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Tales from an intrepid viajero in Latin America Despite promising myself that I´d never be so self-indulgent as to write a blog that´s exactly what I´m going to do. Welcome to the blog that I´m writing while studying Spanish and travelling in Latin America over the next 8 months

San Gil - paragliding, rafting and making my colombian tv debut...

COLOMBIA | Sunday, 26 April 2009 | Views [3166] | Comments [2]

I´ve spent the last few days in the self-styled "Adventure Capital" of Colombia and it hasn´t disappointed. It has been a little bit expensive (well, relative to everything else I´ve done) but has definitely been "extreme" at times. The highlits have definitely been paragliding over the Chicamocha Canyon and Rafting in the Río Suarez...

Paragliding over the Chicamocha Canyon

Sergio, my instructor, picks me up from the hostel at 8am and we make our way to the Chicamocha Canyon in his clapped up 24 year old Renault. I´m not sure why he´s so insistent that it is the best car in the world when it patently is not but I don´t bother contradicting him.

We arrive at the Chicamocha Canyon to find Television Colombia there for a report on "extreme sports". They seem quite excited that there is a foreigner around and ask me for an interview. First Guatemalan radio, now Colombian tv. The Colombian tv reporter is particulary hot - she´s from Medellin so she´s bound to be...she asks me what I think of Colombia, if I´m scared about the flight etc. It´s more straightforward than the Guatemalan radio interview as it only lasts for a minute or so. Sergio seems a little pissed off that they don´t want to speak to him - sorry Sergio but only professiols with experience can be on tv. haha.

The paraglide itself is an incredible experience and affords great view of the canyon. It crosses my mind that it is a fairly big drop to the bottom of the canyon if something were to go wrong while we are up in the air. Luckily, everything seems is perfect working order apart from my camera which failes to work in the extreme conditions (no photos of this adventure unfortunately). Sergio comments that I´m extremely calm - normally, people scream out of shear terror. In order to remove me from my zen like state Sergio proceeds to do some more extreme manoeuvres in the air - twists, big drops in a few seconds etc. It is quite an adrenalin rush.

After 45 mins in the air I´m back on firm ground and the camera crew get my landing. The cameraman asks me for a few words so I tell him that "the views are spectacular and it is definitely worthwhile." He asks me if I was scared and I answer fairly honestly with "no". Not sure that makes for great tv...

The cute reporter lands 10 mins later after her flight. The camera crew run towards her and ask for some words - "I´m in shock, it´s an incredible experience but absoultely terrifying. You need to be very brave to do it". TV reporters are such dramatists. I go over to ask her what it was really like but find her hunched over a plastic bag emptying the contents of her stomach. Maybe she was telling the truth...she tells me she is struggling with her breathing. Would it be impolitik to ask her if she needs any help with her respiration? I restrict myself to some words of encouragement by telling her that it is very scary and she´s been very brave...

Rafting in the Río Suarez

I´ve never been rafting before so wasn´t really sure what to expect. There are two rafting options around San Gil - the Río Fonce (class 1-2 rapids) and Río Suarez (class 2-5). I was going to do the Río Fonce rafting but someone at the hostel convinced me that it would be much more fun doing the "extreme" ones. Not one to turn down an extreme adventure I didn´t really take much convincing.

We turn up at the Río Suarez and get nearly 30 mins worth of instructions. Here are some of the highlights:

"For those of who haven´t done rafting before, class 5 are the most difficult ones that you are allowed to do in a raft. You can only do class 6 in a kayak." (nobody told me this before the trip. I guess that´s why I had to sign that bit of paper saying the company doesn´t take any responsibility if I die...)

"If the raft flips or you get thrown out of it remember to hold your paddle, the rope on the side of the raft and put your feet in the air. As long as you hold the rope we will be able to rescue you fairly quickly as someone can pull you back in. These rapids are dangerous so if you let go of the rope it will be more difficult to rescue you."

The key takeout from the sermon appears to be "don´t fall out of the raft, it´ll be a lot easier for all of us" although one of my team appears quite keen to fall out in the middle of a rapid as "it will be more fun".

We start off with a Class 2 rapid which is still quite scary but quite a thrill. I begin to wonder what a class 5 will be like. We do a few Class 4´s and 3´s - it is quite an adrenalin rush when the raft is up in the air as you are going over rapids. Our rowing coordination when is all over the place when going over high waves and water is rushing into the raft but everyone is having a lot of fun.

We pause for a little bit and our instructor informs us that we will be doing our first Class 5. "The river is quite high today and a little more dangerous than normal so there is a chance that the raft will flip when we do the Class 5. Remember, if the raft flips hold onto your paddle and the rope and put your feet in the air." Or, just don´t fall out...

We start going into the rapid and it quickly becomes clear that this one could be a bit extreme. We hit the middle - the raft starts to flip over on to its side and I seem to be in the worst place. The guy in front of me appears to be falling out and I start to watch but forget about myself. I fall out and am fairly sure that the raft has flipped. I cling onto the rope for dear life as the rapid starts to suck me in. I´m underwater with the raft dragging me along as it continues to traverse along the rapid. The paddle goes - if it´s a choice between the paddle and the rope there´s only one winner. Ummm...I´m fairly sure the instructor said it would be a quick rescue as long as I keep hold of the rope - this "rescue" seems to be taking an awful lot longer than I would have envisaged. Finally somebody decides to haul me back into the raft when we have traversed the rapid, after a good 30 seconds of me nearly drowning. The guy who was keen to fall into the river is looking at me with admriation - "dude, how lucky are you, what was it like? You´ve definitely got the best value for money out of any of us." I guess that´s one way of looking at it...

I recount my underwater adventure to the rest of the crew and they all say that they were sure that the raft had flipped but at the last minute our instructor managed to balance it sufficiently to avoid everyone going under.

We traverse another Class 5 and I make sure that I don´t fall out this time by taking extra caution and concentrating on myself rather than what might happen to the person in front of me. Believe me, falling into a Class 5 rapid once is plenty of extreme adventure for one day. When we are back on dry land after 1.5hrs one the crew who has done this a few times tells us newbies that we are really lucky as that is one of the best she has ever done. Apparently, there are usually parts of the river where you can get a break from the rapids but this one is fairly continuous and strong. Great. But where´s the camera crew? I´m expecting tve or tv colombia to be waiting for an interview given my new found celebrity status. I´ve even got dramatic words this time.

Tags: adventure sports

Comments

1

I see you on TV

  Shakira Apr 28, 2009 1:13 AM

2

Amil, can I suggest giving the kiss of life to a woman who has just been violently sick isn't a great idea. Otherwise, you seem to be turning into Indiana Patel (without the archaeology PhD).

  Eduardo Blanco May 1, 2009 1:40 AM

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