Xtreme Mendoza

5 Mar

Our rafting crew

Whitewater rafting is a lot of fun. I am always up for a rough ride down a raging river in a blow up dingy if given a chance. Yesterday I went rafting for the third time in my life on the Mendoza River in Mendoza, Argentina.

The Mendoza river is low this year: a warmer winter meant less snow which feeds the river when it melts every spring. With this in mind I was feeling a little bit cheated when we started our 12 kilometre run downstream. We had a strong current pulling us along, but there were no waves or holes in sight.

At least the scenery was amazing. The Mendoza river runs through a valley walled by rugged mountains coloured in shades of pink and blue. Waves or no waves, we were definitely in a very beautiful part of the world.

Ten minutes or so into our adventure I realised that I had judged the Mendoza river too soon. Sure enough we ran into some serious grade III and IV rapids. Acording to Wikipedia, this class of rapids can be defined as

Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. A fast, reliable eddy turn may be needed to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids, or rest. Rapids may require “must” moves above dangerous hazards. Scouting may be necessary the first time down. Risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high, and water conditions may make self-rescue difficult. Group assistance for rescue is often essential but requires practiced skills. A strong kayak roll is highly recommended. Rapids that are at the lower or upper end of this difficulty range are designated Class IV- or Class IV+ respectively. Limit of open top canoes..

So we were getting some action, were were getting wet and our heart rates started to climb as we paddled like crazy forward and backwards and jumped this way and that to stop the raft from tipping.

At one point I was tipped out of the raft by a big wave. The water was moving so quickly that I was not able to grab onto the side of the raft as we had been instructed. As a rip pulled me under the water my lifejacket pushed me back to the surface of the river. A line from a Gwen Harwood poem came to mind: I was caught by a wave and rolled Like a doll among rattling shells.

In a matter of seconds the experienced safety kayaker was at my side to rescue me. I grabbed on to the front of his kayak but let go when I realised we were heading straight into a huge boulder.

A big wave

Me being tipped out of the raft

The safety kayak comes to my rescue. The yellow blob under the water is my helmet

After a few more dunkings I managed to grip onto the kayak again and was carried to shore. This all happened too fast for me to be scared, and all I focused on during the ordeal was getting my head above the water so I could breathe. Perhaps for a moment the consent form that I signed at the beginning of the trip to say that I understood risks of rafting included injury and death came to mind.

After I caught my breath and my heartbeat slowed down I jumped back into the raft and finished the trip. Riding the rapids was certainly more fun in the raft than out of it.

All in all we had great day, rafing in Mendoza is highly recommended. There are a few rafting outfits operating here, but I can readily recommend Rios Andinos for the quality of their equipment and highly experienced staff who are lots of fun but serious when they need to be.

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