Activities, such as trekking, rafting, or rock climbing are great fun on holiday.
In a previous post Top 5 Things to Do in Mendoza I recommend spending at least a day doing an activity. Past holidays I’ve quad-biked over the Egyptian desert. Swum with huge sea turtles in Barbados. Jumped off a mountain in Rio de Janeiro and hang glided down onto the beach. And most recently, rafted, trekked and rappeled down a waterfall in Mendoza.
Now if that doesn’t sound like a day in the life of Lara Croft… I sometimes wonder if my own name wasn’t Lara if I’d still be looking to relate so closely to this video game wonder I grew up admiring? That was also back when Angelina Jolie was making goths, blood vials and depression look cool.
Getting back to my story, we booked our activities before, rather than after, our Mendoza wine tour, which is also wise to avoid still being drunk at the 8 am pick-up. The guys from Argentina Rafting picked us up from Finca Adalgisa and took us to Potrerillos where we got ready.
Once we were down by the river, which was curiously rushing and gushing past us at terrifying speeds, we were given a safety demonstration. It was only my second time rafting, having once done a class 1 river in a beautiful place called Zagorohoria in Greece. That’s the easiest level. Curious, I asked what level this river was.
“The river today” the team lead started telling me, “is really fantastic. A lot of snow from the mountains melted. Today it look like a Class 4 or 5.” He said excitedly, quickly adding “but no worry, no problem” as he saw my face begin to crinkle up in expressions of doubt and fear.
Before I continue with this story, let’s have a quick look at what wikipedia say:
Class 4: Whitewater, medium waves, maybe rocks, maybe a considerable drop, sharp maneuvers may be needed. Skill level: Exceptional rafting experience
Class 5: Whitewater, large waves, large volume, possibility of large rocks and hazards, possibility of a large drop, requires precise maneuvering. Skill level: Full mastery of rafting
No, I’m not making this up. Although I didn’t have wikipedia on hand at the time, both my eyes and instinct were alerting me to the extreme and imminent dangers. “Excuse me,” I said in an only slightly panicked voice, while making some serious eye contact with the team leader, “I don’t have any experience!” No problem, no problem, they kept telling me.
So the safety demonstration continued, going into elaborate detail about what to do if you are flung out of the raft. If you are flung out this way or that. If you’re flung out this far from the boat or so far, only making my concerns worse, of course. So what happened next? We all got into the boat and pushed off into the river.
Rather than full mastery of rafting, it was full mastery of survival.
Being in that river was like how I imagine being trapped in a washing machine feels like. Especially that moment when you’d realize the door was locked shut and the machine was just starting up. It took all my strength to push the oar into the water to paddle us onwards, while at other times my oar hit nothing but air as our boat made for the sky before slamming back down. Strange and new noises of exertion and exhaustion escaped me as I heaved and pushed the oar back down into the brown sandy water that poured into my mouth. The only thing stopping me from falling out was my foot jammed under the seat in front of me. My one little foot!
At one point the raft lifted up completely vertical before dropping back down sharply, causing the helmets of the two sat at the front to come flying back smack into the faces of the two sat in the middle. Any guesses where I was sitting? After having a helmet smack me in the face, I felt a warmth spread across my nose and cheekbone where the impact had been, followed by rising pain. I looked at the guy across from me, whose cheek was now bleeding, and looked back to the raft captain, but there was no sympathy in any of their eyes and no time to whine. The situation was simple, keep rowing!
As we battled the rest of the river to its end, I learned to stick out my oar in front of my body whenever the raft would jerk in order not to be hit again. Having discovered this successful technique I began cursing the rafting instructor for not having told us before. Once we reached the end, I tried to decipher if I had enjoyed my flirt with death but came up blank. Sure, there was that familiar warm sensation of achievement starting in my belly, but also an unfamiliar feeling of wet feet in a disgusting rubbery wetsuit and a throbbing black eye that told me otherwise.
Back at basecamp, I asked for a pack of ice for my eye, which was now swelling and black. Their nonchalance made me realize that this happens here all the time, which I found infuriating. The mix of shock, anger and pain kept coaxing me to cry, but I kept my cool. Just one rogue tear escaped.
Following an hour of ice, rest and some lunch, it was time to head out for our action adventure part 2: trekking and rappel. Rappel wasn’t something I’d initially signed up for, but they asked if I was interested and by that point, I thought why the hell not. What doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger. Right?
Soon enough that phrase was put to the test.
First, we had to pass through 2 meter tall razor grass making little paper cuts in our skin. Then, when we reached the 18 meter tall waterfall that we would rappel down, I shuddered at the words no experience necessary.
I hadn’t thought it through. It hadn’t even occurred to me that we would rappel down without the instructor when of course, he needs to hold the ropes from the top! Surely you’re supposed to practice somewhere safe first? Nope. Here in Argentina, you just go. So I let George go first and watched as he literally walked off the side of the cliff and lowered himself down. Now my turn.
Another huge oversight was that both activities require significant hand strength.
I had been gripping the raft oar so tight and hard that my hands had little strength left in them. Not ideal when you need to use nothing but your hands to grip a rope and release your body weight down the side of a cliff. I could feel that I had very little control, making my way down a lot quicker than I would have liked! But still, I did it! Mission completed. Achievement unlocked. As we waited for our guide to pack up the ropes, I went full-on Lara Croft, posing on a rock, hopping over the stream and taking a moment to pump out some push ups, all to George’s great amusement.
Arriving back at our hotel that evening, we looked like actual survivors of something horrific.
We didn’t even take a shower, because badass, and went straight to the guest lounge where they serve that free glass of wine and tapas each evening. We met a posh-looking English couple in their 40’s, who, to our surprise, said they too had done the rafting. They told us a fantastic story about rafting down a class 5 river in Costa Rica, describing it as a near-death experience. After that nothing scares them, they said. So don’t let my story put you off. It takes facing fear to overcome it. Besides, it was literally the most adventure I’ve ever had. And if some posh English couple, me and my George can do it, so bloody well can you!