White-Water Adventure, Panama style

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…or, another (fun & exciting) way to soak the gringos*

Invited by good friends John and Susan, or JP & Suds as they’re known to others, Saturday last I set out on my first ever white-water adventure, a (not so lazy) trek down the Rio Chiriqui Viejo in Western Panama. I booked my trip with Boquete Outdoor Adventures, a high-quality firm in beautiful downtown Boquete.

I should mention that this was a solo trip for me, as Mariah opted, in an abundance of caution around her too recent injury, to skip the jerking, wrestling and plunging of a trip on the wild and wooly river. It was a good decision. You can see from the shot above that our little ship was in trouble from the time we launched. Two indications of this: One, we’re all smiling; two, we’re (relatively) dry and comfy. This would not last.

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Ten minutes into the trip

The astute reader/observer will now notice a few changes: Yes, we are still smiling, that is true. However, yours truly is no longer quite so dry, and I have indeed changed places in the boat. The reseating was not, dear reader, a rearrangement of weight to add stability to our little craft. No, it was because I’d just fallen in the %$!@ river and been hauled back aboard by my shipmates. Notice I’m now soaked to the skin, as anyone who falls into the Rio Chiriqui Viejo might expect to be. Hey, what doesn’t kill you makes you wetter, I suppose.

The other difference is a bit subtle, but readily visible by those with or without glasses. That’s right, I’m not wearing any. My gafas del sol are now (and forever) part of the ever sweeping waters of the river. When I washed overboard I did, however, manage to remember a priority item that had been drilled into me years ago in Hawaii during my outrigger canoe days. ‘Never let go of your paddle!’ Well, my experience with the Koloa Outrigger Canoe Club served me well on the river. Despite my dunking in the turbulent water, and my time tossed around by its boiling currents like a log in a freshet, I held onto that paddle for all I was worth.

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Yours truly takes a dip in the Rio Chiriqui Viejo

That’s me in front of my shipmate, as we coast along without benefit of a boat. I lost my glasses, but managed to keep my paddle. Yes, the fact that there’s no lifeguard in the gene pool did cross my mind. Thank goodness, and the gods who watch over old but still slightly buoyant gringos, for flotation gear and helmets.

A bit of culture, wildlife, history…and politics

I should take a moment to mention our professional, courteous, very funny (and fun) staff of river guides. Pepito was our particular rafting captain, and though he sounded like Captain Ahab at times–Forward! Back! Sideways! Duck! (without glasses, I never saw the duck) Pepito guided us through every channel, mogul and dip in the river with an expertise gained from 11 years, and ‘mucho’ tours down this very river. I even practiced my Espanol a bit with the very patient Senor Pepito. In reference to my lost glasses, I speculated with him that ‘un pez lleva ahora les.’ After that feeble attempt at linguistic humor, I figured it might be best to pipe down, lest Captain Pepito toss me back in the river.

Along the Rio Chiriqui Viejo, we were exposed to a bit of Panamanian culture. A number of folks fished along the way, some on holiday with their ninos splashed and cavorted in the river and evidence of past attempts to harness the flow of water for personal and/or commercial purposes was evident in places. And there were critters. My goodness, iguanas, spider monkeys, birds of all descriptions and of course fish. (one of which is wearing my glasses!)

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Launch! A Hydro Plant Provides the Ooomph

For our historico-political edification, the recent history of western Panama includes a tale about the very hydroelectric project that made our trip down the river possible, the dam system that provides the ooomph that gushing water gives to teeny, tiny boats such as ours. It seems that the power project bids were let to insiders of a recent presidential administration, those infrastructure projects designed to make Panama a kind of primary electricity source for surrounding countries. The idea was to harness the flow of rivers like the Chiriqui Viejo onto hydropower turbines, then sell the resulting ions to surrounding nations like Costa Rica, Colombia and others. Outdoor adventure companies like BOA got a boost into the bargain, and all is well. The trip we made down this river may not have been possible during the dry season. But now, with the added contribution of water from the damming system, white-water rafting goes happily along.

In no particular order: Cruising down the river

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Lunchtime alfresco

After a light lunch of cold cuts, fresh fruit, drinks and assorted veggie delights, it was back on the river for another hour or so of dodging moguls, dips, channels and holes in the water. All things considered it was a fun, stimulating and energizing tour of a waterway. One of the best parts of the trip was interacting with the guides, watching their expertise as they steered us safely along the otherwise treacherous course. There were bumps, grinds and jolts aplenty, but we made it through and celebrated with a brew or two at the end. Highly recommended if you’re looking for a way to spend an otherwise boring, lazy and/or dry afternoon.

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Paddles up! The end is in sight!

We made it. All boats, all crews accounted for and safe. Not counting a pair of glasses and a tiny tidbit of sunburn, this was a good day spent with friends, and stretching the envelope, the comfort zone that’s way too easy to inhabit. Thanks BOA, JP & Suds and Captain Pepito for a grand adventure.

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11 thoughts on “White-Water Adventure, Panama style

  1. PK

    By, sounds like quite an adventure for you. You’re right, Mariah would not have made that journey unscathed. Glad you both are having a great time in your new home country. Miss you both. Let Mariah know that Paula Freeburg left for Florida this morning for her new home as well. I changed phone AGAIN and lost the app she told me about to free text her. Please keep in touch. I really enjoy the blogging.

    PK

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ME BE in Panama

      PK: Good to hear, as always. I’m glad you enjoy the posts. I’ll pass the news about Paula along to Mariah, and we wish her the best. The App you might be referring to is called WhatsApp, and we use it all the time. Great thing when it works, which is most of the time.
      Thanks again for reading the blog.

      B

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  2. What a delightful trip. I have rafted only once in my life (American River in CA) and so thoroughly enjoyed it; as it appears you did as well. Anyone catch the fish wearing your glasses? As for Mariah’s “too recent injury,” am hoping this is not a “new” injury but that which assisted in your decision to move to Panama.
    Miss you guys !

    Kevin

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ME BE in Panama

      Kevin, good to hear as always, and thanks for reading the posts. The ‘too recent injury’ is the same old, same old, nothing new as such. She’s just very cautious.
      As for health issues, we’re hoping you’re on the mend and heading for a victory next week!

      Love & hugs

      M/B

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  3. Byron – you must have missed my lecture to all my “newbie” river rafting friends. 1) always have your toes tucked under the tubes tightly! 2) keep your center of gravity low in the boat in turbulent water (but not so low you can’t help row!) and 3) make sure that anything on your body you don’t want to lose is firmly attached (as in glasses with Croakies). Sounds like you are having a great time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ME BE in Panama

      Carol: Just got back in town and saw this. I was in front of the boat, thus no access to the toe-holds you mentioned, and it was one of those ‘one second in, next second out’ moments, but no big deal. The croakies would have been a dandy idea, and I’m glad I wore an old, spare pair of glasses. Thanks for reading, and for the comment, I appreciate it.

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  4. What fun and, I’m just guessing here but judging from your enthusiasm, this might be an adventure you’ll want to repeat! I love the idea of floating down the river and seeing a totally different view of your new, adopted country. We rafted for several years down many Montana and Idaho rivers a few decades ago and I still remember the thrill when we’d encounter white water. I’m not a thrill seeker by any means but what an awesome ride! Anita

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ME BE in Panama

      Anita/Richard: We just got back in town from a state-side new grandkid visit and saw this. Yes, a great river adventure, and maybe Mariah can join me next time. I did see a part of Panama few folks get to see, complete with critters–iguanas & monkeys in the trees, and lots of exotic birds etc. Hey, life begins at the end of the comfort zone, so we keep on keepin’ on. Thanks for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

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