Sunday, May 6, 2012

Survival: A Gladiator's Story

 Nothing says "appreciate life" like almost losing it.

Last weekend, thanks to our Dominican living, Mike's 30th birthday, and his generous parents, we took a long weekend trip to Jarabacoa, the mountain region of Dominican Republic. When people think of DR, they think of crystal blue oceans, beachy weather, and all-inclusive resorts. They don't think of Jarabacoa, the mountain region that boasts fall-like weather, nature up close, and so many outdoor activities that it would take a two week vacation to get to them all.

This is where the real story begins...
 The last time we went to Jarabacoa was in September for the yearly trip that Mike's school does with all the new foreign hire teachers. With all of the amazing excursions to venture out to I decided to do, well...none. I was 9 months pregnant and they make you sign a silly waiver that you are not carrying child before taking you on one of these adventures - go figure! Even so, I was quite content to stay on my rocking chair with my cup of coffee, reading and watching the two other kids, Olive and Jersey, explore and sniff til their hearts content.

As we were planning this trip to Jarabacoa, Mike and I were all in for  embarking on one of the Rancho Baiguate's many cool adventures together. So in were we to the adventures, that we brought along our nanny to take care of la Rafa while we were out being adventurous.

After a Saturday of relaxing on my old friend, Rocking Chair, we woke up Sunday ready to take on the World of Jarabacoa White Water Rapids, category three rapids, I would later find out. But I was ready. I had been rafting before, once in the Delaware, category negative one that my mom describes as a big raft on little bumps of water, I would later find out. As I later recounted this story to my mother she would point out, "Yenni. Those little waves in the Delaware wasn't really rafting... even your grandmother went with us!" Good point.

We should have known there was trouble ahead when after the introductory set of rapids a few people fell out of their boat, a raft capsized, and four boats crashed into each other after a traffic jam on the same rock. Our boat joked, "And this is only the first wave of rapids?"

We had a few minor incidents here and there but our raft and companions seemed to flow fairly well. Mike and I had jumped in with another group of five that consisted of three siblings and two of their spouses. They were all characters but the most standout was the youngest brother, Gustavo. First of all, the name alone sounds big and burly. Big and Burly Gustavo. You know who also had a name like that and was big and burly...


But when I saw him, and maybe this is because I am a child of the 80's, I immediatelsy said to Mike, "OMG... Nitro is on our raft.

And without digressing too much, let's look at these two pictures side by side... I mean, come on... seriously that is too much of a coincidence!

And this, I kid you not, is exactly, EXACTLY what Gustavo looked like. So you will find it to be no surprise that when his wife, Kathy, fell out of the boat, he literally reached overboard with one canon arm, grabbed her life vest and plucked her up out of the water placing her gently back into the raft in sitting position. 

I felt safe having Nitro, I mean Gaston, I mean Gustavo in the boat but I got to thinking about what the guides had said before the trip started, "If you fall out of the raft, try to stay calm and let the water take you. If you try to fight the water, the water will win." I thought to myself, "WHO IN THE WORLD is going to stay calm and float calmly down the rapids?" But after seeing Kathy fall out and realize that today, falling out was a clearly distinct possiblity, I convinced myself that if I fell out, I would try to stay as calm as I could considering the situation.

If this were a novel, this would be where the author had just introduced foreshadowing... or prediction, I can never tell those two apart.

We had completed half of our journey and just as we were coming to the end of another rapid our raft collided with a rock... a Gaston type rock. Collided so hard, in fact, that the raft was half on the rock and half in the water. 

Like so:
Please look closely at the faces in the raft

You could say it was stuck between a rock and a hard place (ba dump dump).

I quickly grabbed the rope. And after securing myself, I managed to find Mike who was "secure" at the rock side of the boat. I grabbed his hand. I pulled myself up and quickly did not like what I realized was happening. 

My mind jumped to the extensive movie knowledge library in my mind of every action movie. The scene when you are rooting for everyone in the disaster to come out unharmed and then the love interest says with the defeated look, "I'm stuck," and your heart drops. And you think, but he's so close to her, they are right there, don't give up. JUST GRAB HER! And she says, "I can't. It's not working. Save yourself." And they look at each other before she lets go and plumets to her untimely, young, tragic death. 

Like that sad scene in an action movie, I quickly realized... I was stuck under someone's leg that was firmly across my body, unable to move and getting dragged down by the water with every passing rush of water. I opted to take my chances... and let go.

Splash, gurgle, gurgle, muffled voices yelling, GASP - air, gurgle, gurgle, gurgle, rushing water, splash, GASP - air... stay calm, stay calm, stay calm... at least Rafaella will still have her dad - no - stay calm, stay calm, stay calm. Ow! Oh! Ee! Damn rocks! stay calm. gurgle, flailing, gurgle, GASP -air, Try to dig you legs into the ground and get your bearing, OW! Rock. Ee, ooh, ahh. Oh sh*t... there's a big rooock. OW! 

stay calm.

When I felt a guide had me, I felt safer but the pressure of him holding on to my vest was dragging me down. And that section of water was so strong that even as we passed the real "rapid" the slow water was impossible to get a handle on.  I knew this because when we began passing other rafts another guide yelled out, "What's happening?" And my guide yelled back, "The water's too strong!"

"What? Wait? WHAT?!" I screamed looking at the guide who was about my height. He was obviously a better swimmer and more equipped to handle this... after all, he jumped out of the raft willingly to get me, but if he thought this was strong, what was I thinking? And here came another small rapid.

Splash, gurgle, gurgle, muffled voices yelling, GASP - air, Ow! Oh! Ee! Damn rocks! stay calm. I hope there are no water fall rapids coming up. WATERFALLS? Oh no, this ends here.

As soon as that rapid was over and we got to Normal Rapid Speed (NRS), I tried digging my legs again into what Mike has accurately labeled "Fred Flinstoning" it. 

I jammed my bare legs into God's wet Earth and prayed for the strength to stop us from moving down this river any longer. Between my Flinstoning and Guide's rapid knowledge, we finally came to a halt long enough to slowly, carefully walk towards shore. I posted my body close to a rock to get my balance and as my legs shook from battle wounds and adrenaline, I thanked God Almighty that I was safe - bruised up - but safe. I stood by the shore waiting for the raft and more so for Mike, who I was certain was worried that I had been swept away forever. At the very least, I am sure that he thought I would be a babbling, shaking wreck in shambles, crying where I stood, drowning in my fear. But that's not how he found me.

I stood there with shaky, bruised knees. But I stood there. And I stood there smiling - which if you know me seems unlikely that I would be smiling after a tumultuous event like that. How could you smile through one of the scariest experiences of your life? you might ask. Simple.

I could smile because I made it. Because I was alive.... and with no help from Nitro, the American Gladiator, I might add. 

Sometimes, it just takes an instant to recognize that you are stronger than you think. That you too are a gladiator.


  1. OMG, I love this! Gladiator Jen...perfect Survivor episode! So glad you were ok!

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  3. This was an amazing read, I think all of your writing is amazing, but I do agree this blog is pretty special:) Mucho happy that you are ok, and it was definitely foreshadowing.


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