Friday, August 14, 2009

Raise your arm if you like whitewater rafting, if you can.

the river was down in that valley somewhere

Previous to this trip, the closest Adrian and I had ever gotten to whitewater rafter was the Whitewater Canyon ride at Canada’s Wonderland. Our first actual experience had been kinda similar to that – a whole lot of yawn with a bit of a splash – and that was fine. Now Adrian had signed us up for our second experience which he said, with glee, would be in level 4+ rapids. Gulp. I am admittedly rather risk adverse (otherwise known as a complete chicken to all you readers) and Level 4+ meant a big risk of death, dismemberment and all that stuff I’m rather adverse too. After all the stress of the last couple of days, I wasn’t sure I was up for more. But Adrian promised me it would be fun, and since the poor guy hadn’t gotten his chance to paraglide in Colombia I guess I owed him one. My stress was soon relieved when we got to the agency – since we were the only ones going out in the boat we were going to a slightly calmer part of the river. Can you hear me saying phew wherever you are?

The van soon arrived to pick us up for the tour. Inside were the driver, our guide Roy and 3 other local guys who would be filling the spots in the raft. We drove about an hour out of Baños following the river valley to a remote spot. There we were all unloaded and Roy took Adrian and I through all the commands; however he went through them in Spanish. This didn’t help with my nervousness. I didn’t want to have to translate for Adrian in emergency. Sensing my apprehension, Roy switched to English. Much better and much more likely to be understood and obeyed in an emergency

And then we were off.

Adrian and I were sitting at the front of the raft which meant we could always see exactly what was coming up. And let me tell you these rapids were a huge leap from what we had experienced before. This time we were actually expected to pay attention to the instructions and not just row but row hard. The water was cold and as the rapids got bigger and bigger, the less I wanted to find myself in the midst of them. I admit that quite often I stopped paddling and just hung on to the rope for dear life. In the almost hour and a half we were on the river I saw my whole life flash before my eyes at least 5 times. About halfway done the route, the raft got stuck in the shallows on some rocks and although the water was only ankle deep it was still moving swift enough that there was no chance I was getting out to push. No need to worry though, as the boys jumped out and pushed us off and we continued along the way. I guess Roy saw the fear in my eyes because at one point he asked if I wanted more rapids or less. Although I was scared, I replied more of the same because it was actually fun – much better than the first time.

When we finally arrived back on dry land, I found out we were in the best possible hands. Roy was the captain of the national whitewater rafting team. And the three other guys? They were actually trying out for a place on his team. Pretty cool. The other benefit is that they loaded up all the gear for us too. Back on the road, I saw some road signs and realized that we had traveled almost 30km down the Rio Negro. No wonder my arms were aching. On the way back to Baños we stopped for lunch at a little restaurant – it was a typical almuerzo of soup, chicken, rice and salad and desert. But I was a little confused by the bowl of popcorn. Roy told us to try it in our soup. I looked at him skeptically and then noticed that’s what all the locals were doing. Once I got over the lack of crunch, it was quite tasty. I’m going to have to remember that. The soup and hot lunch was perfect because the sun had been replaced by clouds and drizzle. And it was cold, especially in our damp clothes. But back at the hostel that was fixed with a long hot shower.

We headed over to the hostel next door to take advantage of their wifi (it’s okay we were allowed). As I tried using my arms to type, I became aware of new muscles that I’d overexerted during our white water adventures – like seriously aware of. My right arm in particular was so sore that within an hour I couldn’t barely move it. I couldn’t decided if it was the paddling for dear life or the holding on for dear life, whatever it is I’m in severe pain. So I put the computer away and Adrian and I chatted to an older American guest. He told us his robbery. Just the month before he’d been mugged in Quito just outside the door to his hostel. The thieves hit him over the head with a lead pipe, nearly killing him. He was okay now. But his story made me realize just how lucky we actually were. We weren’t so lucky when he told us that he had his credit cards hand delivered to him the next day. Please Canadian credit card companies, do something about this. But the moral of his story, was keep on traveling. If you stop, then the thieves really have won.

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