The time I almost died in Costa Rica
You don’t see a slide show of the most important moments of your life right before you die. Or, at least, that wasn’t my experience when I fell out of a raft on a class V rapid in the Costa Rican jungle. I felt panic and pressure. Panic – what if rocks are at the bottom of this waterfall, oh gosh, keep your feet up, wait which way is up? Pressure – it’s hard to wrap your mind around how powerful a large body of water is until you are being tossed around in it like a sock in a washing machine.
Not until after I scrambled gracelessly into the raft and looked back at the not-such-a-waterfall did I realize my guide was scolding me. He was not, as I had expected, concerned with my safety but was rather annoyed that this gangly, pale, American girl managed to fall out of his raft on the first rapid of the day. “I told you to get down,” Diego huffed. I wanted to kindly inform him that I hadn’t heard his directions over the rapid’s roar, but I kept my mouth shut.
This was not my first white-water rafting experience – in fact I thought I was fairly proficient – but the Rio Balsa and Diego managed to humble me. Aside from my initial clumsiness, the Rio Balsa provided some exceptional whitewater. The biggest rapids are at the beginning of the route; two class Vs and a handful of class IVs in the first two kilometers thrilled my inner adrenaline junky. Diego coached me through the Balsa’s swift turns and sudden shallows, laughing a little too loud after I was knocked out of the boat a second time by another raft. This time I also managed a laugh.
The rest of the 10 km route was less death defying. I didn’t mind, as it gave me a chance to revel in the dazzling emerald of the jungle foliage all around us. At times, we were walled in by sheer rock face that stretched ever up as streams that had coalesced, it seemed, from the air itself tumbled down to join our voyage. We raced down the ravine until, inevitably, it would spill out into a wide, even-paced snake, coiling through the close-woven verdure. The waxy leaves of strange trees caught the light dancing off the water and scattered it in patterns I longed to read. I hear the river is soon to be dammed and the class IV-V rapids will be impassable. It’s a shame – nothing is quite like the majesty of a jungle river, that breathtaking, wild beauty earned through sweat and danger. In becoming part of the Balsa, I touched, for a moment, that effervescent pulse of the soul that sustains us all. Life and death are inseparable.