About a month ago, Carrie started organizing a whitewater rafting trip for CAG teachers through her friend Max and his company. All of her and his efforts culminated in Saturday’s adventure on the Coyolate River.
|Our whole group|
(photo credit to Carrie and Max)
I was rafting once before—in 2006, the Canadian Rockies. However, on that trip, there were 10 of us on the raft, and though everyone had a paddle, the guide sat in the back with the master oars. We paddled, but he did all the work. So, I’d rafted a Category V rapid…but not really.
Today, there were six of us in our raft, including the guide. All our paddles were identical. The day was warm and sunny, the water a perfectly refreshing temperature. The scenery was green. The river was high and fast. It was a completely different experience than anything I’d ever had before.
Especially at the beginning of our 21km (13 mile) run, the rapids were almost constant, with very few breaks for us to recoup and move on. The river is mostly category II and III, but with the recent rains, there were more IIIs and one IV (which we ended up taking the “chicken line” around because our guide described the rapid as including a “death trap”).
|Skirting around the Class IV rapid|
(photo credit goes to Max and Rios Guatemala)
What a thrill to start out on those first rapids! The raft bucked under us, and I struggled to keep my balance and keep paddling. But seated in the middle as I was, it took me a while to figure out the best way to brace myself.
It was perhaps our second or third rapid when we hit a wave, my feet knocked off the bottom of the raft, and I knew there was no way to regain my balance. Out I toppled.
I surfaced quickly but almost immediately let go of my paddle (oops). I didn’t have time to think about that, though, because in the next instant I was under water again and passing underneath the raft. I came up on the other side. Before I had time to figure out how to face downriver and get my legs up in front of me, Jacque was yelling to me and I grabbed onto the chicken line on the side of the boat. We were still in the rapid, and I went under a few more times—coming up gasping for air (but not panicking) at least a few more times. I was right by the side of the boat, but I didn’t know how to get back up.
But there was no need. All of a sudden Jacque reached down, grabbed the front of my life jacket, and perfectly hauled me up into the raft—exactly how we’d been told to in the safety talk before the trip.
Needless to say, after that tumble I wedged my feet a little more sturdily and wasn’t afraid to hold on and fall into the middle of the raft a time or two.
|You can tell it was a good rapid because it looks like Jacque|
has fallen to the center of the raft in the pic
(photo credit to Max and Rios Guatemala)
We were still in great spirits continuing down the river after our bout of excitement. We counted cascades trickling down the canyon walls (until we lost count somewhere after 10 and just gave up) and watched for wildlife in between rapids. At one point our guide steered us right under one of the bigger waterfalls and we all got doused. At another point, we witnessed 2 bulls fighting in the long grasses on the shore.
|Rafting under the waterfall! |
(photo credit to Carrie and her waterproof camera)
|fighting bulls on the shore|
(photo credit to Carrie)
But our team’s next bit of real excitement (if you can call it that) came in the middle of another rapid. The raft bent in two, then sprang apart, catapulting Jacque off the side of the raft and into the river.
She did much better than I did—keeping hold of her paddle and pointing her feet forward to float downriver until we could catch up to her. She didn’t have a smooth trip, though. Her helmet was loose and she said it kept seeming to fill with water, holding her back and causing the strap to choke her, so she flipped back to look at us, which is wrong, but in her situation was better in a way. At one point she tried to keep her feet up over an upcoming rock, and the water planted her there, pushing her up almost to a standing position. Finally, though, after what seemed like a really long time (she was in the water much longer than I was) we managed to get close enough for Matt to reach over and haul her into the raft with us. Safe and sound, though perhaps more than a little rattled.
We were the only raft to have people fall out. …People were pushed out of one of the other rafts, in a calm spot, by the guide. But as for falling out in rapids? Just us. Although the bigger raft also did have foot straps for everyone, which ours did not.
After more than four hours on the river, we reached the end of our run and pulled the raft in. We faced an hour’s ride back to a restaurant for a late lunch. The guides gave us the option to ride in the bus, or stand in the back of the pick-up truck. I chose pick-up, along with everyone from my raft and a few others.
Best choice of the day.
While everyone else (I can imagine) experienced a slow drive on a gravel road that must have seemed to last forever, I stood at the back of the truck, surveying seemingly endless sugarcane fields, the wind in my face, loving every minute of it. We passed through the plantations, through a small village (where we waved at all of the locals and they smiled and waved back), and, finally, onto a paved road. At that point most people got off the truck and onto the bus. But not Jacque, Matt, Hyung, and I. We stood at our points as the road got smoother and the truck picked up speed. It was a highway, so we had to have been going around 50mph. Safe? Oh, no. But AWESOME? Yes. Oh my, yes. I could not have asked for a more fantastic way to end the trip. It’s an experience I will never forget.
|On the back of the truck, through the sugar cane plantation|
(photo credit to Carrie)
On the way to the restaurant (where we had a fantastic meal, by the way) and later on the way back into the city, we came upon numerous torch runners out celebrating Guatemala’s Independence Day, which was on Sunday, the 15th. Every 14th of September, groups of people will light a torch and run throughout the town, or to the town square in Guatemala (and in other parts of Latin America). It’s called La Antorcha, and it was really cool to witness. A perfect cap to a perfect day!
|Torch runners, chicken buses, and the Guatemalan flag|
(photo credit to Carrie)