Looking out on the Pacuare River, Costa Rica

Twenty one years kayaking in Costa Rica.  Asked if it ever gets old the answer is no!!  Not the way rivers change in this country.  You never know from one week to the next – let alone one year to the next what new rapids will form, river beds will shift from one channel to the next, or back hoes appear to help rearrange things– and that does not include the water levels that change from one day to the next depending on the weather!  There cannot be another place where rivers change as whimsically as here in Costa Rica.  The question is why?

Geology
When you have young rivers, they have just not made up their minds as to where they should channelize. So arriving to find a river that has jumped 100 feet from one channel to another– that channel being one that was nothing but river rocks the year before, has been status quo here in Costa Rica since forever.  When you look at the river beds, there are no straight lines, and they are made up of round rocks piled up on themselves like ball bearings.  Let the rivers rise and the water starts pushing the rocks around. Anyone who has paddled in Costa Rica on a high water day has experienced the sound of rocks rolling under you.  It can be a little disconcerting!  Changes such as this can happen from one week to another with an unusually heavy rainstorm, particularly at the tail end of the rainy season when the ground is saturated and most of the rain water runs off into the river.

Ball bearing river beds-and track hoes, help enourage river changes

Extreme Variations in Weather Patterns
In 20+ years of paddling, there is no denying that weather patterns are changing and we see more extreme variations, and this includes here in Costa Rica.  Running trips at the tail end of the rainy season was the goal years ago because of hitting the last of the rain before things started drying up and tourist season kicked in. Even in the early years we would witness a rise in a river as much as ten meters over night.  It is just we see it occur more often now. And there are greater temperature variations during the seasonal transition from rainy season to dry season. We would never have dreamed of needing a long sleeve layer in the early years, now one can come in handy on a chilly day.

The Reventazon River, where we have seen the river rise 10 meters over night

Progress
How do you discourage a country not to follow the kind of methods used to encourage  progress in the United States in the early 1900’s?  If only it could be understood int he international community that we have turned the tables on the need for extreme damming of rivers – particularly where mega dams are concerned. There is so much scientific evidence that mega dams are not efficient.  But there is so much money behind dam construction that has nothing to do with power generation (if this piques your interest, pick up a copy of Confessions of an Economic Hitman for an education on the politics and economics behind international dam construction ).  Unfortunately, as important as clean power is, with little regulation and lack of economic impact studies in many places, dams are built with complete disregard to the environmental and socio-economic impact. Costa Rica, which on the forefront of eco-tourism, leads the way in dam construction along with every one of her Latin American neighbors.  This year alone we will say good bye to two more sections of river here in Costa Rica: the Toro River and the Lower Reventazon.  All we can do as kayakers is be good ambassadors and help future generations learn to appreciate the rivers in their back yard as we do in traveling here.

The economics of food, pineapples in Costa Rica

For a sum of $2.00 USD, two to three fresh picked pineapples can be purchased here in Costa Rica. The very same pineapple is exported to the United States and sold for $4.98USD.  The economics of food encourages increasing agriculture in a country like Costa Rica.  The result is more rain water run off, which leads to widely fluctuating river levels, as well as more run off of Monsanto’s best chemicals, and loss of precious rain forest.  Buy local, eat local…boy it sure is hard to pass up a delicious Costa Rican pineapple in February or March at home.

Does all this mean writing off paddling in a country like Costa Rica? Not for this generation.  But if you look to the opportunities for our children and grandchildren, international paddling might be a very different experience in the future.  And it is certainly not just Costa Rica. The list includes Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Turkey, all of Africa, many of the headwaters of the asian rivers, and the list goes on and on….. International Rivers is a very good resource for keeping track of the state of rivers all over the world.

Dam Site on the Lower Reventazon River, Costa Rica

What do you do today? Do not put off the opportunity to travel to an international location to experience the wonder of paddling rivers that so few ever enjoy relative to what we experience paddling in the United States.  No over-crowded eddies, lines at great surf waves, dry suits donned in the cold winter months, or artificial river beds.  A toucan may fly over your head, the verdant rain forest may surround you, a smiling young child may wave to you from the side of the river – or even next to you as you head into a rapid!!

Friends on the river

And if you are not planning an international trip this winter, feel free to live vicariously through our trips here in Costa Rica and Ecuador through the Endless River AdventuresFacebook page and the blog site and the extensive photo albums we share with each trip!

And check out all that is about our trips to Costa Rica and Ecuador to help you with your wish list!!

Be an ambassador, kayaking internationally