Here we are, listening to the white water rafting "safety talk." I am dry-mouthed and lightheaded, and not because of jet lag. I hate rivers.
When Michael S. Kaye, Costa Rica Expeditions president and veteran white water rafting guide, told us we would start our Trip of a Lifetime with rafting, I thought "could be a short trip."
The last time I set out to have some fun on a river the reservoir upstream released its excess water in a season of record snowmelt. I dropped into an inner tube which immediately flipped over and I lost my shoes. "STAY TO THE RIGHT!!" someone yelled. The water was so rough, it tumbled me and my tube all the way...left. All my friends went sailing down the river to the right and I was sucked down a tributary to god knows where and nobody had seen me go, no one could hear my screams. I tried grabbing hold of tree roots but couldn't climb and hold onto the tube.
Choice: keep the tube and continue down the river, or let go of the tube and try to climb up on land? I let go of the tube. But I could barely hang on to the tree roots, the water was too fast, the ground too slippery. I remember my body bashing against rocks, feeling frantic as I realized I couldn't hold on any longer.
Across the river was a grassy knoll. My mind emptied but for the thought "Get there." I let go, and somehow I did. I threw myself onto the grass, sputtering and panting, and looking up, saw 2 pairs of bare feet. They belonged to two teenage boys, one of whom yelled "MA! There's another one!" "Ma" came running, raving about how ridiculous it was that on a day like today, with the river so high, they would let kids tube. "Someone is going to get killed! I'm going to give them a piece of my mind, come with me honey" and she wrapped me in a blanket and took me in her car to the tube rental where she indeed gave the proprietor a piece of her mind. He looked at me, wet, shivering, bleeding and said. "Where's the tube?"
"Where's the tube?" I repeated. "Where's the tube? Look at me! I need 911!"
I recovered from the cuts and bruises before I recovered from the nightmares. "Ma" had told me it was good I got out of the river when I had - downstream was a low bridge that would have knocked me down for sure. For a long time, when I closed my eyes I would see a bridge, cold water over my head.
So here we are, back at the Safety Talk. The guide is saying "If you fall out, don't panic."
Don't panic? I'm panicking already! I had imagined myself holding on in the middle of a raft, surrounded by professional paddlers. This guy is telling me I have to sit on the edge of the raft and row. And if you fall out, Don't swim like you would in the ocean, go feet first on your back. Don't let go of your paddle. If we use it to save you, hold this end. If we throw you the rope, Don't grab the bag. Don't wrap it around yourself. Do throw it over your shoulder and hang on.
Gah! I can't possibly remember all this. "What if we ALL fall out of the raft?" I ask. I don't even remember the answer. I am already numb.
Yolanda, Michael's vivacious, headstrong and heart-filled wife, takes my arm. She speaks English haltingly, but every word is somehow always exactly right. "We go together," she says. "I take care of you. Because I scared, too!"
Yolanda is a survivor. She is from El Salvador, was widowed with 2 young children, survived a car accident that almost killed her, and is somehow still pulsating with life. I'm sticking with her.
We get in the raft.
Coming up: "With A Paddle." Pray for me, people. http://upside-down-patty.blogspot.com/2010/11/with-paddle.html
P.S. Confused about what Patty is doing in Costa Rica without her family? The Trip of a Lifetime starts here: http://upside-down-patty.blogspot.com/2010/11/ticket-to-ride.html