Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Jumping the River

Salta! Salta! [Jump!]”

Yaaa! [Alright!]” I mumbled under my breath.

The precipice wasn't even very high. But below me, the waterfall that cascaded below churned the pond white. Not being able to see to the bottom made me nervous. But hey, so did having to rappel down the other waterfall earlier, with only a slim rope keeping me from falling and cracking my head.

Welcome to Pozo Alcón, Jaén. A.k.a. a tiny village of 5,500 people in the nether regions of the Sierra de Cazorla [Cazorla Mountains]. A.k.a. the place where I faced my fear of jumping from tall heights over, and over, and over again. A.k.a. the place where I had one of the best experiences of my life!

It all started with a language misunderstanding (which is how some of the best experiences usually start, here in Spain). My friend invited me on a day trip to Pozo Alcón to do “barranquismo”. I misassociated the word with “boat”, so I thought he was referring to whitewater rafting. I boasted that I'd done it before in Canada.

In fact, I'd never done anything like this. But I didn't know that as I woke up bright and early that Saturday, eager to fight some rapids. Even as I squirmed my body into a neoprene suit, and then strapped on a harness around my waist and thighs, which contained a carabiner and a metal hook shaped like an '8', called an “8 belay ring”. Right there that should have been my clue that we were going to climb walls, but for some reason I thought the harness was for in case one of us fell out of the raft, our partner could grab it and pull us back in. (If you look up the word 'tonta' in a dictionary, you'll see my picture.)

Barranquismo can be roughly translated from the word 'ravine' as 'canyoning'. You follow a river through the path it has carved out in a mountain, although most of the time you're walking in the river. On occasion you must swim through parts, climb rocks, or rappel down waterfalls – which is what the harness was for. Not only was this my first time doing barranquismo, it was also my first time rappelling outdoors. It was scary, as we didn't use professional guides, rather a few of the experienced men in our group helped us. The walls were wet and slippery, and my old running shoes didn't have grip. Plus I started every rappel by leaning back into the void, having to trust that the rope and harness would hold. Even though I almost suffered a heart attack each time, it was really exciting, too.
At one point, we found an airy waterfall that came from the canyon edges high above. As I stood in front of it, from my perspective it looked like the earth was breaking apart into pieces, and falling upon me, each droplet looking like a piece of the world evaporating. It was mindblowing to watch, because it symbolized how my life has been falling apart lately (don't ask). Nature was showing me that something agonizing and destructive can also be so beautiful to behold.

The entire journey took 3-4 hours, as we had close to 20 people in our group. It helped that we were all fit. Although there are parts where you can quietly float as you stare up at the natural, spectacular surroundings, there's plenty of hiking, climbing, jumping, and swimming. So if anyone ever invites you for barranquismo, get ready for some scary fun!

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