July 22, 2008

White Water: Without A Paddle

2 hours drive to the base camp. One hour bus ride to the starting point. 5 minutes in the river until flipping the boat, being submerged underneath it, battered by rocks, and eventually pulled to safety by the guide. Part 2 of a 3 part mini series. Part 1 is here.

Since there were more of us than could fit on one boat, a spirited game of black/white was played to determine which three would join another boat. Me and two others lost. Our guide had two years experience and our boat had a leak. He was using a water pump to remove water when we got on. He taught us basic paddling maneuvers and we were off. The first serious segment of white water rapids in the river was fast approaching - the Devil's Elbow. We would later learn that many souls had begun their journey to the afterlife here. A half uttered warning left our guide's mouth before he left the boat. The left side of our dinghy went up in the air and folded over the rest of the boat, flipping it over completely. My worst fears had become a reality.

I was underwater in complete darkness. The overturned boat was on top of me, and I was in a dark air bubble. I somehow got myself from underneath the boat and found myself slipping away from it. After swallowing several litres of glacier fresh water I was able to grab hold of the perimeter rope and get on my back. The bottom half of my body bounced against rocks and I felt all that would remain of my barely recognizable carcass was the upper half.

Suddenly, I saw my coworker Jose struggling for survival behind me in the rapids. Without a second thought about self preservation, my heroic instincts kicked in. I offered him my paddle but as soon as he caught hold of it, I hit a rock and let it go. He disappeared into a swirling vortex of water and I thought I had lost him forever. Before I could begin grieving, I was hauled into my boat by my guide. Inexplicably, half the occupants had changed. Apparently they had jumped onto our boat from other ones to help the guide retrieve us. I had lost my paddle while Vince, the other coworker on my boat, had permanently disfigured his after getting it wedged between some rocks. Jose had been rescued also in the meantime.