Extreme Whitewater Rafting

The first rule of travelling alone is that you aren’t alone for very long. Upon arriving at the hostel in Baños, I quickly made friends with a Swiss, an Aussie, and an Englishman. They invited me to dinner and I accepted gratefully, not feeling very excited about seeking out food alone. With fellow travelers, you immediately have something in common – your love for travel – so conversation flows freely. The honestly of each person’s personality is refreshing. Each of us voices opinions knowing that we will probably never see each other again. We each let our “freak flag fly” which produced very candid and interesting conversation over pizza and beer.

Arriving back at the hostel at 2am, I was approached by a tour operator who asked me whether I would be interested in going rafting tomorrow. Sure, I said, why not. $23 later (I hard-balled him down from $25), I had signed up to wake up at 8:30am.

Early the next morning, I met the two French women who I would be rafting with, one was an elementary school teacher and the other was very shy. The guide, a friendly guy named Eduardo, handed me a helmet and a bike. Surprise! In addition to rafting we would be biking 30kms. Bonus.

The amazing bike path that follows the river in Banos

Fully prepared for a 30km bike ride, I wore Birkenstocks

The bike ride took us along the Pan American Highway through small towns with roosters, pigs, and a surprising amount of puppies lounging in the front yards. We rode through the foothills along the side of the river we would soon be rafting down, enjoying an amazing collection of large, powerful waterfalls.

Four of the many waterfalls we saw along the way

Eduardo made sure that I got a picture in front of the famous hydroelectric dam outside of Banos

Decked out in all my gear. I was placed at the front of the raft because I looked like I had "strong arms"

At the launch point of the rafting, we met up with three other groups who had been driven to the site. We suited up in our wet suits, helmets, and life jackets as the four guides we had with us inspected the river. The river, which is usually a manageable class 3, had become a class 4.5, due to heavy rains the previous day, I was told.

“What does that mean for us?” I asked Eduardo
“Muy peligroso (very dangerous)”, he responded with a mischievous grin, “no for beginners”
I guess the nervous look on my face told him that this was not the response I wanted because he changed his tone and gave me a very serious, direct look.
“Security first”, he assured me.

Our paddle high-five after getting through a crazy section

I think this was one of the best times I have ever had in water.

It felt like skiing through giant moguls but in a boat and on water. Through one particularly treacherous rapid, we flipped our raft and by the time I pulled myself from under the boat, three of my fellow rafters had already been taken 100m down river. They were not excited about this at all – they were screaming. Another rafter was swimming to shore and I was holding onto the side of the raft. The guide told me to swim to shore so I did my best while swallowing big gulps of water and being tossed around like a rag doll. I have definitely come to appreciate the force produced by water.

At a very crazy section. So much fun!

The guide, on his own with the raft, quickly righted it, paddled to me, and pulled me up out of the water. I then had to help direct the boat to pick up the rest of our crew, lifting each one into the raft. Two of the more hysterical members of our boat had been picked up by the safety kayak and soon we were all reunited. Flipping the raft was definitely the highlight of the day.

After a bowl of plantain soup and fried trout for lunch, we were delivered back to Baños, unscathed and smiling.

Around dinner time, one of my fellow travelers was desperate for cooking oil, which I happily lent him. In this way I scored a free homemade pasta dinner. Life is good.

Our whole crew at the end of our adventure. We all survived. Yay!