Thursday, February 08, 2007

Are you and Ugly American: Part 4 of 10

Budget Travel’s tips to avoid being a jerk abroad:
Don't overtip
Why I’m apparently an Ugly American:

I once had an older woman in New Zealand rake me over the coals for tipping my whitewater rafting guide. It seems that I was tearing the fabric of Kiwi society while at the same time polluting it with my insolence.

I also, peed in the river. But she didn’t know it.

Basically, she told me I was an Ugly American.

The guide was a friend of a friend and I had gone on the trip for free. I knew that if my tail had needed saving the guide would have been the one to do it, putting his own life on the line for me, a freeloading American. This, coupled with the fact that I worked for tips as a SCUBA instructor and knew what it was like to save bumbling tourons, was why I slipped the guide 10 bucks.

$10 bucks! That’s it. Plus, I copped a story off the whole ordeal. Have a read:
Mother’s Nightmare! Imminent Death!
By Kelsey Timmerman

Rotorua, New Zealand-

“This river has a waterfall that is sweet-as! It is the highest commercially rafted waterfall in the world- 10 meters!”

Sweet-as? Is that good?

I’m staring at a glossy photo in which four people are hanging on for dear life to a raft that appears to have dropped off the face of the earth. There are other people in the photo falling beside the raft with strange, “I-hope-I-don’t-land-on-a-rock” faces. It is easily apparent that their butt cheeks are as equally clenched as their faces. Paddles and people are the detritus of the plunging raft.

A little math: Ten meters equals thirty-three, “I-can’t-believe-I-paid-money-for-this” feet. It’s a height where people are no longer tourists who are rafting, but tourists that are projectiles. By the time they splash down at the base of the waterfall, the raft, the rafters, and the paddles are falling around 30 mph.

“That’s the Kaituna (River).” Ryan waves at the photo, “It’s harmless compared to the Wairoa, and mate, lucky for you the Wairoa is where we’re heading today.” A smile creeps across Ryan’s face, “You ever been rafting before?”

“(GULP) Nope.”

Ryan’s smile gets a little wider and I get the impression that he doesn’t care for me much. Maya, his girlfriend, who I had met a few weeks previously while hiking on New Zealand’s South Island, invited me to come and stay with the two of them and go rafting. Maya had warned me, “Don’t be alarmed, sometimes Ryan can be a little moody, a little jealous.” Following this, I inquired into his size and strength.

At the shoulders Ryan is wide as a door frame, muscle built-up after years of rafting, but supporting his hulking torso are two twig-like legs. He’s built like a caricature drawing, except not so happy and much more menacing.

Ryan tosses me a paddle, life jacket, and a helmet before walking away with an evil laugh. My life is now his.

“All right everybody,” Ryan is yelling over the sound of crashing water, “this is a little rapid called Mother’s Nightmare.”
Our boat consists of two of the rafting company’s staff members who had never been down the river, Maya, Ryan, and me. Ryan’s briefing was somewhat informal and definitely not the one normally delivered to customers.
“Flipping on this rapid is a bad thing. You definitely don’t want to swim this one. There is one spot where if you fall in, you’re not swimming out. If you go in, as you are getting pounded relentlessly by the river and death is drawing near, make sure you reach up and feel along the rocks- if you can. There is a rope to pull yourself out- again, if you can. Otherwise, consider your day ruined.”

Some of you may know that class IV’s and V’s are the biggest rapids rafted. The Wairoa consists of nothing else. Lucky for me where fear should exist, ignorance has already kicked up its feet waiting for a good show. Ryan, the jealous lover, who I might add has no reason to be jealous, the rafting guide with my life riding on his paddle, slowly gives me an ambiguous nod, either, “Good luck,” or “Good riddance.”

“LEFT FORWARD!” my signal to paddle ahead furiously. “LEFT BACK!” now I paddle backwards. I can see no sense in the river as it pours over and around the boulders. I don’t know whether to paddle or to hold on, whether to close my eyes or stare at undeniable doom.

Everything is chaos and drama.

The rock comes from nowhere and brings our PLINKO down the river to a sudden stop. We teeter on spilling. With the time difference between here and Ohio, my mom is likely in bed and about to have a nightmare.

Fear shuts my eyes, but curiosity pries open the right eye a crack, just enough to see the other paddlers mouthing four-letter words. And then silence. The water is calm as we pull over to the bank to catch our breath and listen to our pulses pound in our ears.

Each rapid must be approached differently, each has a unique line that must be followed. In places, Ryan would intentionally bounce us off a boulder to spin the boat and continue on down the line. Rafting guides must have mental pictures of each rapid in order to safely run them. The lives of their passengers depend of this knowledge and their skill to execute these lines. To this point, Ryan has expertly negotiated each rapid and my confidence in him is complete. Approaching the last rapid, named something that translates to “Imminent Death,” we pull to the bank for the briefing.

“Hell, if I know. I really don’t have a clue about this one. Just hold on and be ready for anything.” Before I can express my concern and suggest a portage around the rapid, Ryan shoves off.

We float towards Imminent Death.

“Left Back, Right Forward,” around one rock.

“Left Forward, Right Back…” down a narrow chute and beyond the ugly white water.

Ryan directs us over to a standing wave and has us all paddle backwards. The wave picks up the boat and holds it in place- we’re surfing. We hoot and holler before the wave spits us out onto flat water. The celebrating continues with the high-fiving of paddles and splashes in the water. I’m not sure, but Ryan may have smiled in my direction.

That night over pizza, at a party in a room full of strangers, sitting with Ryan, we chat away. His attitude toward me has changed. He either saw that I was no threat to him following my girly cries for help on the river, or he respected me for surviving his innumerable attempts to do me in.

Traveling alone forces one to go out of their way to meet others, and sometimes, their jealous boyfriends and the deadly rivers they raft.

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