A sense of dread seeps from my shoulders down to my knees. I tried to pull and shake the bolt, each time more frantically. And just like that, I was trapped in a corrugated steel toilet in front of my husband and a group of 8 people I didn’t know.
Outside the toilet I had another problem. Happy tourists with an easy confidence introduced themselves to me and made light conversation. I edged my way through them to stand in comfortable silence with a quieter bunch.
My group smiled and tolerated the group photos and other cheered and did funny poses. The guides split us half to fill two boats. Rafters who are excited to meet new people and those who are more comfortable on their own can be equally divided another way: into a boat of Americans and a boat of Europeans.
Our Pan-Atlantic Adventure BeginsIt was December, just after the rainy season, and there had been a series of storms in the days beforehand. As well, the dam upstream in the River Balsa had released some water, making our stretch more turbulent. The guide warned us that the white water was a Class IV-V instead of a Class II-III.
A safety kayaker and the photographer head out first. Ben and I, two Swiss sisters and our instructor, Moises, alighted our boat and pushed off from the shore, closely followed by the American boat.
“GET DOWN!” called Moises, and our training on the shore hadn’t quite got me prepared.
Enraged rapids bashed me in the face and shoulder. Punished for my slow reflexes, there was no time to react before “Paddle back!” reached me over the roar of the chaotic water. I clambered back into the slick, wet seat and stabbed my oar into the water, forcing it still to combat spiralling waves.
Moises navigated us down the river, in and out of rapids, over rocks and hidden obstacles.
Behind us, the American boat was whooping and congratulating each other on surviving the rapids.
I look to my new Swiss friends and smile, wide-eyed. We were drenched through in the warm Balsa water, but that smile was enough to convey the excitement and pride of having stayed aboard. There was perhaps a little joy of being able to look ahead at a few metres of calmer water.
The Calm After The StormWe float through these calmer waters between the tall trees that line the banks. Hanging amongst the aerial roots around us is a sloth, lazily scratching at an armpit. It seemed fitting that we were floating underneath so casually. The jungle is rarely a quiet place, but it can be peaceful.
Effortlessly passing by on the current of the river made us part of that most diverse of ecosystems for those few minutes. There were no engines or mobile phones. Even the Americans passed in tranquillity.
The instructors had judged us in a matter of seconds and split us into two groups which were perfectly matched. But after challenging rapids and watched only by toucans and our sloth, our similarity was what had brought us all to Volcán Arenal in the first place: a sense of wonder at the magic of the rainforest.
For this trip you’ll need:
- Travel insurance that matches your sense of daring
- Swimsuits, towel and a change of clothes
- Confidence in your ability to unlock toilet doors
A half day white water rafting tour on the River Balsa can be booked with Desafio Adventures who will pick you up from your hotel near La Fortuna.