Setting It Up:
While hiking the Mono trail, I ran into a couple from New York (T.J. and Bonnie) and the three of us decided that we would go white-water rafting together. When we got back to town and went to Panama Rafters to get signed up. As it turned out, there was another couple from Durango, Colorado who were signed up to go rafting, so we had a full boat.
Panama Rafters is within walking distance of the main town square, located next to Java Juice on Main street. We got sized for the water shoes and helmets, paid the $90, and signed the "I won't sue if I die" forms. We were told to bring sun-screen, a hat, some dry clothes, water, and our passport/ID.
To The River
The next morning, Kevin picked me up at my hostel in his van and after picking up the other rafters we headed south to David. At David, we turned west on the Pan-American highway towards Costa Rica.
Along the way, we ran over some palm tree fronds and got a flat tire - had to stop and change it, and then were back on our way. A little later we pulled off the highway and took a dirt road to the entrance to the Chiriqui River.
The Raft Will Never Flip
While the guides set up the raft, Kevin goes over the safety precautions and general rafting instructions. Having never rafted before, I didn't know what to expect, but when Kevin started explaining what to do if the raft flips over, I thought to myself "yeah right, we aren't going to flip over - give me a break."
Kevin knows a whole lot about Boquete and the Chiriqui area. He only hires quality English-speaking, friendly guides and cares very much about the safety of his guests. Panama Rafters have excellent rafts in great condition. It was a pleasure to meet Kevin and I will gladly give him my business the next time I am in Panama.
After a good long rain the day before, we were assured that the Rio Chiriqui Viejo would not dissapoint, and from the very beginning I was extremely impressed. With my original expectation of looking around at the scenery and paddling every once in a while, I was delightfully surprised to find that I didn't have many opportunities to take in the beautiful landscape around me. Even with my digital camera in it's underwater housing secured to my life jacket within easy reach, I did not have more than half a dozen chances to snap a picture before I was being commanded to row again.
The river was almost non-stop rapids. Thankfully, Kevin had taught us the less-tiring way of paddling (using your whole body vs using your arms). Minute by minute the rapids kept coming, an hour later we were still paddling our way down the mighty river, giving paddle high-fives after each section we conquered.
▪ 94 total rapids
▪ A couple class V
▪ Half a dozen class IV
▪ Dozen or so class III
▪ 17 miles long
▪ 4 hours of rafting time
About two hours down the river, we steered over to a sandy bank and stopped for lunch. Consisting of sandwhiches, pineapples, juice, and snack bars - the lunch was perfect. After a quick rest on the bank of the river, we boarded the raft and headed back out. At one of the class IV rapids, we pulled the raft over to the side to scope out which path to take. The guides agreed on how to best manuever this area and we attacked it.
Oh My Gosh The Raft Just Flipped!
It took me a moment to realize what had just happened when I hit the water. The raft flipped completely over without any warning whatsoever. In a second I was washing-machined 20 feet down the rapid before I was able to right myself and get my legs up (as Kevin had taught us). Bonnine was in front of me (which was upstream as I was going backwards) and she was in full-on panic mode. I have never seen eyes so big - I reminded her to keep her feet up and tried to calm her by joking about the flip, which helped a litte.
Amazingly, I still had my paddle and my camera, and now all I had to do was make it down the rest of this rapid and swim to the side - easier said than done. I will admit that a slight (very slight) amount of panic coursed through my veins when it looked like I wouldn't make it to the shore and would be going through the next set of rapids raft-less. I made it safely to the shore, as did Bonnie, and even though we were a bit shook up, we were all smiles.
Going through a class IV rapid in the raft is extremely exciting stuff - going through without the raft... pure adrenaline! I am 26 years old, so I have energy in place of wisdom - flipping over in a class IV rapid for me was fun - if you are older (and wiser) you may seek less-risky forms of entertainment. No one got hurt, and no one was unhappy that we flipped, we were all excited to tell our friends and families of the amazing experience.
An hour or so of still-exciting rafting later, we were back on land at the Costa Rican border, tired but satisfied. Kevin met us with the van and we loaded up the raft - eagerly telling of our adventure. We dried off and headed back to Boquete, napping in the van on the way back.