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La vida loca! Wished you were there? We did, so here we are on our big adventure! A year in central America, to make sense of this vida loca...

Riding the Rio Negro

UNITED KINGDOM | Sunday, 17 August 2008 | Views [2972]

The convoy

The convoy

A Little time a go the interns and volunteers at Rancho Mastatal had a day off to go to the hot springs and waterfall at the nearby village of San Miguel.  The plan was to go down to the hot springs and then traverse the Rio Negro downstream to the waterfalls, which were just off the river up a tributary.  We started off walking down to the river, past farms with oxen tied to painted yokes, inquisitive horses and howling skinny dogs until we reached a steep valley, where the only way down was to traverse cattle tracks, often jumping down between runnels as the slope was so steep.  Then came a final descent down another steep wooded slope, holding onto ropes (at which point the straps of my newish walking sandles broke – nice timing!).  To get to the hot spring we had to cross a rapid in the river.  Everyone in turn waded into the water and then flung themselves in, swimming facing upstream, so that our efforts got us to the other side, out of the current before we were taken downstream to far.  Everyone made it across fine – the first across waited in the shallows in case anyone needed catching :).

We then got a well-earned soak in the hot spring – a cemented-in pool, where hot water wells up from deep in the earth´s crust.  No sulphur smell, just a rather curious sensation of being in a hot bath (there´s no hot water at the Rancho).  After some scouting, we then walked down the start of our river traverse, over rocks to the side of the next rapid.  We had to jump off a short cliff into the warm(ish) water – a first for me, but so much easier when others had done it before us.  For the next few miles we let the slow current take us down the river through a steep canyon, as we trod water, or in my case, floated, as I´d brought empty plastic bottles in our pack that I hung on to. See pictures in gallery, but imagine a line of heads and torsos floating downstream, wet forest about you, vines hanging down off trees and the sounds of birds and insects in the canopy.  Every now and then the river would shallow, forcing us to wade, or another rapid would come up ahead, making us take to the rocks again.

Eventually we came to the confluence of the tributary we wanted to climb.  The tributary joined the river in a 20 ft waterfall.  We climbed the sketchy path to the side, and then, one by one, stepped across the head of the fall.  The path to the side was steep and the waterfall, although not vertical, a little perilous.  Tim stood in the middle of the flow at the head, and each person stepped into the flow and out again, a welcome hand of support available where necessary.  This is not something that I would usually dream of considering (I normally wouldn´t dream of floating down a river, let´s face it), but with plenty of people in front of me (including most of the girls :) ), the usual vertigo failed to grip me and after a little hesitation, I was able to get across the head fine, as was Rachel.  Luckily unbeknown to me, one of the girls ahead had stumbled in the step from the side of the canyon into the flow and Tim had had to catch her!  No harm done though.

We then waded upstream until we were presented with the impressive falls – not a single fall, but a series coming all the way down the top of the canyon (see album).  A deep pool at the foot allowed swimming, and five of the bravest climbed the side of a cliff, to dive into the pool – some 40 ft – captured by Rachel on her camera video.  The collective ´ooo´s and ´woah´s of the watching crowd were noticeable when we played them back later – especially when Lowri hit the water with a huge smack that left us a bit worried until she surfaced, or when Timo scrambled down the wrong bit of cliff, meaning he spent five anxious minutes inching back to the right diving place, back against the rock wall.  It turned out ´all good´ as the Gringo´s say, however.

Finally all that was left was to take the steep path up the wooded canyon side – notables being the back of the crew missing the path and luckily noticing our mistake before we had to traverse the waterfall head again, and Rachel and I seeing a rather lovely (and long) green vine snake cross the path (they´re harmless). A beer at the local cantina in San Miguel finished off the day – a fantastic adventure in stunningly beautiful surroundings, and one which I´m sure we won´t forget.

Tags: adventures, river trekking

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