During my trip to Tortuguero in the wet season, I learned that Ticos use the term, «dock» very loosely. First off, there were no wood or cement structures to tie up a vessel. Instead, there were trees along a shoreline and small six to seven foot boats tied up to keep them «secured.» The locals explained that the location of these «docks» could be hundreds of feet away depending on the amount of rainfall they had recently.
The international travelers and locals alike disembarked from our antique bus and climbed aboard our trusty dingy with our confident captain that proclaimed we could, indeed, all fit without sinking. I couldn’t help but notice there were only a few life vests on the boat, but after all, we were in Costa Rica. «Relax», I told myself. It took about 30 seconds after we pushed off from our tree to encounter our first major problem.
It seemed the steering wheel was not working. Somehow the connection between the one outboard motor and the steering column had become disconnected. Meanwhile, the front of the boat was drifting into a section of barbed wire (why there was barbed wire in the middle of swamp land I have yet to figure out).
Our captain’s trusty deckhand was on the bow of the boat and noticed the wire just in time to jump over it and grab hold of a sand bar. Once temporarily secured to the sand bar, I looked over to where we had almost drifted. My eyes enlarged at the sight of the raging river charging the opposite direction, churning with a vengeance. «Ok,» I said to myself, «Now it’s time to worry.» I have whitewater experience and know that if we would have drifted into this raging river at our current angle, we would have been flipped like a burger at McDonalds!
The captain noticed as well. He rolled open the plastic windows (which were previously blocking the rain, and would have also blocked our emergency exit in the event of a rollover), and proceeded to place the few life jackets onto the children in the vessel.
So I recapped to myself, even the captain thinks we are going to flip. He proceeded to talk to the passengers in Spanish, I was really wishing that I was fluent in spanish right about then. Just when I thought I could not be any more terrified I remembered that there were crocodiles and caimen in these waters. Then, our leader devised a plan. He commanded his deckhand to hold the throttles, freeing him to climb to the back of the small boat and direct the outboard manually by pushing it right or left as needed.
When he needed more or less speed he simply shouted to his compadre. The moment of truth came when we shoved off the sand bar and held our breath as we entered the furious water. The captain skillfully commanded the appropriate entry speeds and angles to keep the vessel upright. Thirty minutes of white water knuckles later, we entered a large thruway, allowing the rest of our two and a half hour journey a more copacetic ride.