White-Water Rafting, Costa Rican Style

A group of whitewater rafters on the Kaituna River New Zealand

A group of whitewater rafters on the Kaituna River New Zealand

While no two workouts are exactly alike, one would expect comparable means of exercise to bear a resemblance to each other. Hiking the Alps may be more challenging than hiking the Rockies, but it is still putting one foot in front of the other. But let me tell you, white-water rafting a Class IV river in the United States in no way resembles the equivalent in Costa Rica.

For sure, the Pigeon River that meanders its way through Tennessee and North Carolina had its challenging moments, but it was more like interval training with shorts bursts of work followed by longer periods of leisurely rest. In contrast, my two-hour trip down the Sarapiqui River was a non-stop paddle fest.

Costa Rica’s Sarapiqui River is clear, shallow, rocky and fast! Just how fast depends upon the recent rainfall, which can total anywhere between 100 inches per year to 25 feet per year. And this had been a rainy season!

Not 30 feet downstream, we encountered our first set of rapids. We successfully maneuvered the turbulent water just in time to watch the second raft dump all of its inhabitants, including the experienced guide!

Our victory celebration lasted only seconds for we were soon back to work, maneuvering through the next roller coaster ride of waves. Rest/holds were few and far between as we made our way down the river.

We paddled left. We paddled right. Forward and reverse until our backs, shoulders and arms screamed for mercy. But nobody cared; the race through the rain forest was exhilarating.

At the halfway mark, our compassionate guides gave us a break. While we stretched our legs, they prepared a quick buffet of fresh watermelon, mango and pineapple courtesy of a machete and an overturned raft used as a table. Then it was back to work.

The second part of the river, though not nearly as swift, held its own set of challenges. Five months earlier a 48-hour downpour had caused the river to redirect itself. Instead of battling the waves, we were forced to navigate a watery landscape riddled with fallen trees and giant boulders.

Who said a workout can’t be fun? The entire trip was a blast! Happily fatigued, we toasted our successful journey (we never did get dumped) with cold Imperials and chowed down a plate of hearty Costa Rican fare.

Before You Hit The River

No matter where your next adventure takes you, be prepared. White-water rafting uses primarily the arms, back and shoulders. Get that upper body in shape with exercises such as pull-ups and push-ups and don’t forget the core! Planks and bicycle crunches help prime the trunk for all those twists and turns and will help keep your butt firmly planted in the raft!

Make sure you hydrate before you hit the water; warm up and stretch, especially the back and shoulders. Be safe and enjoy the ride!

Sound fun to you? Seriously, it was the highlight of my trip and wasn’t scary in the least. I was too busy paddling to be scared!  —Karen

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