With a quick glance down at my watch, I nervously wonder what time the shuttle is supposed to be here. I wrongly assume I have time and decide to open up a second orange. Just as it’s peeled and halved, a man walks around the corner with a clip board. He says something like “let’s go,” not even asking for my name, and turns to walk down the long driveway back to the main street. There’s an orange slice in my mouth and the majority of the orange between my two hands. I look down at my bags wondering how I’m going to carry everything. “Thanks for offering to carry a bag, jackass,” I whisper, annoyed, under my breath. I pop half of the orange into my mouth for holding and heave the larger of the two bags up over my arm and onto my back. After I gain some balance, I bend over and slide the smaller bag along my free arm and onto my shoulder.
This is not the most effective way to carry my bags, but I don’t have the time or brainpower to finagle anything else. I scan the ground for Lilah, the dog I’ve been living with to say goodbye, but I see her off in a distant field, frolicking with another local, free-roaming Puerto Viajan dog. I head out along the gravel road, not exactly sure where the shuttle is, but eventually find it parked just out to the right on the main street. I’m still finishing off two pieces of orange as I lift the larger bag through the back window to the attendant.
About half a dozen foreigners sit around the bus, most of them from Barcelona, an older couple from Germany, a man from London. I find an open seat and settle in, wondering if I’m on the right shuttle. We head across town to pick up two more women before setting out for the day’s destination. I’m still unsure where exactly that is, but I do know there is a river called Pacuare involved. I didn’t personally book this tour and have very little information about the itinerary for the day.
A tico (Costa Rican man) introduces himself. I am too damn tired for this guy’s energy right now. He’s a bit too sing-song and overtly corny. It’s also 6:00am and I slept like shit, sick again after what I believe was the result of a big wet kiss from Lilah the morning before as I untangled her chain from a chair (although she has full freedom during the day, she does get confined at night). She’s been sick recently and, in all likelihood, passed on a bacterial infection. So here I am, riding along in this touristy caravan as I struggle through body aches and a sore throat.
The man, Albert, switches between English and Spanish. I catch bits and pieces of what he says in Spanish, and there’s enough in English I feel like I’m following. He’s telling us about this boat we’ll be taking to this remote place, the trails we can walk on and places we can eat, and that they’ll pick us up in the morning to take us to our final destinations. Uh, wait… What? I speak up, trying to figure out where the heck we’re going. I explain I need to get to La Fortuna by tonight- I already have a reservation at a hostel there, and they have a hot tub with my name on it (spoiler alert- it’s not a hot tub. It’s a small, cold pool. …Whomp whomp).
Maybe he doesn’t understand me. He says he will have a special bus for me, but I think he’s being sarcastic and it doesn’t leave me feeling any more confident about where we’re going. He sums up the rest of his schpeel and then asks who is going whitewater rafting. Apparently, there are two different groups here, and I missed this in the Spanish introductions. Embarrassed, I try and listen better to make sure I’m getting the right information. I think about how I might be more mindful and talk less as he goes over expectations on the river. Just then he mentions how someone from Oregon was recently here who was the worst participant ever, and immediately calls me out to see if I’m from Oregon as well (apparently people from Oregon are pains in the arse. I’m probably not excluded from this stereotype, although technically I’m a Washingtonian).
He passes around the waiver form and I sign my name. It gets back to him and he looks down at his sheet. Wait, he says… What’s your name? I tell him. It’s Drake Carnahan. He creases his face in confusion and peers down at his paper more skeptically. “You are not Park?” …Ah, what? I ask him what he’s talking about. He hands me the sheet and it reads something like “Parke Corahoho.” I have no idea how that managed to end up in their system, but the letters look close enough and it’s right next to the name of my hostel. He looks at it again and shrugs, asking me not to tell anyone about it.
We stop for a bathroom break at a souvenir shop. It has free coffee and I fill up a small cup. Albert picks up a bottle of rum to the side and asks me if I want any. Christmas day briefly flashes through my mind (Oi… Moderation is key now…) and I briefly consider against it. It might be just what I need though, so I take a small amount and put it in my coffee. The dosage, mixed with the heat of the coffee, makes my throat and the body aches feel a little better. Albert and I make small talk and, after he comes to realize that I have been a guide of sorts as well throughout the years, a comradery forms.
We reboard and eventually arrive at a large, covered patio where a breakfast buffet awaits us. Just as we step off the bus the rain starts to fall, lightly at first, but swiftly turns into a pour. It’s so loud against the aluminum roofing I can barely hear what Albert is saying. He’s trying to ask me a question and I eventually realize he’s asking me where I am sitting and if he can join me. I tell him of course and continue to pile rice, beans and eggs onto my plate.
Latin Zac Effron passes by, arms covered in tattoos and ears gauged. With piercing blue eyes, he stares into my soul and I find him equally sexy as I do mysteriously… haunting. As he’s walking away like a perfectly composed, chiseled model, Albert tells me he’s a Sagitarrius and how easily he falls in love. Oh boy. I think to myself that Albert looks strangely similar to Carlos, a man I met while living in Peru who decided he was in love with me immediately after our introduction. I start to wonder if such a statement was said with the anticipation I might be intrigued by such a declaration (has any woman on earth every been attracted to a man who says he falls in love with every woman who walks by? I think not).
Off to the side, large metal storage containers are pulled open to reveal shelves for our luggage. I prop my largest backpack on the bottom shelf and unzip it from underneath, riffling around for a longer pair of shorts and my rain jacket. The rain, my sore throat and the body aches are making me nervous. Oh lawd, please don’t let me get any sicker than I already am. I seriously can’t take more than I’ve already endured this summer. Luckily, I’m equipped with a fiery determination to make these last two days the best possible, and I refuse to let being sick get in the way of it.
We board a bus that swerves along narrow roads down into a canyon to our rafts. There are three guides, but Albert requests I ride with him so I’m asked to stand near his boat as they fit us with PDFs and helmets. We load and push off the bank. With a firm grip on the paddle, I steadily place the end into the water, using my core to pull water towards me and propel us forward.
Rafting makes me reflect on my own time as a raft guide, ten years ago. As much as I enjoy whitewater rafting, guiding really isn’t my forte, and I think that summer really slapped me in the face with how much it isn’t my calling. It wasn’t just my very prevalent aversion to being on the oars that tainted my time in Riggins, Idaho. Those three months served as a social prison, a daily torture of interactions with people who weren’t particularly kind or inclusive. Walking into a room, one of the main guys would whisper something to the rest of the guides. They’d burst into laughter, making obvious I was at the brunt of the joke, although no one would ever tell me what was being said other than that it was really mean.
Years later that guy found me at a bar when I was visiting Moscow and apologized. He recognized he had acted like a huge ass and had made me the focal point of his taunting as a result of his inability to deal with his own uncomfortable feelings. Oddly enough, I bring that out in people from time to time. Dancing to the rhythm of your beat either encourages the best or the worst in people, highlighting the compassionate and open-minded from the unkind and intolerant. As the one who has often fallen into that role, it has made me incredibly sensitive and drives my desire to create safer space for people everywhere I go.
The raft floats along class III and IV level rapids. They’re smaller than I remember, but I’m still glad I’m not the one steering the boat. Albert is asking us one-by-one to sing a song. My boat mates include two young gals from the UK, a couple from Spain and an older gentleman from Puerto Rico. He gets to me and my mind blanks, as it does every time someone asks me about my musical preferences, as if no song has ever existed… ever in the course of history. He’s impatient, but my brain has flat lined so I look out, distracting myself with the passing view.
I look around at the dense jungle spanning across the canyon that hugs the Pacuare river. Occasional camps and traditional indigenous villages dot the landscape, as toucans recurrently fly across the ravine. Boulders are so large that your mouth naturally drops in awe of the Earth’s noticeable ancient history, mosses dripping from them with the day’s rain, sparkling like LEDs.
We pull up to the river’s edge where a series of small covered areas await us. A short table off to the side showcases intricately carved wooden masks, I assume made by one of the local tribes and for sale to those passing through. An attractive pineapple presentation calls to me from another table, so I prop myself in front of it to get my snack on. Albert walks over and continues to cut more pineapple while making conversation with me, asking me about my education.
After giving him a brief synopsis of my academic background, his voice lowers, eyes fixated. “You are too pretty to be so intelligent,” he utters. I laugh, mentioning the outrageous amount of time it took me to get through my undergraduate degree. He doesn’t hear me. “I want to take you for a beer,” he says softly, so soft and so direct I feel rather uncomfortable. I remind him I’m literally leaving right after this raft trip. He shakes his head, telling me he will wait for me. I laugh again and say I have no idea if and when that would happen.
The meal is ready, so I go and load a burrito onto my plate and sit down next to some other travelers. I talk for some time with a couple of men from London, discussing previous travels and future plans. They eventually stand up to get seconds and Albert seizes the moment. He moves in, quietly demanding to know why I laughed and said I wouldn’t have a beer with him. Latin Zac Efron looks over, intense and curious (and disturbingly sexy…), reading the energy and getting a sense of Albert’s intentions. Latin Zac Efron has given off the air that he is the boss around here and I gather he’s making sure his employee is acting appropriately. I’m secretly wishing he was the one obnoxiously flirting with me instead of the guy currently in front of me.
I remind Albert I am leaving and he repeats, with desperation, that he will wait for me. This feels extremely unprofessional. And extremely familiar to Carlos in Peru. It’s just not going to work out, Albert. He gets the hint and walks away just as one of the guys from London sits down and starts reflecting on his most recent trip to Jerusalem. A few minutes later Latin Zac Efron announces it’s time to go so we gather our things and make our way back to the rafts.
We float along. “What’s your name again?” Albert asks. I remind him. “Sing a song, it is your turn!” Latin Zac Efron floats over to our raft and asks what kind of music I like. West coast hip hop, I tell him. It’s the only thing I can ever think of. And I mean, it is, at least one of them. He tells me he knows of some west coast hip hop, like Tupac, and Wu Tang. I don’t bother to correct him that Wu Tang is east coast hip hop because I’m overwhelmed by the fact his eyes are piercing into the depths of me. He tells me he likes hardcore rock, which I find even more attractive for reasons unknown to me, and lists off some bands he’s into from the States. He turns to prepare for the oncoming rapids.
We finally reach our destination and unload. I head back up to the company’s HQ and change into something warm and dry, sitting down at a table to wait for my bus. My rain jacket is soaked so I throw it over the chair next to me to drip off a bit. I’m not sure of the rest of the day’s itinerary, so I try asking Albert how long it will take to get to my hostel in La Fortuna. He acts extremely perturbed that I am asking him such questions. “Why do you want to know?” he demands. I’m not sure why I need to explain myself, but I do, and he tells me it’s about 6 hours, which puts me at the hostel much later than I had anticipated. Tu Pac blasts from the speakers. I try to hide my smirk as Latin Zac Efron walks by. “Did you put this on?” I ask him. Sheepishly, he responds that he did. “Do you like it?” he asks. I nod, telling him I do.
Another staff member calls to me, saying my bus is leaving soon for La Fortuna. Just out of curiosity, I ask him how long the ride will be. “Two and a half hours. Maybe three, with traffic.” I’m relieved, as that’s a lot more manageable than six. What the heck, bitter, heart-broken, Albert… Telling me the wrong information. I haul my bag through the back window of the bus and board. Minutes later we pull away, leaving behind me this town I will probably never visit again, Latin Zac Efron whose information I never received, and my somewhat new, drip-drying rain jacket still hanging from a chair.