In our book, sidetrips are an important part of an international paddling trip. The rivers speak for themselves, especially finishing up this week: we went from gorgeous days on the Pacuare, to an eddy catching frenzy on the Pejibaye, to a huge water roller coaster run on the Reventazon, to the beauty of the Toro—our last day.
But back to the side trips. There are so many cool things to see here that if all you did was kayak, you would miss out on some really interesting culture. Take sugar cane. It is sugar cane cutting time here in Costa Rica. Once you think about it, hand-cutting fields of sugar cane with a machete might go onto the list of not-so-favorite summer jobs to have. The machete alone is a dangerous tool )although you do not see a lot of less-than-ten-fingered hands down here). There is a reason that other countries figured out the concept of burning the cane fields years ago: it scares away the rats and the snakes. But here the entire stalk of sugar cane is put to use so they do not burn fields in most places. After the cane is cut and transported to the factory on a tractor, the leaves are stripped off the stalk. The stalk is then fed though a press to squeeze out all the juice. Then the left over stalk, as well as the leaves are used to stoke the fire. The fire is underneath a set of about eight vats which are used to cook off the cane juice. It is an impressive sight: vats boiling and bubbling, with men stirring the boiling juice using long handled wooden spoons, transferring the juice from one vat to another as it thickens. Then depending on what it is being made into ultimately: tapa de cana or sugar, the process finishes up. We were at a factory making tapa de cana—where the cooked down sugar is spooned into wooden molds. Once it sets, it is wrapped and sold here in Costa Rica to make a sugar water drink. We each dipped into the cooling mix to take a handful of the dark brown, molasses-looking concoction to taste a bite. Not sure who enjoyed themselves more: us, our teeth or the sugar bees that buzzed all over the place! Forget Redbull! After a handful of the sugar, there was no more after-the-river fatigue!
The Rio Toro was probably our icing/sugar on the cake this week as far as rivers went. The original upstream gorge on the Toro is renowned to have been the most beautiful gorge in all of Costa Rica. It is upstream of a power plant now, but driving in at the power plant, it is not hard to imagine how beautiful that gorge was—what you see is breathtaking. Looking downstream from the plant, water falls drop off both sides of the gorge walls as far as the eyes can see, falling into a riverbed full of Class IV+ rapids. This week we opted to put in downstream and paddle the high action Class III-IV creek moves that are necessary to make it down this part of the run. Fortunately it is not so difficult that one cannot eddy out and look around and enjoy the spectacular scenery surrounding us on both sides of the river. Definitely a fantastic way to finish up the week before heading back into the Friday afternoon rush hour traffic of San Jose—the reality check that a week of memorable whitewater is nearing an end.