San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

‘Bushmaster’ Challenges Outdoor Adventurers at Rafiki Safari Lodge

It’s five kilometers of hard, uphill hiking in the jungle heat, followed by about 12 kilometers of paddling through boulderstrewn whitewater rapids, all in one day. And it’s named after a huge, poisonous snake, so you can’t say you weren’t warned.

It’s the Bushmaster, the newest full-day excursion in the already impressive outdooradventure repertoire of Rafiki Safari Lodge, a middle-of-the-jungle tent resort near the banks of the SavegreRiver, about 25 long, bumpy kilometers southeast of Quepos on the central Pacific coast.

The bushmaster’s Costa Rican name, matabuey, or “ox killer,” perhaps better conveys the snake’s highly venomous nature and provides more colorful insight into the rigors of its namesake trip at Rafiki.

Human Power Only

We started out early, after a hearty breakfast of gallo pinto, bacon, eggs and fruit. Our short ride to the Bushmaster starting point – provided via Land Rover by Constant Boshoff, patriarch of the South African family that owns and operates the lodge – would prove to be the only motorized help we would receive the entire day.He left us on the banks of the SavegreRiver, amidst a group of rafters getting ready to paddle downstream.

We Bushmaster masters, however, walked straight past the rafters’ curious glances and into the river. Led by our guide Lautjie Boshoff, son of Constant and Rafiki project  director, we forded the wide waterway holdingour shoes above our heads – we would start the hike cooled off by a waist-high dousing, but with dry feet. A lone, noble packhorse accompanied us, loaded down with all the rafting gear we would require for the second half of the day: two nine-foot rafts, a pump, paddles, lifejackets and helmets.

The first stretch of the hike was misleadingly kind, and we ambled up a gentle grade through cleared pastureland, admiring flowers, butterflies and periodic glimpses of the river. Lautjie, our knowledgeable guide, took advantage of our occasional rest stops to introduce us to a variety of natural wonders: the cerulean flash of a morpho butterfly, the distinctive whistle of a Baird’s trogon, the tart sweetness of a manzana de agua (Malay apple) picked ripe off the tree.

The grade increased just slightly, enough to have us breathing hard and feeling the exercise  but confident we could go on for a while yet, fierce outdoor warriors that we were.

Then we reached a fork in the trail, and Lautjie turned to us with a grin: “Ready to start hiking?”

Thankfully, the steepest stretch of the hike trailed through the jungle, out of the tropical sun in the shade of the canopy. Still, it’s a hot, hard trek that will leave your leg muscles burning and your lungs laboring, and this 36-year-old desk jockey was pretty pleased with herself when she made it to the top: a ridge overlooking a valley of nothing but unbroken green for miles around, a glorious sight.

Here the packhorse was unburdened, its load distributed among the humans.We hikers put on our helmets and lifejackets and toted the lightweight paddles, while our two guides hefted the heavy rafts onto their shoulders for the relatively short downhill hike to the river put-in site: a house built literally in the middle of nowhere, on the banks of the remote Upper Savegre River.

Middle of Nowhere

The home of Albino Fonseca and his wife Rosa Fallas is a simple, tin-roofed, open-air affair divided into several bedrooms separated by thin walls, a kitchen and a large common area directly overlooking the river. An incongruous sign reads “RainforestExpeditionsAdventureCenter,” hinting at the fact that Albino offers lodging and river access to adventurers doughty enough to find him in his exceedingly remote location. There are no neighbors to speak of.

When we arrived, Rosa was stationed in the open kitchen, busily preparing our lunch – Lautjie had earlier notified the family we were coming via radio, their only means of communication with the outside world. She rolled out a startling number of dishes, including a trout-based soup rich with chunks of chayote squash and yuca (cassava or manioc), a variety of picadillos (diced vegetable side dishes, some with meat), spaghetti in tomato sauce and, for dessert, sweet arroz con leche (rice pudding) and arroz con piña (pineapple rice pudding). Our group agreed unanimously that every bite was precious, considering what it must take to cart in even the simplest of supplies to such a place.

After lunch we pumped up the rafts and put them in the river, not 20 feet from Albino’s house, and set off to explore the rarely boated Upper Savegre, a narrow, boulder-strewn waterway peppered with fun rapids of medium difficulty, Class II and III.

Rock walls hemmed us in cozily. The water was clear to the rocky river bottom.

Evidence of civilization there was none. If not for the synthetic blue rafts, conspicuous  lifejackets and bright yellow helmets, we might have been drifting along in a prehistoric landscape.

At length we reached the confluence with the main Savegre and entered the much wider waterway, muddy brown with runoff from recent rains. Lautjie pointed out a number of river birds: snowy egret, stately great blue heron, brightly colored kingfisher. This section of the Savegre is popular with rafting companies out of Quepos, he informed us, though we saw no evidence of other people.

We reached the take-out site just before dusk, a light rain falling, and made the fiveminute walk up to the lodge, our guides again carrying the rafts.

Camping Deluxe

After a long day of strenuous activity, coming home to a tent may seem like a hardship, but at Rafiki it’s anything but. Guest accommodations consist of private, spacious African safari tents on raised platforms, complete with comfy beds and electricity provided by the lodge’s own ecofriendly hydroelectric system.

Screened canvas walls let the jungle sounds in while keeping critters out, and a covered deck with rocking chairs provides the perfect spot to relax. Best of all, a large, airy, tiled bathroom adjoins the tent, plumbed with fire-heated hot water and complete with soap, shampoo and fluffy towels.

The main lodge is reception area, restaurant and bar all in one under a giant palapa.

Guest diversions here include birdwatching with the help of a conveniently placed telescope,  hammock-lazing or rocketing 100 feet down one of the fastest waterslides this reporter has ever seen.

Lodge guests tend to congregate under the palapa before dinnertime to enjoy refreshments at the long, curved bar, where that night Constant and his wife Ralene were holding state, the picture of convivial hosts.

Dinner was a highly satisfying affair of barbecued chicken and boerewors, a South African sausage the Boshoffs have made locally to their recipe, accompanied by rice and salad, followed by another South African treat, milk tart, a delightful dense pudding, for dessert.

After a full day of serious activity, a glass of wine and an ample, delicious dinner, sleep is bound not to be a problem. Factor in a comfy bed, soft, freshly laundered sheets and the lullaby of the jungle at night and…

Getting There, Rates, Info

From Quepos, take the bumpy gravel road south toward Dominical for about 15 kilometers. Turn left after the SavegreRiverBridge, right after the Bumpy Road Café. Follow the signs to Rafiki Safari Lodge, through the villages of Silencio and Santo Domingo, about 19 km total. Four-wheel drive is recommended. Taxis from Quepos charge about $60 each way.

Double occupancy rates are $218 in the low season (May 1 to Dec. 15) and $287 in the high season (Dec. 16 to April 30), including three meals a day but not including taxes. An excellent variety of half- and full-day trips, including rafting, horseback riding, hiking or a combination thereof, are offered at varying prices. (Bushmaster costs $165 per person for the full day, including lunch.) Packages including lodging and activities are also available.

For info, call 777-2250 or 777-5327, e-mail or visit

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