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Published: November 1st 2017
It seems that almost everyone wants to or already enjoys river rafting. I like to canoe, kneeling securely on the bottom of the canoe, knees touching the sides for excellent stability. I learned the finer points of canoeing at summer camp when I was in my early teen years. Kayaking runs a definite distant second place, but I have sweet memories of holding my first grandson, nine moths old, while my son, the baby's father, paddled us in his ocean-going kayak on the South China Sea in Japan. And, from years later, I have another kayak memory of trying to hold another grandson while my son paddled us on the Potomac River out to Roosevelt Island. But I have never tried river rafting before today.
We had perfect weather again this morning, a little chilly at first, but with a fine promise of sunny, warm weather. Our group filled two large yellow rafts, half of us in each one, holding our paddles and outfitted in helmets and life preservers. And, ready or not, off we went into the class 3 rapids on the Mo-Chu River. Whoa! The first full body blast of glacial river water was shockingly cold, but the sun quickly warmed us up even though our clothes remained sopping wet. The worst thing for me was that we were sitting up on the seemingly unstable SIDES of the rafts, not sensibly kneeling or sitting on the bottom of the rafts; we could easily have fallen or been knocked off by a rogue rapid. This was not pleasant.
The Mo-Chu River and the high surrounding mountains are exquisite, but I learned today that even though I am an excellent swimmer, I do not enjoy river rafting, just why, I really don't know. Our young guide seemed to feel comfortable floating our raft down the river backwards, and he had not taught the group how to paddle. So the man in front of me did not know to feather his paddle at the end of each stroke, thereby splashing me every time, and the woman behind me did not know to syncronize her strokes with ours in front, so her paddle kept smacking into mine, not a very effective way to move forward. Again and again we got deluged with the cold water, but finally, blessedly, we made it to shore, two hours and 2 1/2 miles from where we had started. Freed from the raft I decided that I do not ever want to river raft again. Canoeing is so much more enjoyable, and I've never gotten so wet or felt like we might be bounced right off the canoe at each boiling rapid. Twelve hours later I am still relieved we made it to shore safely intact. But my rafting clothes are still wet.
Our reward for rafting down this cold river was a very delicious picnic lunch on its banks, followed by the opportunity to try the Bhutanese national sport of archery. Their bows are nothing like the ones I used to use at summer camp; these were made of pieces of bamboo strung together, with no built-in ridges to hold the arrows in place. So we learned how to make a platform for the arrow by positioning our index finger and thumb properly, which turned out to work just as well only requiring a bit more concentration. The bow's poundage was quite heavy for me though; these bows are made for the Bhutanese men, some of whom are built like oxen, they are so strong! And they shoot at targets triply far away as what I was used to. But, for us western weaklings, the target was placed at a more reasonable distance. Each one who dared stepped up to take a turn; most initial arrows fell far short of the target. Sonam, our driver and all around helper, stood quite near the target; this made me very nervous for his safety. My first arrow fell short, but flew more than halfway. My second arrow landed even closer. But my third almost killed Sonam; he jumped out of the way as my arrow flew to the left of the target, almost landing in him! It was a terribly narrow miss! I almost did not try again, but Sonam stood further away after that, as many of us were getting closer and closer to actually hitting the target. Two of the men in our group actually succeeded. Kudos to them, but I wanted one of the several large, sturdy women in our group to hit the target as well. As I aimed more to the right of the target I thought my fourth arrow would be the one to make it, but it was very slightly short although this time it did fly straight. And by the time I tried on my fifth turn, my muscles were giving out, so I was happy that at least that arrow almost reached the target straight on. With that attempt I gave up on archery practice.
This afternoon the sun was still shining, and after a visit to the Punakha Dzong we walked and walked (I believe Dorji has been preparing the group for our strenuous trek up to the Tiger's Nest on Saturday), through rice paddy fields and on little grassy or rocky or muddy trails the schoolchildren use twice each day. And then, glorious sight, we saw a long, sagging suspension bridge crossing the river, and I remembered that when we had first seen it from our van a few days ago, Dorji said we would have the opportunity to walk across it. I love jumping and swinging and swaying on bouncy bridges (and on trampolines, beds, etc., anything that defies gravity and gets me airborne) and was happy to cross this one. Halfway across the bridge two little boys began working to make the bridge sway crazily side to side, so I stopped walking and joined in, making our suspension bridge bounce and swing even more. What fun! But we finally reached the other side, stepping onto boringly stable ground again, and our short but moving adventure came to an end.
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