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Near Death…

There are three reasons that I am able to tap out this blog post on this rainy Saturday Cusco night.  They are: God, a talented kayaker, and a very strong Australian.  Today, January 23rd, for about one minute I thought I was going to die.

I went whitewater rafting with my friends from England, I knew them as well as two weeks would allow, but now we have a bond.  A bond only forged when a near death experience occurs.  I will start from the beginning, an innocent invite to go white water rafting on a Wednesday afternoon.  Fast forward to the day of the adventure.

It had rained for almost two days; therefore, the Class III rapids of the Cusipata River had turned into monsters.  I was excited at this idea, being, well now…an EX adrenaline junkie.

We received our safety talk.  All the procedures we should perform in the event of something happening, for example: the boat flipping over.  After understanding all the broken English I could we slid the blue raft down a little cliff into the racing, brown, smelly water.  Awkwardly we all hopped in.  Four English ladies and one American boy were ready to conquer the river with our Peruvian guide.

We were all screaming, cheering, and cursing during the first thirty minutes of the rapids, really enjoying ourselves.  Then I had my first experience in the water – out of the boat.  Our guide put us to the bank of the river and told me to jump out and pull the boat up the bank.  I jumped, landed on solid ground, and then was pulled into the river by the boat.  I had nothing to stand on and nothing to hold to pull the boat and I back to the bank.  I was pulled down river with the boat for a minute or two then our guide told them to pull me back in.  This was easy for them.  We all questioned the whole purpose of my venture into the water.  One guess was that our guide just wanted to get to me completely soaked.  We paddled on.

Our guide began to inspect the raft out from his seat.  He told us that we needed a new raft because we were loosing air.  “Great,” I thought.  Luckily, we were next to campsite, so we pulled off and pumped up a new raft, after ten minutes we were off again, still ready to conquer the river.

After a few near dismounts from the raft on my part the guide told us, we were coming into the “Canyon”.  I jokingly said, “If I couldn’t make it before, then I’m a gone in the Canyon.”  He yelled for us to, “PADDLE FORWARD.”  We all dug into the river.

From here, my memory is scattered.  I will just tell you want I remember seeing and thinking.

We were paddling into the giant wall of white water then up, up, and up we went.  The raft flipped, similar to when a horse rears up and flips onto their back.  I remember seeing the nose of the boat flying as water came crashing onto my body (my heart is beginning to pound now that I am reliving this).  I do not know how long I was under.  When I came up I saw the boat, bottom side with up fifty feet of river in-between it and me.  I saw two of my friends still with it, and the guide tying ropes to the side of the raft.

Another rapid crashed over me.  I came back up having swallowed a lot of water.  My breathing was very short; I was unable to breathe fully, under again.  Again light.  I actively told myself not to panic, just as we were instructed before we departed.  I put myself in the position that we were also instructed to do if we fell into the river.  My arms crossed over my chest, keeping my body flat, fighting to keep my head above water.  I was in the river, for a minute and a half or two minutes, combating to keep myself calm and to continue breathing.  These were the scariest moments of my life thus far.  At one point, I did not believe I was going to survive. Every time pulled under and taking in more water made it more difficult to breathe.  My life did not flash before my eyes, so maybe I was miles from death, but it was the closest I have ever been before.  I remember looking around for something, a boat, a rock, a limb, anything to grab and pull myself out of the river.  I only saw our boat flipped over, the guide attempting to turn it right side over.  My body then pulled so I was facing down river.  I saw Iona near another raft.  Then I saw a kayaker paddling with the most endearing, determined face toward me.  When he reached me, I assumed the “sexy position” as our guide called it.  I grabbed the front of the kayak and clinched my legs around the nose.  Breathing was still difficult, but now I knew I was going to survive.  He took us to a raft, where people were yelling for me to grab their oars.  This is when I realized I still had my oar and for reasons beyond me, I handed it up to them before I grabbed hold.  This is when the Australian grabbed my life vest and heaved me into the boat.  I just remember then grabbing hold to the safety rope on the raft with white knuckles closing my eyes and beginning to catch my breath.  This is when I began to pray.  Why I had not before I do not understand either.  I think I prayed before we all departed, but I do not remember much before the flip.  I also remember seeing my flip-flops next to me in the raft, I had let another Australian borrow them for the trip since he had picked up two right “thongs” in the hostel that morning.  They were not on his feet but floating next to me when I thought to grab hold of them so they did not fly out, I quickly decided that was completely unimportant.  My flip-flops are safe for those concerned.

Then I looked around the raft to my relief I saw Iona, the first feeling of relief for five minutes.  I stayed in my new raft home for the duration of the “Canyon” just clutching for life.  We pulled to the side where everybody cheered.  I began to shake; I believe I was experiencing shock.

Our original raft floated up to us.  The guide told Iona and I to climb in, I did so very reluctantly.  At this point, my body was shaking – my feet, legs, hips, chest, arms, hands, head, and teeth.  The other rafts had pulled off to the side and the other girls made their way to the raft as well.  One was laughing, the other two in a similar state as me.

We all made sure we were okay.  Scared, we set out again.  As our guide was trying to calm us down by telling us that the worst rapids were past us, and explaining what had happened I began to break down.  I cried a little, still shaking.  My tears were sporadic.  I did not know what to feel.  I was happy I was still alive, but what if…  I pushed those thoughts out of my head, but they popped back up every ten seconds or so.

I kissed the earth when we hit the shoreline.  I got out of the raft as quickly as I could, we all did.  I went and thanked the kayaker who came and saved me.  He just laughed and reenacted my face, his lax perception on my desperate situation gave me some perspective but I still did not laugh.

I put four spoonfuls of sugar in my tea at lunch.  I took milk with my chocolate cake that night at dinner.

2 Comments on “Near Death…”

  1. #1 Mama Gilliam
    on Jan 25th, 2010 at 6:17 pm

    This is exactly why I do not whitewater raft. I am so glad that you are okay. By the way, I was holding my breath as I read even though I knew you were going to make it. I also teared up. Good writing.

  2. #2 geog101
    on Jan 26th, 2010 at 5:52 pm

    A harrowing story! At least you didn’t have to be helicoptered out of Machu Picchu! (I heard that a sizable number of tourists were stranded there by mudslides.)