Saturday, March 14, 2009

How we became Cliff Divers - Our White Water Rafting Experience

March 9, 2009
Today we went white water rafting on the Class III & IV rapids of the Trancura Alto River near Pucón. The day was beautiful with clear blue skies and 80 degrees; but when we got to the river, we were all given helmets and full body wet suits, including the shoes, because the water temperature was 50 degrees! After a brief lesson on paddling, we took off in a large raft with 3 other people and our guide. The scenery was fantastic – crystal clean water, Andes mountains on both sides, occasional views of the smoking Villarrica Volcano as we would round a bend, Monkey Puzzle trees and unusual waterfowl. Too bad we couldn’t bring our cameras. We practiced paddling forward, backward and turning circles in the put-in area that was smooth and wide. Then . . . hold on to your hat . . . here we go! The rapids came up fast with a Class IV waterfall filled with towering rocks. Our guide barked out the orders and everyone got really serious about doing what they were told. We weren’t ready to die, yet. As soon as we were through, we all yelled hurrah and clapped our paddles together in the air with a rafter’s high five. There was little time to relax before we were in it again. This time a 7-8 foot pillar of a rock was sitting in the center of the river. It was about 5 foot wide, smooth on the side facing us, and angled about 45 degrees away. Our guide called out, “Fast forward”. What??!! We were headed straight for the rock!! He kept yelling, “Harder. . . forward. . .don’t let up.” We did what we were told, getting more scared every minute and then. . . we hit the rock dead on and shot up the side. It was like a huge sliding board and we went up and came right back down. No problem! We were pumped now. After a few more rapids our guide told us that we had to get out of the raft, because the next waterfall was a 40 foot drop and we weren’t trained for that. Yes, we all agreed! He put the raft on a rope and let it go down the river to the other side of the falls where we could get back in. All we had to do was hike over the hill to the other side of the falls. Well, easier said than done. First of all, we were wearing full wetsuits and it was 80 degrees outside. The hike turned into a rock climb using our hands to grab a root or secure rock and trying to find a place to put our feet, which had very little traction because of their thin rubber soles. But we made it up and over and soon saw one of the guides as we came out of the forest. As we approached, he was grabbing each of our life vests and tightening the straps. We thought that was kind of strange, until he said he was securing the vests so they wouldn’t slip over our heads when we jumped in the water to our boats. What?! We saw the boats below us over the 20 foot cliff. “Ha Ha”, I said to Paul, “There’s no way they’re going to have people jump down there. Where is the path down?” Well, there was none. The guides were serious. The only way back to the boat was to jump from a ledge out into the rapids and then swim like heck to the raft before the water carried you downstream. I think the only reason I did it was that I was hotter than a firecracker after the climb and knew that the water would feel good. So standing at the edge of the 2 story cliff, I jumped in and did it!!! Wow!! I did it!! - Never again.

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