Our leader had passed all of the assessments through the night and proved to be in fine condition in the morning. Everyone was relieved when they awoke to find out that he had not regressed in the night. We re-dressed his head because the bandages had been pulled off in his sleep and the gash had re-opened, but it was not bleeding too severely. The situation was turning out as good as could be hoped for.
We ate breakfast, and after emptying the weight from our leaders pack, we began hiking the few miles we had left before we would reach a road. Our leader was doing well. He was able hike as his normal pace without any difficulty. We planned to get him to a doctor when we got to the road just to make sure he was completely fine, but we were confident we had done a good job with the tools we had.
When we arrived at the road, we had to cross a footbridge over the Savegre River. The river was wide and the bridge was long. We were not allowed to have more than four people on the bridge at a time to prevent it from collapsing. As I walked across, the bridge bounced and swayed unlike any bridge I had been on in the United States.
We reached the vacant backcountry road across the bridge. There were no vehicles. We were instructed to wait and our guides for the next portion of the trip would be arriving soon. Only a minute our two later, a jeep appeared with our guides in it. One of them happened to be a former paramedic and was able to check our leader and clear him to stay in the field with us. Our leader was very relieved. The former paramedic also looked at our SOAP notes and treatment and said that we had done a fantastic job with our patient. Everyone was very happy to hear that, and it was the first time our skills had truly been tested in such a setting.
We unpacked our backpacks in order to change into our swim trunks and re-pack our gear into dry-bags for kayaking. As we unpacked, a fellow member of my group began yelling and swearing as he jumped away from his pack. I rushed over and peered in to see what had caused all the ruckus. It was a tarantula-sized spider that had crawled into his pack while we had been hiking.
Santiago told me the spider was not poisonous and it was ‘relatively’ safe to hold. I put the spider on my hat for a picture. After the first picture was taken, one of the girls had the genius idea of poking the spider to try and make it move onto the brim of my hat for a better photo. Instead of calmly walking onto my brim as she had hoped, the spider turned and ran down my back and bit me.
I shook the spider off and quickly exposed by back. Although the spider was not dangerously poisonous, the bite caused swelling and localized pain that lasted for several hours. A headache also set-in for about an hour but then dissipated. I learned a lesson, call it quits after you get one good photo with a dangerous animal. Maybe that was the wrong lesson, but its what I took away from the experience.
Soon we put on life vests and hopped in the river to practice our river swimming techniques in order to prepare for the next week of whitewater kayaking. The majority of the first day was spend learning the basics of swimming rapids and paddling techniques. We began by ferrying, a technique of swimming at a 45 degree angle upriver to make it across the river without being swept far downstream. After a few extremely tiring laps through the main current of the river, we stepped back on shore. There we practiced throwing throw-bags for rescue. Throw-bags are small bags of buoyant cord that can be thrown and the cord unravels in the air. The purpose it to hold one end of the rope and throw the other end to someone who has fallen out of their raft and it floating down a rapids. It was a skill I had a natural affinity for, and that made me very happy. Lastly, we practiced swimming in real whitewater and took turns jumping into the rapids and swimming to an eddie.
We ate lunch before climbing into duckies (inflatable 1-2 person kayaks) and practicing basic skills. I had canoed quite a bit in my past and picked up these kayaking skills naturally (if only my schoolwork was like that…) so I played around with my boat to get a feel for how it moved in the water.
Once out guides were confident in everyone’s basic skills, we headed down river. We only went through class I & II rapids on that first day, but it was enough to make the others quite excited (I rather enjoyed the scenery while I waited for bigger waves which would come in future days). Some members of the group did manage to wrap their boats on rocks and flip in the small rapids, but most made it through with ease.
When we reached camp, we set up tents on the beach. The night was uncomfortably warm but it didn’t matter—we were livin’ the life in Costa Rica (Pura Vida!). We