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The Costa Rican river we were rafting with a local guide was not known for being particularly challenging—just a wet, fun run of no special appeal to extreme sports types. On the other hand, it still had a fairly strong current at the end of the rainy season and there were a few rapids you could probably call class II to III-ish—just enough to keep it exciting and not too much work paddling.

There had been loads of wildlife along the banks: iguanas, basilisk lizards, a few small crocodiles, monkeys, and various wild parrots and scarlet macaws. Everyone was hoping for a rare glimpse of a jaguar but we hadn’t been that lucky so far. Sliding down yet another mild rapid we came to a vast logjam, at least 100 yards long, blocking the entire river channel. From what I later gathered, this was a common hazard at the end of the high-water period. You never knew what you would find until you floated the river for the first time each year. One thing was for sure; we weren’t going back the way we came. Face it, with a raft you don’t really paddle back upstream in anything but dead calm water. The plan for the trip had always been pretty much one-way.

Given this was a classic rain forest, the banks of the river were dense jungle vegetation. It was clear we weren’t going to drag/carry our raft and gear around the driftwood pile through that green hell! Smiling like he knew a secret joke, the guide pulled out a large canvas duffle bag from his end of the raft and proceeded to hand each of the males in the raft a long El Salvadorian-made Imacasa machete. I was guessing he had done this before.

Then the real work started. Rotating the point machete man, we began chopping a raft-wide portage path around the logjam. When one of us stepped back to let the next machete wielder go to work, the guide would take our blade and give it a quick touch-up with a large file he had also produced from the same bag. Three hours later we had a trail cleared around the jam and all our gear moved downstream. The rest of the trip was relatively uneventful but it was a couple of weeks before the blisters on my hands healed. I’m sure the guide thought all us Gringos needed to toughen up a little.

I’m not sure what we would have done if the guide hadn’t foreseen this situation. But then, the locals never travel anywhere in the jungle with out their faithful machetes. I also hope the next party down that river appreciated the work we did to clear their portage! From what I was told it would only take a few months of neglect before it was grown over again. Of course, the next rainy season would probably shift the logjam to a new location. In any case, I came away with a very special appreciation of the value of a good machete in the jungle.

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