Costa Rica Adventure - Part 2

Read part 1 here.

After a few seconds, the truth set in: we were stuck on the wrong side of a crocodile (and bull shark) infested river. We were lucky to have crossed it once, but now there was no other way back. There were no bridges over the river, and there was nothing but a hundred miles of uninhabited rainforest on our side.

I panicked and tried to convince my friend to make a dash for it. "We have to try to swim back across, there's no other way!" She replied, "I am not getting into that water." What was crystal clear and thigh-deep two hours ago was now noticeably deeper, wider, and completely murky. If there were crocodiles underwater, we wouldn't have seen them. Fine, then. I wasn't going to leave my friend behind; if she stays, I stay.

At this point, we had two options. One, we could swim out into the ocean, cross the mouth of the river there, and swim back to shore. Crocodiles don't go into salt water, and this way we would only have sharks to contend with. Or two, we could stay on the wrong side, wait until low tide came around again, and hope that the situation gets better by then. Sleeping here was not an option, because jaguar come out at night, so we would have to do this before the sun goes down at 6pm, which wasn't exactly low tide yet, either.

We went with option two. Now, another thing to note is that the swamp that the crocodiles live in hugs the ocean shore for about five miles. We obviously couldn't seek refuge from the sun in the swamp, and we had an entire day to kill. Therefore, we decided to walk the five or six miles along the beach until we got to the edge of the forest again. We hadn't brought any food or water, so I opened coconuts for food and water for both of us. Thankfully, I had bought the machete and learned how to open coconuts the day before! Meanwhile, we did all we could to shade ourselves from the tropical sun.

Stranded on beach

Stranded on beach
At this point, we were too paranoid to seek shade under the trees, plus we didn't want to stray too far from the beach, although I did try to make a lean-to out of dried palm fronds. (How do they do it in the survival shows?! They make it look so easy.)

After what seemed like forever, the sun was going down and we walked back to the mouth of Rio Sirena to try to cross again. We decided to follow the other recommendation we got earlier, which was to swim out into the ocean, cross the mouth of the river, then swim back to the shore. We walked into the ocean while trying to hold our belongings over our head, but very soon, the large ocean swells reached over our necks. In fact, when we reached the mouth of the river, the current of freshwater flowing into the ocean started pushing us outward, into the ocean, like a rip tide. My friend had a hard time swimming, because she was shorter than me and couldn't reach the ground, whereas I still managed to touch the ground with my toes occasionally. Our shoes were pulling us down, the current was pushing us inward, and I was trying to hold my machete while dragging my friend by the straps of her backpack, because otherwise, the current would have swept her away and she felt like she was about to drown. Fortunately, I had been caught in a rip tide before, so the feeling was already familiar to me, and this time, it was me who kept my cool and didn't panic. I knew that if we just kept swimming parallel to the shore, the current pushing us outward would cease. Interestingly, I wasn't afraid for my own life at all. What I was most afraid ofand this image would haunt me for weekswas to imagine my friend being pulled under, all of a sudden, by a shark, and I wouldn't be able to do anything to save her.

Thankfully, we eventually made it across and felt sand under our toes. It must have been one of the happiest moments in my life. We had survived!

Happy on beach

Life was beautiful again. And we had crossed just in time, too; the sun was just about to dip below the horizon.

Beach sunset

We got back to the ranger station... and that's when we found out how bad our situation had really been.

Those sharks in the river weren't just any kind of shark. They were bull sharks, extremely territorial predators that grow to over 8 feet long and were the real inspiration for the movie Jaws, not great whites. And there were already bull sharks up the river when we crossed in the morning. In fact, people had seen us and tried yelling and waving at us to stop, but we were too far away to notice them. Oh, and the crocodiles weren't to mess with, either. Earlier that day, someone had rolled a coconut towards one of the crocodiles while they were basking in the sand, and the animal snapped at it and caught it in its jaws. We later saw a picture of the crocodile, too; it must have been 12 feet long. What's more, the tourists that saw us around 10am that morning had alerted the rangers, and they had called for a military amphibious truck with which they had come looking for us, but we had walked too far away, and they couldn't find us!

There are only two places in the entire world where crocodiles and bull sharks are found in the same river. One was this river, in Corcovado National Park, and the other was somewhere in Australia. This was the river nobody ever crosses. We were truly lucky to be alive.

We quickly became celebrities. The rangers threw a party for us at the ranger station, and when we left the next day and hiked out to the town outside the park, people already knew who we were. We were in too much of a shock to talk about what had happened for an entire week. When we finally opened up and told our travelling partners, two French girls whom we had met along the way in the town outside Corcovado, do you know what their response was?

"Oh, you're those two girls?!"

We never actually saw the sharks or the crocodiles. On the morning after our adventure, we could have gone back to see them, but we were in too much of a shock. We vow to go back someday, though. I wonder if they'll still be telling stories of the two American girls who crossed that river....

Check out another traveller's story... he was lucky enough to have to turn back and not cross in the first place..!

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