Source to Sea on the Pacuare River

Originally published in various media outlets in March 2019:

Mathias Ekorn & Mats Onsum are fresh from their 5-day adventure on the Pacuare River in Turrialba, Costa Rica.   The journey took them from the headwaters of the river deep in Costa Rican mountains, through the narrow canyons of the river, hiking through the jungle, and spending time with cultures along the river.   Finally, after 5 days on the river, the 2 pack rafted over 150 kilometers to reach the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica.  

This journey is part of a longer project in which Ekorn hopes to use the expedition as a form of communicating and personal growth for individuals much like can be found in the world of mediation, transformation, and even psychedelics.  

The expedition’s journey began in Turrialba, Costa Rica when the duo met with Ottawa locals Danny Peled & Mike McKay.   Danny Peled is the owner of Boreal River, an outfitter specializing in high-end river adventure and safety training and Mike McKay is the owner of Five2Nine, an Ottawa based video production company specializing in outdoor and adventure sports.  Mike,  a long time whitewater kayaker and adventure cinematographer, took the two under their guidance on a short intro to pack rafting expedition on the lower stretches of the Rio Pacuare.    

After some simple explanation of the river and paddling the two (both from athletic backgrounds) were ready to hit the river.   McKay instructed the two on paddling skills and reading the river’s features while Peled trained the two in how to address rescue and safety concerns on the river.   

Costa Rica Pack raft adventure preparations Safety Practice Picarue river

This short pack raft expedition was a crash course on river adventure in an incredible setting.   The lower section of the Rio Pacuare is commonly known as one of the finest whitewater rafting destinations on the planet.   With pristine water, jungle setting and an untouched river corridor, it was a magical introduction to what the two would see in the canyons above.  

Ekorn, a former military officer and long-time adventurer, has embarked on a journey of using expedition as a way to push out of comfort zones and teach others the long-term benefits of pushing one’s limits; ‘I feel that people can achieve a year’s worth of growth in just one day of being out of their normal perception of comfort’.   This came to him in the form of a recent 2 month trip through Patagonia where Ekorn trekked, climbed and explored modern spirituality in various harsh environments.   ‘For me, it is a personal journey to find a purpose beyond the world that I was part of for so long (military, fighting)’.

On a chance encounter, Ekorn met McKay in a cafe in Chaiten.   Quickly the two connected and began to plan an adventure to put his theories into practice as a bigger project.   Within 2 months the two had met again in San Jose, Costa Rica to embark on the first adventure which is in works as a pilot project for an upcoming television production.  

Mathias Ekorn & Mike McKay

For this first mission, Ekorn brought along Mats.    Mats is a hip-hop artist and yogi based out of Oslo, Norway.   As long-time friends, Ekorn has found inspiration in Mats teachings about meditation, yoga, and various forms of personal reflection.  ‘I felt that Mats was the perfect contrast to me in that he has experienced a very different way of life than I have.    To bring someone on this journey who had the same background as me would defeat the purpose and I would likely not learn anything.    The goal is to grow from these challenges.’

Map preparations Costa Rica

After the training expedition the pair had a day to base out of Turrialba to study maps, pack gear, and prep their food for the long journey up into the mountains the next day.   The next morning at 4 am they were out the door and in the truck to go to their destination.   Once they were dropped off and the truck drove away, they were on their own.   There was only one way down and that was through the long stretches of whitewater that lie ahead on the Rio Pacuare.

Whitewater pack rafting action.

For Mats, the trip immediately presented a variety of obstacles that challenged him right away.   From weather, to challenging rapids, to the cold.   ‘I was immediately out of my comfort zone and found myself wanting to be anywhere on the world but where I was at that moment.   It was likely the greatest challenge I have ever had to just get through that day’.   With the unseasonable rain (the two chose the dry season to have lower river levels) the river rose significantly throughout the first day.   Due to this, camp spots on the river became less and less as the two paddled deeper into the canyon and bad weather.   

‘We finally found a place that was reasonable to stay in a small banana plantation.   It was likely the worst place I had ever spent the night’.   The two travelled with hammocks that they suspended between trees amongst coffee and banana plants.  

The next morning the awoke to more rain and a higher river.   Mats; ‘I was really nervous to put on the river as I knew the hardest rapids were still to come downstream’.   

The two worked as a team to get to the last exit point before the biggest rapids on the river;  a tight box canyon that featured many class 5 rapids.   With the exit point located at a small bridge, the two were immediately greeted by a local farmer who offered the two a ride to the Costa Rican mountain village of Mollejones.    

Upon arrival, the sight of two foreign adventurers spurred the town’s excitement and they were welcomed with open arms.   ‘They invited us into their homes, gave us food and even had the local children perform a traditional dance for us.   It was really special’ reflected Ekorn.   ‘It was amazing to see how warm and welcoming the community was’.  

Costa Rica Mountain View

The next morning the community had arranged for horse to bring them to the next bridge at the bottom of the class 5 canyon.   With a 5 kilometer steep journey back down into the river valley, a horse to carry the duo’s gear was a welcome luxury and act of kindness from the community.   

Costa Rica local farm Mike McKay

Even though river levels had dropped, the team still had one last gorge to get through before reaching calmer sections of whitewater.    They knew this as they got back on the water and embarked downstream.   

Well rested and moving as a team they slowly worked their way pack rafting through the challenging gorge and despite many flips in the pack rafts and having to quickly get back to their boats before hitting more dangerous rapids.  

‘I think the sun came out at the exact moment I knew we were through the hardest of it’ stated Mats ‘It may have been the happiest moment of my life to know that there were no more crazy rapids to go through.’

Soon after, the team was on the same section that they had done during their training.   Now the rapids all seemed a lot less challenging and menacing given the kilometers they now had under their belt and behind them.  

‘Rapids that were intimidating and scary in the beginning now were fun and smooth.  It made the next two days on the river much less stressful and exciting.’  

Pack Rafting Costa RIca

For Ekorn, the challenge of helping his friend through the whitewater stretches was a learning experience.   ‘I was surprised to learn that Mats did not handle the expedition as well as I thought.   He often reflected about his poor decision to start it at all and often was in an extreme negative headspace.  I felt a strong amount of patience required to maintain a supportive role and learned a lot from the trip.’

The last day was perhaps the hardest.   It consisted of 50 kilometers of slower moving water through the flat coastal terrain as the Pacuare meandered it’s way to the Caribbean coast.   This proved to be a different kind of challenge as the two pushed their way through endless river bends, penetrating sun, and a potential for dangerous wildlife.  ‘We were told to look out for crocodiles in this section.   Luckily we had no encounters.’

As the two finally reached the coast they celebrated in the sand and the waves of the sea.   Both extremely satisfied with the journey and proud to have learned a lot of themselves along the way.  

Celebration at the Caribbean Coast Mike McKay

Fresh off the expedition Ekorn has decided to push forward with a new plan of attack through the canyon of the Rio Alseseca in Veracruz, Mexico.    For Mats; ‘I am happy to have learned a lot about myself on this trip.   It was a real challenge.   It will be some time before I take on an expedition like this again but I am glad in the end that I did it.’

Costa Rica Coast