“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures that we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open”. – Jawaharlal Nehru
We decided on a whim to do something different and spend the afternoon tubing down the Rio Frio in Costa Rica. It wasn’t the first adventurous thing we had done since we were there. We went canyoning and zip lining in the jungle near Manuel Antonio. However, that adventure actually ended up feeling tame after our experience tubing down the Rio Frio. It was by no means the leisurely gliding down the river, enjoying the beautiful scenery go by. Instead, it ended up being a pretty wild and crazy thrill ride. We honestly had no idea what we were getting into when we signed up to go with our guide Wilson who had spent the morning with us touring Tenorio Volcano National Park. I guess that is what made the whole experience so memorable.
We met Wilson after lunch for our forty-five minute drive to the river. Along the way, we picked up his son as well as his partner who would be our river guide and safety man along the two-hour ride. We stopped briefly at the “Abrol de la Paz” (the tree of peace), perhaps the biggest tree I had ever seen in my life, and took some pictures. I didn’t catch the type of tree but it had to be hundreds of years old. It was magnificent!
We drove over bumpy gravel roads, passed a few cowboys along the way and ended up at our destination, a fenced in pasture and farm with grazing horses. There were no tourist signs, no buildings or anything in sight except the endless gravel road and the barbed wire fence. It was nothing like I had expected or conjured up in my head.
We got out of the car and Wilson inflated our tubes and grabbed us helmets. I looked around us a little confused. We were in the middle of nowhere and there was no river in sight. Wilson signaled to follow him. We ducked under the barbed wire fence, and began walking through the grassy pasture avoiding cow dung and snakes along the way. It felt like a moment out of an odd dream or a movie. We were lost in translation, not really understanding why we were hiking through a private farm carrying inner tubes and wearing our bathing suits, to get to the river. Apparently Wilson has a deal with the owners who let him use his property to do his tubing tours. We were the only guests.
When we first heard about the tubing tours at the Rio Celeste Hideaway, we asked the concierge about safety. They had beautiful photos up in the hotel of people tubing down the divinely turquoise Rio Celeste and it looked so pleasant. Apparently the water is too high this time of year to tube down the Rio Celeste (which would have been absolutely amazing!) so we had two other options. The faster, more adventurous Rio Frio or another river all together that sounded a bit boring. We were a little concerned about the safety of our daughter, ten-year-old Sophia, yet Wilson assured us that the more exciting option with rapids down Rio Frio was fine. His son had done it many times and looked to be about the equivalent age as Sophia. We would have his partner tagging along as our guide and safety man in charge of helping Sophia through the rough patches and avoiding rocks.
With Wilson’s help, we convinced Sophia to give the Rio Frio a try. She was a little hesitant at first but agreed to go along with everyone else.
When we first saw the Rio Frio, it did not look too scary. It definitely was nowhere near the surreal turquoise color of the world famous Rio Celeste but it seemed safe enough. I was a little apprehensive when we got on our tubes wondering how this adventure would all turn out. But Sophia and Max were all smiles and before I knew it, Max was heading downstream.
I climbed aboard my tube, handed Wilson my camera to take some photos and video along the way, and grabbed onto Sophia’s tube. Before we knew it, we hit our first of many series of rocks and rapids. I began to panic. What had we gotten ourselves into? The river was littered with rocks and huge boulders. It was like an obstacle course.
Navigating ourselves down the river through giant boulders and rapids took some serious getting used to. I tried so hard not to panic about the situation worrying about all the “what ifs”. The biggest concern: What if one of us went down a rapid and flipped over backwards off our tube, hitting a boulder? That would definitely not be good! I knew that the flimsy helmets we wore offered little if no real protection. I tried to rid the thought of breaking my neck.
Thankfully as soon as I got comfortable knowing that I would not flip over or hurt myself, I was able to relax and have fun. All I had to do was steer myself forward, use my legs to kick at the rocks and avoid going backwards. That was easy enough, right? My confidence was back and I ended up having a thrilling ride.
There were times when Sophia broke off and the guide had to race at breakneck speed through the river to get ahold of her tube. Those were the times I was a little frightened since I don’t think a ten-year old can safely go down this river unassisted. My son Max however was perfectly fine going alone. In fact, he was quite a bit ahead of me the whole time so I didn’t even see him.
I still held my breath until I knew it was over and we had all made it safe and sound with no broken bones to the end. I also wondered if such an adventure would be legal back home in the US. Doubtful.
Phew….we made it! We were all smiles.
When we got back to the hotel I mentioned to the front desk that the trip was fun but in my opinion a little dangerous. Maybe it is the mother in me but I don’t think I will ever do it again. I was also relieved that our next day in Costa Rica would be much more tame: A boat tour of Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge. I had enough adrenaline for a while.
For your viewing pleasure, a short clip on our joy ride.
If you go:
We booked the tour through our hotel, the Rio Celeste Hideway. Click here for more information on all the tours they offer.