Canoeing in Costa Rica

The Gorge of Rio Naranjo

Rafting Naranjo River
After a sunny kayak-surfing day in Dominical on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica our round trip brings us back into the mountains, where we pay our visit to the relatively unknown Rio Naranjo. Quickly we find an idyllic site for our tents before dusk and light the campfire. Under full moon we take a bath in the creek afer finishing a rustic barbecue (with the grille of our Land Rover having to act as a grill).

The water level in the creek looks promising which inspires the idea to give the rather unexplored gorge of the Rio Naranjo a go in the morning. Although quite a few kilometers above and below the central bit of the gorge have been navigated, the essential bit, from which there seems to be hardly any escape, still awaits being navigated - at least in the current high water levels.
A small cataract
In the bright sunshine of an early morning we work our way across a cow's meadow towards entrance of the gorge, abseiling the canoes on the last stretch. Crystal clear, bluish shimmering water and white spray interrupted by deep, quiet pools blinks up at us. The view downriver is blocked by a huge rock. What are we to expect behind?! The first small cataracts already show a considerable gradient. However, the passages are still recognizable from the boat. Another huge boulder lets the water pass only on its right, forcing us to view it first from outside the boats.

A cataract leads directly into the gorge, where the river calms down in a pool to absorb a small, left-bank waterfall that gushes directly out of the green of the jungle above. The following river course is not to be seen or to be explored from here from here. Nevertheless we decide to enter the gorge through the cataract.
With some relieve we discover from the next eddie that there are no nasty surprises waiting behind the following bent. Carefully we continue a few hundred meters downriver, always keeping an eye for eddies as a possible "last resort". Until finally a brim forces us to an abrupt halt. A brief climbing excursion allows us a glance down the following gap: On the left side of a rock the water shoots down about 2.5 meters directly into a nice collection of boulders, while on its right hand the current high water levels produce an impressive back flow that does not look inviting at all.

No way back
While we are internally already trying to make friends with the back flow, the following passage simply scares us off. The complete creek is pressed into a twisty passage, just about one meter wide. Navigating through this passage would in all likelyhood not find a happy ending. At least at the current high water level.

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Bei der Erkundung der Folgestrecke schlagen wir uns linksufrig durch dichten Dschungel, stets darauf bedacht, auf dem schlammigen Boden nicht in die Klamm zu stürzen. An allen erdenklichen Stellen werden wir von Dornen zerkratzt, und die uns Großstädtern wohl anerzogene Angst vor allem giftigen Getier lässt uns hektisch hin- und heräugen, um letztlich, beim Erklimmen eines Felsvorsprunges, in einen von Ameisen besetzten Baum zu packen ein wahrlich prickelndes Gefühl!

Trotz aller Anstrengungen lässt sich der weitere Flussverlauf nicht erkunden und ein Umtragen des unter den vorhandenen Umständen wohl unfahrbaren einen Meter engen "Nudlers" ist unmöglich (außerdem wissen wir nicht, was uns noch im folgenden Flussverlauf erwartet). Resigniert klettern wir zurück zu den Booten, im letzten vermeintlichen Kehrwasser vor der "Katastrophe", wo Hermann bereits sehnsüchtig auf uns wartet. Es hilft alles nichts, man kann nicht immer Sieger sein! Wir müssen den Befahrungsversuch leider abbrechen. Doch leichter gesagt als getan. Zwar haben wir zu viert das letzte "rettende" Kehrwasser erwischt, jedoch lässt sich die Klamm von hier aus nicht verlassen. Besonders schwierig scheint es sich rechtsufrig zu gestalten (was natürlich zu erwarten war, da wir nur auf dieser Flussseite durch den Dschungel zur Piste und damit zum Landy kommen).
Abenteuerliche Reisewege
A cable ferry leads to a secure small, right bank eddy just shortly before the next drop. In about 1.5 meters height some "handles" show in the rock. Using these, it seems possible to overcome the small gorge up to a balcony in the rock. From there it seems possible to reach cultivated land by a small creek.

Back to the route
On the second try, it's done. One foot on the Hurricane, one in rock and both hands in the "handles" one of us climbs onto the balcony and we install a secure rope connection. One by one we change over to the right bank and then make our way back to the road and on to our camp.

We advanced not even 1.5 kilometer into the gorge, but we were all so excited about the impressive nature we encountered that we are all set to return to the Rio Naranjo at a time with less water in order to try again to navigate the gorge.

Text: Heinz-Georg Luxen
Source: Kanu Sport
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