Traveling abroad with a tour group has it's pros and cons. The main advantage for me was that I wouldn't need to plan anything. Generally, I do like planning, love reading up about foreign countries, and love exploring a country at my own pace. But working full time and taking Spanish classes at night (and the homework, the homework, OMG - all the homework!!!) hadn't really left me much time to plan a trip abroad this year. The opportunity to have all the activities, lodging and transportation arranged for me (at a very reasonable price btw) was exactly what I needed. The fact that we'd be traveling with a Spanish teacher was icing on the cake.
So that first night, I loaded up my day pack and fell asleep without a care in the world. Unfortunately, a day on the river starts with yet another painfully early wake up call. So I was barely rested when the minivan came to pick us up. The tour guide had provided a cooler with juice and snacks for us on the way, the teacher gave us a quick lesson on vocab related to rafting (una balsa = a raft, un remo = a paddle) and in a couple hours we were at the rafting station where they'd laid out quite a spread for breakfast. Eggs, toast, tropical fruits as well as beans and rice, tea and, naturally, coffee. We locked up our luggage in a big cage and got back in the mini vans to head up to the start of the Pacuare River.
On the way the rafting guide gave us an overview of the basics - how your paddle could be your best friend (one hand over the end of the paddle, one hand grasping the length) or your worst enemy (both hands grasping the length, leaving the end free to pop up and hit you in the face), and the proper response to the commands 'forward', 'backward', 'right side forward', 'high side' and 'get down'. The more information the guide shared with us the more nervous I became. He started telling us about what to do if we fell in the river, how to escape if we got stuck under the raft, proper position to avoid gashing our heads against the rock.... it was starting to get a little scary.
Once we were life-vested, helmeted, and on the raft in the water, however, they had us practice the basic commands, and even had us take turns jumping out of the raft so that we could each practice rescuing each other. In practice at least, it was was far more fun than scary. I think they did an excellent job of preparing us for the river.
And the river was gorgeous! Pacuare River is the best river in Costa Rica for rafting, with lots of small and medium rapids, bordered on both sides by national park - pure pristine rain forest. It was amazing.
(Photos are all courtesy of the rafting agency - rather than trying to take pictures while on the raft, I just bought the CD - a little steep at $20 - but totally worth it)
The called this the "Indiana Jones" Bridge, thankfully I never had to cross it.
At one point one of these birds flew past, swooping down across the river and back up the other side... it was followed by another, and another, then a whole flock flew past. It was a very National Geographic type moment.
Back at the rafting station I saw my first ever sloth up in a tree. It was pretty awesome - we decided that they're martial arts masters - that is if you consider Tai Chi a martial art. It's not so much that they're slow as they're extremely deliberate about each move. They are very careful creatures, and I imagine they don't knock over many drinks at the bar - I think I could learn a lot from a sloth.
The weather on the river was good - overcast but warm enough to make getting splashed feel refreshing. It started raining as soon as we packed up the minivan and headed out again. Next stop - home stays with Costa Rican families in a small town called Tres Equis.