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Costa Rica... Chapter 3

Costa Rica... Chapter 3


Escuela del Río

It was still the middle of the night when I was rousted from bed. On the mountain at the elevation where I am staying, overlooking the city of San Jose, the air is cooler, and the wind is always blowing. As we packed the truck to get ready for the day, it was cool. I knew that once we got down to the city to pick up Peter's client that it would be warmer, possibly as much as 15 degrees warmer. I enjoyed the cool while I could. We were off to the Pacific side of the country to fish and there the sun has no mercy.

Unlike the Atlantic side of the country, the Pacific side is more of a dry forest as opposed to the tropical rain forests found on the Caribbean side. While rain and clouds can often dominate the weather on the Atlantic side, it does not seem to affect the Pacific side as much. As we drove across the continental divide, this became amazingly apparent. The line of clouds stopped there and the temperature became so that we all took the extra layers we had put on for the cool mornings.

The guide Peter, the driver Cristofer, myself and the client John rode in silence most of the time. the result of not enough caffeine yet and the fact that it was still so damned early. The sun was fully risen by 6:30. As the sun shed light on the scenery around us, we became more active in conversation, talking about the things we were seeing around us. The ficus trees and teak trees and even the cabo trees, which has pods that are used for chocolate that is not chocolate. At hearing that, John and I suddenly needed a rest near a large stand of those trees. They did not stop.

We stopped only once for breakfast, where we finally managed to put enough caffeine into our bodies to make the rest of the long journey down the always-dangerous roads of Costa Rica. An hour later we drove across the rickety old bridge in Bebedero and were at the boat launch. We unloaded the 1200 pontoon off of the top of the truck, and took the 1000 out of the back of the truck and assembled it. We got rods ready and gear ready and the motors on the boats, gassed up and ready to go. John was going fishing with Peter in the two man 1200. I was going to school on the smaller one man

The school bell rang. Cristofer loaded onto the one man pontoon with me and off we went up the Corobici, while Peter and John went up the Bebedero. The extra weight and off balance weight that Cristofer created by sitting where and how he did was absolutely asinine and foolish, as well as extremely dangerous. It was supposed to be. School was in. We headed off with a small motor trying to push the weight of the boat, the fast moving current and the two of us in a pontoon that listed badly to one side and a bow that was raised into the air. I was supposed to be nervous. In fact, I was supposed to be very afraid.

My job today was to get to know the river a bit, see the place where we were, get to know the boats and how to control them, both with the motor I could not reach and the oars. The problem with the motor can be easily fixed with an extension on the motor guide bar. The oars on the other hand, will take time. They had picked for me the toughest set of conditions to learn in. High winds, high waters, extremely fast currents and a boat that had too much weight and too off balance to be able to handle efficiently.

Cristofer motored us up the river, explaining what he was doing. Hydrodynamics became amazingly clear all of a sudden. I found myself being able to read the river. When we got to the first set of small rapids however, I found myself sitting with Cris in the boat, crossways to the current with one side up on a large rock. We were stuck. At least we were not flipped over. I managed to not panic and with a small prayer, put my feet down below us, found a rock and after praying that it was indeed a rock, pushed us off of the rock we were stuck on and got us turned around again.

Going up the Corobici is a treat in itself. Though located in Costa Rica, the people that live there are Nicaraguan. They are simple people. As we motored our way up the river, we watched as the people gathered up on the bank of the river and waved us on. They watched us with curious and sometimes evil eyes. I looked back at them in their wooden shacks, their rubbish strewn down the sides of the riverbank and flowing into the river and wondered if they knew what damage they were doing to the river they depend on for their welfare. Along with the rubbish from the people, the runoff from the agricultural areas around there have brought the level of toxins in the river to a dangerous level. We would eat no fish caught from that river.

As we neared the last of the shacks and got into the wilder part of the river, away from the visual traces of man at least, we were greeted by the howlers. They do not like the sound of the motors and whenever they hear one they will howl as if we are a threat to them. Perhaps in a way, as humans, we ARE a threat to them, but not directly and not in the way that they perceive us to be. The parrots began to show. The great white ibis and the heron and many other kinds of birds became visible to us. The trees, some right out of time itself, with their huge mass of tangled roots rose above us on either side, sentries of the river. The iguanas scooted away from us on both sides of the river. There were literally hundreds of them in all shapes and sizes. Mating season must be coming soon for them, as they were beginning to take on the bright orange and black coloration that they do during that time.

The caiman and the crocodiles and the Jesus Christ lizards and the other creatures of the forest became more and more obvious the further we got from man's influence. The crocs would slide into the water ahead of us and disappear. The caiman would do the same. Flickers of movement in the shadows would catch my eye as well as my imagination. I wondered what secrets the forest held. I wondered what the trees would say if they could talk. I wondered what tales they would tell of the river, the jungle and the country. What creatures swam through these waters a million years ago? What secrets lay waiting for us on the bottom of the dark murky green waters? What creatures lurked in the shadows it cast upon the ground, in the tangled mess of roots below it, and in its branches hidden by its leaves?

We went further and further into the wild part of the river. We filled the motor up with gasoline several times. As we rounded one corner, another splash from the shore into the water happened in front of us, but this one was to be different. This one was p**sed. The croc was as wide as the inflatable craft we were sitting in and at least twice as long. It slid into the water and charged at us, going under the water only feet in front of us. If crocodiles can smell fear, this one's olfactory senses would have been overloaded. I sat there in the pontoon, the coppery taste of adrenaline in my mouth, the smell of fear coming out of my pores, the knot in my stomach, the sharpness and edge that only pure unadulterated fear can give a person in all of their senses, and the fight or flight syndrome kicking in. I was bound and determined to fight. I knew there was no way to outswim, outrun or out motor the croc. I was not going to leave the pontoon willingly. A million thoughts went through my head. We went over where it had gone down. It took only a second, but seemed like a year. It did not bother us. It would be a while before my hands stopped shaking again.

Around that area we saw many baby crocs, and I began to wonder if we had not made mamma croc think we a threat to her brood. More howler monkeys howled above us. I began to notice the holes in the mudbanks of the river and the large amounts of white splatters of feces below them. I wondered what lived in those holes. I soon found out and was rewarded with the sight of the rare
Anderson Owl, peering out from its hole. Owls are by nature a nocturnal creature, so to see this bird in broad daylight was certainly a treat. As we got closer to take a look, it flew off only feet in front of me and across the river into a tree. I watched it in awe.

The motor ran out of gas for the fourth and final time far up river. We made our way to the bank, where I grabbed hold of a tree branch after carefully checking the bank, the tree and the water around it and held us still while he poured the last of the gasoline into the motor. It was now time to learn how to row this thing. It would not be easy. My right oar was high in the air; my left was low to the water. My bow was raised and my stern was nearly underwater. The wind was howling down the river and across the river and in some places, up the river.

I began to row. It took a few minutes for me to turn the boat around so that we were facing forward. Finally I got a system figured out. It was not easy with one hand so high in the air, but somehow I got us going, around the first couple of corners and around the first few obstacles in the river, keeping us in a forward direction and without running into anything. We turned another corner and the wind was blowing so hard to our faces and across the river that it became impossible to row anymore. Cristofer started the motor and we motored the rest of the way downriver. I had not made it very far. Apparently though, I made it further than they expected me to.

Back to the launch we went. The sun was beating down upon us, through the stiff wind and it did not feel hot, but even through the sunscreen I could feel the effects of the ultraviolet rays upon my skin. Four months in Canada will take away whatever tan and resistance to the sun that a person has. It was time to get out of it. When back at the launching place, we disassembled the pontoon. Peter and John arrived shortly afterwards to the bridge just below the place where the two rivers come together. They pulled over to the shore and we lunched.

They had cast to one huge snook, but had gotten nothing. They had seen two egrets die from apparent poisoning. They had seen an amazing amount of wildlife as well, but had gotten no fish. They were going to now go up the Corobici and see if they had any luck. I did not tell them that I had not seen a single fish move there. The sounds of mortars exploding in the air caught my attention quickly. especially since it was in the air just on the other side of the bridge. The town of Bebedero was having a fiesta, and that was their way of inviting neighboring towns to join them. On the bridge, people started appearing. It was time for their baths before the party. I felt like an intruder. They did not seem to mind or care about my presence. They bathed on the river's edge, changed into clean clothes and stripped down naked to do so right in front of my eyes. Again, I felt a bit of culture shock coming on.

While the people of the village had their fiesta, I laid in the back seat of the truck and had a siesta. It will take a while to acclimate myself to the sun again. It had won that day, and I was feeling its effects not only on my skin, but with the nausea and headache that the beginning of sun sickness bears. I slept soundly until Peter and John got back, some three or four hours later. When I awoke, I realized that indeed I had gotten the disease. I didn't know that it could strike so easily and its symptoms show so quickly. I realized that I had fallen into the depths of the disease of the tropics. I no longer cared about the time. I was in no hurry to do anything and it was the first day that I had not asked what time it was a single time. Those symptoms assured me that I was infected. I can think of worse things.

There are only two times here anyway. There is day time and there is night time. By the time we got the other boat loaded back up and on the road back to home, day time was over and night time had begun. It would still be another hour or so before the lights of San Jose shone in the Central Valley below us and we would know we were close to home. It had been a long day. I wanted nothing more than to sit on the front porch in the dark, look at the lights of the city below me, hold my kitten in my lap and have a shot of café rica. It was not a lot to ask for, and I got it. Another day in the tropics ends.

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