"Steve! Wake! Steve, you wake now!" I was being violently shaken.
"Uh. Eh? Wot?" I open my eyes to find Carlos, the hostel owner in my face.
"Raft people. They phone. You not there! You wake now!"
"Eh?" I check the time, 6:00 am. Crap. I was supposed to be starting my mini-rafting trip half hour ago. Good job I gave them Carlos's number!
I jump up and gather my things. Luckily I'd already packed most of my stuff last night but I still had lots of crap littering the room. I begin to gather it all up only to have a finger wagged in my face by Carlos. "No, no, I do. I do. We go now!" Good ol' Carlos, he's a trust worthy fellow and seemed to have taken a liking to me. So I just grab my main pack and Carlos and I jog the 15 minute route to the rafting shop and meeting place.
The group I had booked with had already departed. Crap. But I'd been moved onto a trip with Eric Adventures instead, I was still going! Bonus! I pile onto a mini-bus with my group and let the 3 hour long journey begin.
Man, I was so heavily hung over! We stop at a market and I immediately jump out - I need liquid refreshment and I need to line my stomach and I need it NOW! I return to the bus clutching multiple bags of mystery fruit juices and a sea food fry-up. Not exactly what I had in mind but it had to do!
When we reach the put in point I'm still feeling pretty rough so I'm happy to watch the guides unload the bus and set up the rafts. Our main guide is a little guy called Jesus! But by all accounts a very experienced rafting guide who'd personally been doing the Apurimac on a weekly basis for many, many years.
Gear stuffed in to dry bags and us blokes stuffed in to wet suits it was time to get wet. We all jump off a rock one by one and practice getting rescued by either rope or safety kayak. We dry off, get in a raft and our guide capsizes it!? What the...? Okay, so we're to practice getting back in it! The water was pretty cold and certainly helped wake up the senses from the hangover!
It tends to be a rafting thing that when ever you finish a named rapid, those who're left in the boat do some sort of gay ritual - like high-5 your paddles together and shout something absurd. When asked what to do, me and my macho boat crew felt our helmets and decided to head butt each other instead. Our guide was impressed - he said in all his time of rafting he'd never seen that one!
So... The Apurimac, mainly Grade 3 and 4 (I think) - so like, how hard can it be...? O'Boy!
In at the deep end I certainly was. I mean, just look at the pictures!
Jesus, our guide, knew the rapids well and was able to relax the millisecond we were out of immediate danger. So as soon as we cleared our first big drop, but still in the middle of 3 foot waves, I was quite unprepared for the full on ferocious head butt that Jesus launched at me - nearly knocking me overboard! But I learn quick and after the next rapid I happily returned the favour! Whack!
We set up camp on a sandy beach after a long half day on the water and made fire, followed by food.
So, my crew. On the supply raft was two Jewish Israeli guys who enjoyed the weed and seemed permanently stoned. On my raft were a group of 4 Ozzy blokes who'd come to Peru for a bit of surf. They were all built and pretty much stereotypical in every respect. Their main concern in life seemed to be getting laid as often as possible. Despite this they were happy there weren't any girls on the trip for it gave them a open opportunity to brag about previous conquests. I was quite happy listening in. I mean, I have to admit the story with the girl with the surprise wooden leg was quite funny!
It was early start and after a quick cup of porridge everything was stuffed back into the dry bags and we all stuffed ourselves back into wet clothes. It's good to note that even hardened surfers complain about putting on a wet wetsuit!
And today's activities? Why, more of the same of course! And something new too! For one particular deep section of rapids we were able to jump overboard and drift through them. Easier said than done for you're forever being bashed in the head by furious waves! Then they had a boogie board to try out too - again, I'm not convinced as to it's effectiveness! I think inside the raft is the sensible place to be!
We stop at another sandy beach for a very late lunch and decide to set up camp at the same spot. The first duty was to find some firewood for the evening. The others potch about looking for dry drift wood by the river. I go straight for the chase and head into the woods at the back.
Most of the dead good stuff was still attached to rotten trees, necessitating I climb trees to break off branches. Half way up one tree I'm about to put hand on a lumpy knot when I decide to look closer. Hmm, it wasn't a lumpy knot at all, but rather a mini-wasps nest. And these were rather large angry red and evil looking wasps too! I look around the tree, above and below me, and discover all the branches are coated with these mini nests. How I didn't squash one climbing up I do not know, but it made climbing down a damned sight more difficult! So I kinda decided to leave that tree alone and find a different one!
I nipped back to camp to borrow a safety rope to help pull some branches down. On my return I discover the others had been playing silly buggers. They'd paddled across the river, mooched around and come back, leaving one of their mates stranded! In the end he had to swim back! No one had any wood though. Good thing I'd dragged back half a dead tree then!
To while away some time in the afternoon the guides had us play some games using paddles and other rafting gear. Initially everyone felt pretty exhausted from rafting but we all got into it once we started. And we all knew the guides had been playing these games for years!
One simple game (and a favourite of mine) involved taking a paddle, spinning round it a set number of times (to be counted out by someone else) before trying to run round a pole in the ground and back up the river bank. Sounds easy but more than one fellah ended up splat in the river!
Another game had one person assume a press up position while his partner leans over him and places a stick in the ground - only he's not allow to touch the ground or throw the stick. The team with the stick furthest away wins! It had a bit too much bodily contact in it for this British guy, but it would make a good party game!
More bonfires in the evening and I got to recite my reasoning for coming on the trip. Everyone sounded mightily impressed!
Another early start - I mean who wants to wait until the water heats up eh? And today's activities? Why, more of the same of course!
At one particular part of the river, where the water flows underneath itself creating a constant wave, if you align the raft just right and throw all the weight (meaning bodies) forward then you're supposed to be able to surf that wave indefinitely. I say supposed to because our raft didn't quite get it right. In fact, we got it quite wrong and capsized!
So, tips for rafting? Try these:
Don't paddle like a girl and don't just dip your oar in. Really reach forward (or backward) over the side of the raft and use your whole body (not just the arms) to move that volume of water.
Strong core muscles are important for balance and helps you be more agile under difficult circumstances. (i.e. all circumstances!)
Don't fall in the river.
It's sad to say that all good things come to an end and in the early afternoon we reached our get out spot. We all helped the guides lug the rafts and gear up the embankment to a little cafe where it was all to be sorted out. Some roasted meat and a beer later and we were set to return to Cusco.
As an unexpected bonus, it turns out one of the safety kayakers kept a video recorder with him and filmed us coming down some of the more "interesting" rapids. Not only that but he was going to edit it together into a video and have a premier viewing at 8:00 pm on a big projected screen at one of the clubs! Wousers! That's wicked! So it gave us all a chance to go home, get scrubbed up before heading out for the Friday's night's entertainment!
You think the photos here are good? Well they ain't nothing compared to the video - it's awesome!