Following a 6.1 magnitude earthquake centered at Poas Volcano on January 8 the Sarapiqui, a classic Costa Rican river, was transformed from a beautiful clean river to a giant mudslide of sludge. While trying to get some beta by talking with some locals on the Upper Pacuare, we were told the Sarapiqui was no longer runnable but the other rivers in the area were still in good shape. We were interested in a couple of the other runs so took off for La Virgen the next morning.
We pulled into town to find very few people around. After checking in with some local rafting companies we discovered that many places were closed due to damages from the earthquake and that they were no longer able to raft popular stretches of river. They had been working on finding alternative runs for the area to keep their businesses alive. We were invited to join several local companies and the Red Cross to do the first run of the Upper Sarapiqui since the quake. We immediately volunteered to help.
The drive to the put in was eye-opening, with areas that had been destroyed taped off, Red Cross and local church volunteers handing out food and supplies to those who needed them, and reporters everywhere begging for interviews. The extent of the damage was unclear as villages had been buried by mudslides, dozens of local citizens were confirmed dead and even more were still reported as missing.
We arrived at the put-in to find that the bridge across the river had disappeared. This would be something to watch for downstream. The organizer gave the group a safety talk including instructions that we were not to play, our job was to make sure everyone got down the river safely, look for debris, animals, houses, cars, and possibly bodies. We were to stick close together, one kayak between each raft and signal if we noticed anything strange or vultures circling an area.
We put on and headed downstream. The river was very muddy, continuous, and had very few eddies. We found the remnants of the bridge in the rapid around the corner. The rafters all hopped out to scout, decided on the best route through the debris, and made it through with no problems.
We continued down, stopping several times to check out demolished farms, huge log piles, and areas the vultures seemed interested in. Fortunately the only thing found was remains of animals swept away by the mud and logs.
The run itself was great and the rafting companies were excited that it was clean, offering the possibility of commercial trips on this section. With the good news of a clean run, no unfortunate findings, and only one raft flip with a quick recovery, the mission was considered a success!
For more information check out http://www.cruzroja.or.cr/ .