he said he would gladly keep my bag safe for the weekend. He filled my nalgene with fresh pipa juice and said a prayer on my head to wish me the safest of travels.
I proceeded down the road with a dry bag loaned to me by one of my closest of friends here in Turrialba. Inside was my sleeping bag, camp stove, headlamp, a change of clothes, and some food. My food included coffee, granola bars, two packs of ramen noodles, and a can of black beans. I reached my destination at a local supermarket and waited on the curb for my ride.
As the van pulled up, I met my first raft to whom I would be venturing with down the first half of the river. His name was Chalo and was with our safety boater, Julio. After gathering the days lunch, we picked up our 3 Hungarians and 3 Spaniards. For at least four of them, this was this first time rafting. Dios mio…
The trip through the majority of the class IV’s went rather smoothly and as always with much excitement. I only had to pull the one Spaniard back into the raft twice, otherwise, everyone stayed in the boat. I helped Chalo and Julio prepare lunch when we made it to the camp. After eating, Chalo requested to me that I return the life jacket and helmet to him and he would make sure that Manfred would bring one for me the next day.
After I watched them trail off into the distance, I grabbed my belongings and proceeded uphill for my home for the evening. No one was there. I took my bag to the upstairs portion of the hut and made my bed in the hammock. Afterwards, I walked around the camp in search of someone, anyone. And aside from being freaked out by some lizards that were larger than your average lizard, I still found nothing.
With no watch, I looked up at the sun. It had to be around noon. Plenty of time for one of the Jamikari to come down to their camp for some reason. I walked over to the trail head. I then peered deep into the head of the mysterious trail that lead into the foreign rainforest and to their village. “Yea,” I thought, “I can wait a little longer.”
Hours went by of me exploring the camp, meditating, doing yoga, singing absurdly loud to myself and mastering the “cups” song with an actual cup. Still no one. I made myself a pot of coffee and some of the ramen noodles with my stove and the cooking utensils at the camp that I had previously hoped would still be there.
I went back to the river to watch the sunset across the valley. I listened to the howler monkeys across the river and thankfully thought about the forceful river between us. I watched toucans, orupendulas, humming birds and cormorants make their way to their nests. And then, the night inevitably came.
Now, the sun sets here around 5 o’clock. This instantly drove my suspicions of an unlikely attack up tremendously. But I’m sure you can relate to the similar feeling after you just watched a horror movie alone in the dark. Yea, it was like that, but in a rainforest. I sat downstairs with some candles for a little while, realizing it was entirely too early to go to bed. Yet after every slight panic attack proceeded by an quick recovery pep-talk created by every occurrence with a massive toad, lizard or bug, I decided it was best to retreat upstairs.
When I got up there, I organized my things and looked out at the view. As I peered up, I was instantly comforted by the stars. One by one, I watched every star come to view in the jungle over the mighty Pacuare. It was here, where I felt completely safe. I probably fell asleep around 8 o’clock, but I would be a liar if I told you I hadn’t kept a machete under my hammock.
When the morning came, I arose with the sun after probably one of the best nights sleep I had in awhile. I watched the sunrise over a pot of coffee, a granola bar and more noodles. Still, no one had come to their camp. At that moment, I realized that if I really wanted this connection, that I’d have to go up and make it myself. Armed with a rusty old machete and a sharpened walking stick for snakes, I mentally and physically prepared myself to enter the jungle.
Surprisingly, the path was just as I remembered, very obvious yet extremely steep. My walking stick was kept in front of me, rather than along side, to give myself some extra space and reaction time if I were to find a slithery fellow. Thankfully, no snakes. Once I walked though my fair share of spider webs, I realized my machete was more useful when I held it in front of my face rather than at my side as well.
I quickly adapted to the sounds of the woods. The frogs, toads and bugs no longer surprised me yet rather intrigued me. Their blends of color are simply magnificent and colorfully compliment their plant and tree habitats.
I finally made it to the top where I soaked in the sun and majestic view. I peered over the mountains where I found my next path to the village. All of a sudden, I heard something come running though the jungle. It sounded large and fast. I quickly armed myself with my dull machete and puny stick. As it came into view, I realized what my enemy was. Just a pig, one that belonged to the Jamikari. I unarmed myself and couldn’t help but laugh.
As I made my way down to the village, I could see the families staring up at me. They probably thought I was lost. I approached their home and the first person I was greeted by was Urbano, Octavio’s brother.
Only meeting him a few times, I wasn’t surprised he didn’t remember me. Yet, he treated me extremely warmly, especially for coming to his house unannounced. There, I met his mother, wife, children and nieces. They all crowded around me and jested at the “lost macha” with the rusty machete. Yet they admired me for my bravery and gave me their time to talk about why I had made such a journey. I brought the family a shopping bag full of the remains of the river guide’s prepared lunch which they accepted graciously. There house was filled with smoke as Urbano’s mother roasted freshly slaughtered cow over an open fire in the kitchen.
Since it was the weekend, the teacher of the school was not around. I told Urbano’s family of my plans to connect them with other schools of the Central, South and North America to teach their children and other children about different cultures of the world. They seemed generally pleased and took delight in the idea. His children took me to their school and we even had time for a game of fútbol. Urbano gave me multiple numbers to contact him, his family and the teacher to keep in touch with over the next year. After I said my goodbyes, Urbano took me to another entrance that would take me back down to the camp a little faster. He told me with a smile if I get lost, I should send smoke signals.
My worries of the jungle subsided as my senses heightened with still a deep respect for where I was. I quickly found my way home to the camp with plenty time to spare. I packed up my things, my clothes, stove, and the can of uneaten black beans. Silent ‘goodbyes’ were said to my camp as I made my way to the river. There I would meet Manfred as prearranged on Friday for my return to Turrialba.
For the first hour, I patiently awaited my ride to return home basking in the sweet Costa Rican sun. This notion however, quickly subsided. I exercised, stretched and cartwheeled my way around the beach for the proceeding hours. Finally, some rafts came. It was not Manfred as I hoped, but different companies. Knowing this is a small community of boaters, I asked each them if they saw Manfred. Each replied that he would be coming later or was further upstream.
As doubt began to set in and just before all hope was lost, I was sent an angel. No really, his name is Angel, he’s a raft guide I knew from before. I asked him my question of the day; the location of Manfred. To which he replied, “Manfred’s trip was cancelled today. He doesn’t have a trip.” And here I always thought angels generally brought good news. I guess this time is was a challenge I must over come.
My jaw instantly dropped as I thought of my soul can of black beans in my bag. As I gave my life jacket and helmet back to Chalo the day before, the option of just jumping in with Angel’s raft wasn’t so easy. Angel told me there was one more trip above them, a safety boater in an inflatable kayak and a raft. They might have a spare jacket and space for me. I thanked Angel for his information and waited anxiously for the upcoming group.
Finally, I see the kayaker come over the rapid. He paddles up to me and I greet him as warmly as I can with my trembling voice. As he takes off his sunglasses, I instantly recognize him as he does me. It’s Pokas! He gives me a hug and the common greet of kiss on the cheek as we meet again after two years. His raft comes closely behind as I notice its an oar rigger with lifejackets galore. Lifejackets for seats, flotation devices for kits, coolers, I never saw so many jackets before. Pokas explains my story to Max, the guide in the oar rigger, and asks if they can help me. Max asks his guests, who were apparently professional fishermen, and they said yes. Overwhelmed with joy, I collected my bag, thanking my lucky stars that I would not be spending another night (or more nights there being that there are not many trips during the week) with my sole can of black beans.
Max hands me a rafting paddle and his helmet. At first, I decline, feeling guilty for taking his only helmet. But after I am told that I will be going in the duckie with Pokas, I graciously accept, realizing I am much more likely to swim than he.
When I look closely, I realize this is a two person kayak. I am overly excited to paddle some Class IV whitewater in the front of a partially deflated duckie. We make it down the first few rapids fantastically. Again, I quickly adapted to my new surroundings of balancing on my knees while paddling in the front.. I asked Pokas if we could try and surf a few waves. Immediately following this request, he puts only the nose sideways into a wave twice my size. It instantly flushed me out of the kayak. When I resurfaced, I only hear Pokas contagious laughter. From there, we proceeded to take more chances. This only resulted in both of us swimming after flipping the duckie in attempt to boof over a rock and finally Pokas being ejected in the last major rapid of Dos Montañas.
We found a paddle in an eddie that could only be retrieved by climbing part of the canyon and jumping into the deep waters 25 some feet below. When we finally made it to take-out, we were greeted with sandwiches and fresh towels. In gratitude, I helped clean up their days trip. They even offered to take me back just shy of 15 minutes outside of Turrialba where I could easily take a bus for less than a dollar. I really don’t think my day could have gone any better.
When we arrived at the bus stop, Max proceeded to help me get my bag out of the back. Just before I said my ‘thank you’s’ and ‘good-byes’, he asked me if I would like to take some of the food he received in bulk. Unable to refuse, I gladly accept. He hands me the bag and says good-bye. As he walked away, I look down at what more these guys could have given me.
It was a pound of uncooked black beans.