Excerpts from Chapter Four, from the book, I’ve Gotta Pack
…Our guide on this trip, Alejo, was perched on the curb with a Mountain Travel Sobeksign in his hand. He had collected the other five members of our group as I approached and exchanged greetings with new friends. I met a father/daughter combo, Joe and Jennifer and also Eileen and Jeff (husband and wife) who had also brought Jeff’s Dad, Jerry along. Over the hum of voices and traffic, the group had a little trouble with my name and Jerry proudly shook my hand and said, “Nice to meet you, Flora!” I smiled good-naturedly and corrected him, but I had quickly earned a nickname on the bus ride to our hotel.
…High tide was coming in as well, since it was around 2:00 in the afternoon and the waves reached heights of more than 10 feet and crashed in on us and the kayaks. Our adventure was “kicked up” a notch as the waves plunged in closer to our camp and huge logs and debris floated and crashed in with the waves, turning our beach into a white soupy froth. A large group of waves all crashed in and sent our entire group scrambling to keep things from washing out to sea. The kayaks had to be hauled further up the ridge, and yet another wave ran all the way to the mess tent and to Jeff and Eileen’s tent. It swamped the bottoms and soaked everything in its path. This sparked a flurry of shouts and activity to pull all the bags out and stack them as best we could on the mess table….
…Also, along the route Alejo had arranged for a visit to a serpentarium, which we all called the snake-a-torium instead. A woman greeted us, and Aljeo translated as she took us into the grounds and a small snake zoo. Minor and his daughter, Nueva, were our guides, both of whom were bona fide snake experts. They described the species, names and the details about any poisonous variety. In glass-covered areas, many types of snakes were housed, including boas, fertile lans and vipers. To my amazement, Minor donned two metal snake hooks and and pulled the wriggly creatures out for us to get a closer view. We were allowed to get about three feet from them and snap photos – but no closer. We also made the up-close acquaintance of a famous tree frog and Nueva’s pet boa. The boa was wrapped around her neck and arms, and she proudly displayed her pet to us. They also had a dog, but he smartly kept his distance from the boa.
…I also made a small donation to continued snake research. One of the serpentarium’s goals was to create antivenin to save people bitten by poisonous snakes.
Pacuare River Rafting
…The next day was truly an adventure as we plunged down the river canyon through rain-swollen white water. At 8 a.m. Alejo made the announcement that it was safe to make the run of 18 miles downriver. The rain and flooding had threatened to cancel our rafting, but luckily we hit a day of optimal conditions. That day was by far the most fun and challenging on the water. Once again, my oar mate Theresa and I were chosen for the front, no doubt for our consistent and strong paddling efforts from before! I paddled much harder right away and more frequently as the rapids’ intensity had gone up. In a short few minutes, we pulled rafts up on some rocks and clambered up on huge boulders to get a look at the first run of technical white water. Alejo pointed out our route to the right of a large rock formation in the middle of the river and we watched as Randall ventured down in his kayak (but on the left). Alejo explained how we would navigate all the way to the right side and have to duck under some tree branches then begin paddling hard to avoid being pulled into a large water hole.
We all hopped back into the raft with anticipation and were treated immediately to Alejo barking orders to paddle. We forced the raft to the right with a few strokes, and my helmet smacked against the low-lining branches. After passing through the branches, I looked up just in time to see the river engulf the raft and turn us backward in a huge hole as huge waves pounded all sides. Alejo yelled at all of us to lean in, and simultaneously I was hit head on by a wave of water that knocked me and Theresa into the middle of the raft. With Alejo’s pleas, we all regained our composure and began to try and paddle. He helped us to turn the raft, and, with much effort, we snuck out of the churning white water and continued through many other rapids with names like Dos Montanas, the Lower and Upper Huachas and many others I can’t name now. The rapids came in very quick sequences, with very little time to recover. It was such a rush in the front of the raft as we encountered each new surge and I reached into muddy whitewater with my paddle. My arms were beginning to tire as we made it through a long stretch of rapids…