Pura Vida

by Brandon Willms

Sipping my cup of coffee this morning, I looked out at blowing snow whilst listening to the CBC radio host announce, with dread, the imminent cold spell Calgary is about to endure. For me, this is welcome news as it is an indication that winter has not totally abandoned us. As a seasonal worker, I depend on all four of them to function in a somewhat predictable manor in order for me to get paid. More importantly though, a proper winter means good snowboarding and the hope of a good kayaking season on the other side. Hmmmm. Kayaking. Seems so far away and yet, as much as I love winter, I cant prevent my thoughts from waivering every now and then to the next kayaking mission. Or perhaps backtracking to the recent past. Mmmm the warm recent past. Costa Rica. What a polar opposite scene from the one in front of me this morning. The only common thread between these two worlds is the hot mug of Costa Rican liquid gold that I am sipping.

Beinvenido "Welcome" to Costa Rica. Here we are early on in the 2015 trip, at a small organic coffee plantation overlooking the lush farmland of the Central Highlands. This was our first introduction to Pura Vida "Pure Living", which is the national phrase of good will.

I have had the pleasure to visit this country twice in the last year. Both trips were focused on instructing and guiding groups from our paddling community in Calgary. With Simon Coward as the trip leader, everything was extremely well thought out and executed on these trips. Everyone came away with very noticeable improvements to their kayaking as well as having experienced many new rivers in a different and beautiful jungle environment and the calming lifestyle of the Tico (Costa Rica Locals) culture. To read and see more from these trips check out Simon’s blog from this year here Costa Rica Kayak Trip 2016 These trips have been the Highlight of my Instructing career to date. I learned so much and honed my skills while instructing in such a dynamic environment.

Since I was already travelling there, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to explore the country further after my commitments with our groups. So each year I went off on a paddling mission for a couple weeks. Last year, Simon Behman was my partner in crime and this year it was Jason Boutet who decided to join me for some paddling exploits. The tone changed from well organized, catered and sorted logistics to dirtbagging, bumming rides, and random river onslaughts. We made it our goal to spend as little money as we could and maximize our river time. This meant living under the rooves of our new acquaintances, or camping out under a tarp. Eating Guava fruit off of wild trees and super cheap Pejibayes and crappy spam meat. Our transport was mostly taxi rides and hitchhiking as well as a broken down land rover rental and a flash rental SUV. All the same I wouldn’t change a thing. It was all worthwhile experience. Needless to say we could not have put together nearly as successful of a trip if it were not for our local friends and contacts including Arnaldo Perez, Walter Centeno, Esteban Gonzalez, Ferdinand Steinvorth and Johann Castor. There were too many days to go into detail about it all, but here is a bunch of photos to give you a look into the trips.

This photo is a common scene in Costa Rica. A small mountain hamlet surrounded by lush rain forest and enough gradient and water to make for exceptional Kayaking. This was our flashiest form of transport, an expensive SUV rental and it definitely made us feel out of place. This is the beautiful valley of the Chirripo Pacifico

Photo: Simon Behman

Getting amongst the Dinosaurs on the Orosi River. This rapid is a highly technical boulder field, with loads of sieves and nastiness, but also a very fun line.  

Photo: Simon B

Arnaldo Perez poses with the next gen paddler, his son Nicolas. This is the put-in bridge to the notorious class 5 Upper Pacuare, an absolute must do classic if you are in Costa Rica.

Photo: Simon B

Esteban nails this boof on the upper Chirripo Pacifico. The river is the steepest and cleanest set of house sized boulders I have ever paddled. 

Photo: Simon B

Jason Boutet has a beautiful line on Poza Azul, which would turn out to be the biggest freefall of the trip. 

Photo: Simon B

We met some great new friends in our travels. Meet "Mango" the dog. 

Photo: Simon B

Here is Arnaldo on one of his local runs, the mighty Rio Reventazon. 

Photo: Simon B


Simon really stuck this line on the Uber steep Rio Macho. 

Photo: Brenna Kelly

Jason had numerous encounters with some of the local creepy crawlies. 

Jason gets busy on Rio Pacuare

River levels can change so rapidly that you often find yourself needing to scout a run you did the day before. This is the Los Leones, a brilliant class 4 rapid of the Rio Pejibaye. 

Sometimes the rapids get a little too brown for our taste. Upper Pacuare. 

Riverside accoms were top notch! 

......and staying with locals is always a pleasure. This is the view of Walters house which he so graciously opened up to our grimy paddling posy.

They have got more to paddle than just rivers! We spent many hours surfing the break in Quepos. 

Photo: Jason Boutet

I will leave you with a classic. This Photo sums up what all the hype is about. This is upper Huacas rapid, Lower Rio Pacuare.