The Art Of (Distaff) Travel Writing

Perhaps we will never again see the likes of Bruce Chatwin, H.W. Tilman, Rebecca West, and Fitzroy Maclean (whose Eastern Approaches is not well known, but one of the all-time greats). But this looks pretty good: The Best Women’s Travel Writing 2011.

Here’s a taste from a piece about running whitewater in Costa Rica, from Bridget Crocker, a copy writer for Patagonia (full excerpt is here):

Demin BW Portrait Bridget
[Author and river guide, Bridget Crocker. Photo by Tony Demin.]

“This upper section is called ‘The Labyrinth,’” Roland says, cinching down his frayed lifejacket. “It’s been run maybe three or four times before today. I’ve seen it a couple times and I’d say it’s pretty solid Class V. Lots of steep drops through tight chutes. There are a few slots we have to make—it’s not an option to miss them. I think I can remember them all, but we’ll have to scout as we go. There’s no way out of the gorge once we start.”

Normally I would be anxious about taking a flaccid shredder down a little-run Class V boulder garden without the safety of other boaters along or even an evacuation route. Plus, Roland forgot his helmet and we have no throw bag. Oddly, I couldn’t care less. I feel no hint of the usual Class V jitters or concern for our lack of preparedness. It occurs to me that I may be spared a trip to Cathedral Point, as our little daytrip down the Labyrinth is suicidal enough.

[Chorro Rapid at stomping flow. Upper Naranjo River, Costa Rica. Photo by David Findley]We climb into the tiny craft and immediately drop into a sizeable chute cascading onto exposed rocks. It’s continuous maneuvering from there; the maze is relentless and we’re teetering and spinning off boulders, fighting each other’s rhythm. We catch a small eddy and Roland, who’s sitting on the left side of the shredder, shouts out, “Do you guide from the left or right?”

“Left,” I say.

“I guide from the right, let’s switch sides.”

[Keeping the flame alive – the late, great Costa Rican river legend, Roland Cervilla. Photo by Arturo Oropeza.]

We start to click after switching, powerfully stroking across current lines and straightening out for the drops. Paddling becomes like meditation; there’s only the hum of frenetic water and our focused concentration on the line.

We park on a rock cluster above the first big rapid, “Stacy’s Lament.” Roland explains that the last time he ran down the Labyrinth, he escorted some kayakers from Colorado who were insistent that Costa Rican Class V was really like Class IV in Colorado. After spending a good portion of the upper section upside down, the group became disheartened while scouting the first “real” rapid. One of the more intrepid Colorado paddlers probed it first, hitting the narrow, eight-foot drop on the far left side next to the gorge wall. Just below the drop, he inexplicably veered and smashed headlong into the curving monolith. He swam out of his kayak and was pushed by the funneling current into the collection of sieve rocks stacked against the right wall of the gorge. Submerged for some time against the rocks, he surfaced in a pool of blood minutes later, his face badly lacerated from the impact. That’s when Stacy, the least experienced of the group, began to cry uncontrollably, realizing that there was no way to portage our line around the rapid. There was only one way out: through the guts.

Read on….

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