Sunday, August 8, 2010

Thakns for Survivor

Everyone has had moments where they have seriously questioned their safety, if only for a split second. I am absolutely no exception, despite my tendency to exaggerate. Really bad turbulence, severe heat stroke, driving during heavy rain. But, this experience tops them all. Without any exaggerating, I thought my life was going to end.

We arrived at the river around 11am. Looking down at it, we chuckled about being over charged for a river that wasn´t really worth our time. Shrugging it off, we decided that maybe it was more challenging then it looked. Myself, a few friends, a safety kayaker, and our river raft guide prepared to white water raft the next 15km of river. Class 4 rapids weren´t too intimidating from the hill, but the first sign that I was wrong was the extensive amount of time spent on the details of how to get back in the boat and rescue methods. Shortly after setting off, we were in the middle of the rapids following intense intruction from the guide. The next 3 hours would be spent on constant rapids, without any calm water- we were prepared for that. But, we weren´t prepared for the lower than expected water level which caused us to get stuck on the first few rapids. Shortly after our guide pushed off our boat again, I saw the rapids get more intense immediately ahead.

It is a horrible anticipation knowing something bad is going to happen, but having to wait for it. All I needed to know we didn´t really have hope was the guide´s voice. He sounded manic as he yelled at us to paddle hard. Everyone sensed the urgency in his voice, and from my seat in the back row of the boat, I saw chaos take place. People were paddling forwards, people were paddling backwards, people were getting hit by others paddles, someone had already abandoned paddling and was seeking the safety of wedging in the boat. I knew because we weren´t in sync, we weren´t going to make it. And, we didn´t. The whole boat capsized. I was in the water before I even realized how we flipped. The boat was turned over in front of me. And, I was moving quicker than it which caused me to repeatedly bump into it and end up under it. What is worse then going class 4 rapids on your back, is not seeing anywhere you are going because a giant, yellow, inflatable boat is blocking your vision. I finally managed to somewhat orientate myself, pushing off the boat, and trying to keep my feet up infront of me. But, I was utterly surprised at how quickly the water was moving me, and how much the rocks hurt. However, all I could do was try to look around to see where the boat was and where I could try to stand up. I got far enough over to the bank where the water wasn´t as swift. I managed to get my feet under me to stand up. I watched as the river raft guide passed me standing on the boat upside down, flipping it over with a swift motion that he had mastered. He controlled the boat enough to pull it off to the side and those near-by climbed back in. The safety kayaker had rescued someone and they were stable on a rock in the middle of the river. The guide had to carefully walk through the rapids to bring the guy back to the boat, as another rafter stood holding the boat in the rapids. Once back in the boat, we realized we were now a paddle short- which was lost in the rapids somewhere. We took a few minutes to recover from the shock that had just occurred while our rafting guide assured us that had been a really difficult rapid, especially coupled with a big boat and low water.

We continued on our way, making some quick jokes about our newly accummulated scrapes, missing shoe of another, and the person now required to sit in the boat without a paddle. However, I wish we had had more of a break. We continued through the rapids, and as we rounded a corner, our back end of the boat wedged in between two rocks. Myself, another paddler, and the guide were all sitting in water as the river swiftly swept through our seats. We tried to wedge free and reposition ourselves so as not to sink down the back side of the boat. But, as soon as we got stuck, we freed up and hit the next rapid, with surprise. The boat wasn´t straight and flipped front over back. And just like that, we were all in the water again. I was infront of the boat already this time. And surprisingly more calm, but still convinced I was going to die or come out the rapids seriously injured. Despite the lifejacket and helmet, I crashed into rocks and struggled to keep my head above water. I really can´t explain the time length nor the feeling of being tossed around without a definite understanding of when you are coming up for air nor how to get to saftey. But, as I felt it get slightly shallower, I risked standing up- which could have ended very badly. My feet could have gotten stuck and the strong current push me over on my front side causing a likelihood of drowning. But, I managed to keep on my feet and quickly moved over. By the time I realized what was going on and got my orientation, I noticed the raft and kayak abandoned on my side of the river about 15 meters ahead of me. I continued to lookd downstream to see both of the guides running after a bobbing helmet in the water. They had the rope out, telling me they were attempting to do a swift-water rescue to get the person out of the water, which meant the rapids were only getting worse ahead. I waited by the boat as others started to make their way over. About 20 minutes passed by before I saw the guides appear with an individual between them with a cut leg. He had been in shock while going down the river, he had been inable to catch the rope attempting to rescue him. But, he had passed by the guides close enough to where they were able to throw the rope right at him, hard, forcing him to pay attention. We weren´t even done with 2km of the river, knowing we had already capsized twice, and we had a person without paddle, and a fear in all of us that we weren´t going to make it through to the end- and we did NOT want to end up in the water again.

The person who had fallen out wanted to be returned to the car...which we could only meet another 10 minutes down stream. The guide explained to us that after that point, the next spot to stop for the car will be at the end and the rest of the way we would be in the thick of the jungle so we had to decide if we wanted to continue. Deciding that fighting for our lives on the remaining 13km of the river was not our plan for the day, we asked to switch to a different river.

We managed the next 10 minutes fine and had to carry the raft through some forest to the road to meet the car. We dropped off the brusied and battered at the hotel, but the rest decided to continue on. The second river was honestly almost an insult after what we had survived. The class 3 rapids were fun, and clearly didn´t pose any serious threat to us as there were extensive calm parts between the rapids. We played fun games like cowboy, where someone sat on the very front of the boat and road through the rapids sitting with their best balance. We stopped for a short mud spa, and the best part- I even got to learn the basics to guiding. The guide had me sit in his spot, explained the motions to me and spent the next 20 minutes pointing to a location and said, the boat needs to point there, make it happen. I spent some time getting a feel for it, before he would stop telling me where to point it and expected me to wing it and make it work. I even led us through rapids. The scenery was beautiful as we were the only ones around and near a national park. But, the water was fiercly cold as it was flowing from one of the tallest mountains in Ecuador. In all, I ended up having fun. And luckily, only walked away with a bruised body, and battered left leg. Thanks to the cold water of the second river, my swelling has stayed down, but as expected we are all extremely sore still. I truly believe the guides did the best of their ability and that is the reason why no one was seriously injured.

We made plans for 9pm and met at the local bar for some needed drinks. Accompanied with the guides was a CD of photos thats read ¨Thakns for Survivor¨truly showing just how appreciative they are that we didn´t die either.

sn: Photos will be posted in time.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The new species of Screaming Peha

As most of you know- I hate (am terrified) of cockroaches. Normally, I handle it fairly well- unless they are near me, running towards me, or are generally massive. It´s weird because it has developed over time- living in Thailand they didn´t really bother me. So anyways, I wouldn´t say the are abundant- but I see them on a daily basis. I´m not bothered to see them cross a trail or over on leaf-litter, but in my personal space or threatening to attack by running at me isn´t cool. So, I was on an afternoon survey witha couple of other guys when the staff leader stops and starts shifting through some leaf litter. Knowing the intrigue boys have for frogs and lizards, I took the opportunity to get some water out of my bag. As I look up, there is a cockroach, not particularly big nor particularly hungry for my flesh, but RIGHT IN FRONT OF MY FACE. This breaks the rule about personal space. This cockroach was all up IN my personal space- not cool. From my mouth left the most blood curling scream. Now, at this point, I wish I was either exaggerating or have the opportunity to save some embarassament...but there is no way around that scream. It was the most un-girly, life threatening scream I´ve left out, probably in my life. I dropped my backpack, and the cockroach fell on top of it, after wiggling its way out of the staff member´s hand who knew my fear of the ugly bug. I provoked intense laughter from the boys, as I had my hands over my face half sobbing half laughing at the sheer reaction the creature got from me. After half a minute of silence from me, due to laughing so hard, the boys stoped cracking their jokes because their worst nightmare was near reality- making a girl cry. I almost received the guilt-provoked apologies when I finally gasped for air and removed my hands showing I was laughing despite the few tears that had built up and came down. This ofcourse was a green light for the jokes to continue taking place, which I accepted with full responsibility. The funniest joke being the discovery of a new species of Screaming Peha, which is a bird that we frequently hear in the jungle that makes a human-like whistling noise.

My name is (YOUR NAME)...

I realize I said of the stories I´m going to share, they normally happen regularly, but this is the only exception. I hope. So, after sitting through two days of Emergency First Responder training, including a video that obsessively demonstrated the importance of blue gloves and the opening line of asking if you can help someone, ¨Hello, my name is (YOUR NAME) and I´m an emergency first responder. Can I help you?¨ We continuously joked with the slightest slip, bug bite, or complaint by saying our opening line. During dinner on a Wednseday night an emergency radio call came in from a staff member who had been leading a couple people on an overnight excursion. They had been doing everythinga ccording to a planned schedule which as a night walk at the top of a waterfall. While walking up the steep trail to the waterfall, the overcorrection on the slick trail caused someoneto slip through some steep brush and over the side of a 20meter waterfall, landing in very little water. The possibility of serious injury prevoked a very careful rescue plan as the group was an hour walk away- in the darkening jungle. The first froup of guys headed out with the spinal board, putting our training to the test. 45 minutes later, a second, larger group left. The quickest trail to the road was noted, the volunteers constantly and carefully witched out carrying the victim on the spinal board. Being on of the only Spanish speaking volunteers, I waited by our access to the raod for the truck that was going to drive the guy and a staff member to the nearest hospital. I rode with the truck to the pick-up point where head torches of 20 people finally emerged. Straped in the back of the truck was a possible spine injury about to drive two hours to a hospital- one of which would be on an unpaved ropad. It took four hours to extract him, three different towns, one week of recovery- but amazingly NO INJURIES!!

A day in the life...

The alarm went off at 6:15am- just enough time to get ready for breakfast at 6:30am. I was tired. very tired. Not because of my wake-up time which is considered a ´sleep-in´but from the 4.5 hour nightwalk I went on that got back at 1º1:30pm the night before. The walk consisted of wading through knee deep water, climbing over tree fall, and sear4ching for a swamp in the thick forest by way of a headlamp. The night was deemed successful by the sightings of numerous frogs, a couple birds, and a new friend- a whipless scorpion! Friends!!! This experience hasn´t been anything I expected but has been beyond what I thought I could appreciate. I coupld probably throw-up on cue by hearing the word ¨porridge¨too many times as that is our breakfast everymorning except Sundays. But, I can also easily identify a Eldorhina perezi before most realize its a frog. I knew I would encounter a lot of bugs- but I didnçt know I had the physical and emotional strength I have. Don´t be fooled- I´m still a weakling and couldn´t do a pull-up if I tried, but I can definitely walk for long amounds of time through harsh conditions- downpour to hot sun.

6:30 Breakfast
7:00 Leave for pitfall survey (amphibians)
ETA: 12:00pm
12:30pm Lunch
1:30pm Butterfly Survey
ETA 5:30PM
6:00pm Dinner
7:00pm Nightwalk
ETA 10:00pm

The schedule changes from day to day, but that was just a sample of what I did. Meals are generally vegetarian, we get tuna about once a week. The rest of the time, its a type of beans, veggies, and either past or rice. But, I indulge in chicken at the market on Saturdays :-)


So, I´m a few weeks into my long experience- and I´ve truly acclimated and have enjoyed it so much! I have a few good stories, but in the daily life here, they seem fairly normal. I will blog the stories sepparately- to reduce reading size. But, thus far I have received my Emergency First Responder certification- which was used/tested shortly after completion, been trained on the surveys: butterflies, birds, and amphibians, been on numerious surveys collecting data, spent Saturday mornings at a nearby market that we travel to by canoe, picked up British words such as ´wellies´(rainboots), ´bonkers´(crazy), and ´fuck off´(no way), taught English at a local school, cooked for 30 people using only a gas stove, and ran out of deodorant- not that means too much here. This environment is very hard to describe due to its complexity and I love staying busy- but if inquiring minds want top know something, just ask :-)