Thursday, February 1, 2007

I have my reasons for believing I'm lucky to be alive

This is but one t-shirt on the floor in the messy room that is my head. I’ve been meaning to clean my room for a while now. So, surely, there will be more t-shirts to come, possibly even some undergarments…and who knows, maybe we’ll even find some of the unmatched socks that I previously thought had gone to sock purgatory. For more of this, periodically check for other posts in the category: “I have my reasons.”

This doesn’t really quite qualify as a Brush With Death. That’s another story entirely (forthcoming). Maybe we’ll just call this one my Graze With Death. It was the summer of 99. [Cue Bryan Adams song.] Cunning Mama (who at the time was certainly Cunning, but definitely not yet a Mama) and I we were traipsing around Europe together for a month. Having just graduated from college, we were giddy with our accomplishments…she’d just found a great job and I was about to start med school. And all of Europe…with it’s potential for divine gluttony in France, pharmaceutical experimentation in the Netherlands, bull running in Spain, and bull riding in Italy…was all but one Eurorail train ride away. Unfortunately, we were much too naïve and entirely too well behaved to take advantage of all this. Though we did manage to eat our weight in cheese (amaaaazing cheese) while in Paris, we completely avoided Amsterdam, passed up the bulls in Pamplona for a week in Mallorca, and were scared out of Rome after only two days by one too many close encounters with Italian pervs. Not that, if we were to go today, we’d eat any less cheese…but I get the feeling that a couple of groping Italians might now be considered an argument to stay IN Italy rather than to leave. You know. If Cunning Mama weren’t married with kids and I wasn’t dating The Brit, of course. I’m just saying.

Anyway, as the end of our trip approached, we looked back on our ‘adventure’ and came to the realization that we might as well have taken a chartered bus tour around Europe with our grandparents. Seriously, aside from our moped incident* outside the Pantheon, we had no outlandish stories to bring home as souvenirs. We needed to do something exciting, something rash (but that hopefully wouldn’t give us one), something worthy of a centerfold spread in the scrap book, something that would cause my mother to gasp with displeasure (she did this quite well and throughout my adolescence), and we needed to do it fast.

So, I cut my hair. To just below my chin. MAN, were people gonna shit their pants when they saw this!!

Well, we suspected that little else could top the thrill of my new haircut (which, in retrospect, made me look like a mushroom head), but we decided to give it one last try before heading back home. Hence our trip to Balmer’s Adventure World Hostel in Interlaken, Switzerland. In our guide book, Balmer’s bragged an orgy of extreme sport delights…things like sky diving, bungee cord jumping, canyoning. What was canyoning? we said. Ahhh, who cares. Let’s do it. But then there was the small matter of deciding when to do it. We’d arrived just in time to make the afternoon trip out that day. But did we want to do that?
(Cunning Mama’s suggestion.) Or did we want to relax that day and do the canyoning the next? (My suggestion.) We hesitated at the front desk when making our adventure reservation, likely almost entirely out of a good girl brand of caution…much in the same way a young girl whose had the concept of abstinence pummeled into her head (“IF YOU HAVE SEX BEFORE YOU GET MARRIED YOU WILL SURELY BURN IN HELL”) must hesitate at her first opportunity to have premarital sex. (I would imagine…you know, hypothetically, of course.)

After a bit of back and forth, we went with Cunning Mama’s choice and signed up to do canyoning that same day. So, later that afternoon, I tucked my new do into a cute little helmet and somehow managed to squeeze my bum into the tourniquet that was my rented wetsuit. Cunning Mama did the same (only with significantly less squeezing). And off we went into the canyon with two guides and several other tourists. Having no clue as to what canyoning even entailed, we just followed the instructions handed out to us by our guides. We swam in the shallow waters of the riverbed when they told us to swim. We slid down the slippery rocks that they told us to slide down. Belly flopped into shallow pools from 10 to 15 ft heights when they told us to belly flop. Abseiled down cliffs alongside small waterfalls when they told us to abseil. I didn’t understand the need for it when we reached the bottom of the canyon any more than I did when we started out at the top of the canyon. But, alas! It was Fun! It was Exciting! It was Rash! (And unfortunately, there was a bit of one, along with some chafing, due to the wetsuit). And surely, had we actually taken a bus tour with our grandparents, the bus would NOT have stopped at Balmer's. It was Perfect!

We spent the whole next day, which incidentally was a bit rainy, flouncing around Interlaken with some of our new canyoning friends, proud of how brave we were to have attempted AND succeeded at such a risky, albeit chaperoned, adventure. Bravo us! We walked back to Balmer’s from town late in the afternoon, all the while discussing how we’d organize our scrap book’s canyoning centerfold. We arrived to a hostel that had been turned inside out. Everyone seemed to be outside rather than inside, almost as if someone had let out an obnoxiously loud room-clearing fart. And it pervaded the entire building. Only, instead of laughing about it. People were crying. Hysterically.

That afternoon, the very afternoon that I’d originally wanted to go canyoning, there’d been a flash flood in the canyon. A storm had come in and eighteen tourists along with three guides, all from Balmer’s, died in the flood. It was shocking, horrific and truly terrible. And it was exactly the kind of news that would make its way to my mother’s television set and cause her to have a massive myocardial infarction. Forget the displeased gasp. I called her immediately and told her that we were ok.

It was a sad note on which to end our trip. Though there was the small, selfish internal prayer of thanks for not having gone canyoning that day but the day prior instead. I came back feeling lucky to be alive. And I swore that I’d never take my life for granted. Ever again.**

*Neither one of us having ridden a moped ever in our lives, for some yet explained reason, we thought it a good idea to rent one for sightseeing around Rome. The guy at the shop, after a cursory glance at our American driver’s licenses, started the moped for us and we were off! The first problem arose when it came time for us to turn the moped on ourselves. Long story short: We turned it on with the back wheel in contact with the ground (ummm…bad!) after which the moped flew out into the busiest intersection in Rome and petered out in the middle of the street. Thankfully, we were not on it when this happened. Silly Americans.

** This was short-lived, as soon thereafter, I was subjected to hours and hours of medical school lectures, several of which were only slightly more enticing than the prospect of jabbing my writing utensil through my right eyeball.


Jay said...

Even without the canyoning (that's a new verb to me!), Europe itself is just a great story to tell, and an amazing experience, especially sharing it with a friend.

Anonymous said...

Glad you guys did it that day instead of the next, so now Cunning Mama and I can make lots of Cunning Children.

mamacusa said...

I am too... (glad that you went that day). Or else i would be in a nut house, Oh i forgot with my dad here... I am in one!!! HE,HE,HE.

Waspgoddess said...

Wow, that was a really spellbinding story. Things like that really sends shivers down my spine. It's like "Sliding doors" (the Gwyneth Paltrow film I can't help but like as uncool as it is), or I guess some people may call it faith.

Waspgoddess said...

No, I meant fate :)

Betty said...

A girl from my home country lost her husband in that accident. They were newlyweds on their honeymoon.

Very sad.

La Cubana Gringa said...

Jay - Hi! Yes, we certainly had stories to tell when we got back. overall, a good experience, but definitely a sad endnote.

Cunning Daddy - My thoughts EXACTLY.

Mamacusa - You love you your nut house and you know it!

Waspgoddess - Who knows...maybe it's a bit of faith AND fate!

Betty - So terrible! I, seriously, still think about that accident and about the people affected by it. Six of the Balmer's directors actually got prosecuted for negligence in the case brought against them...turns out they simply shouldn't have been taking tourist groups out with a storm coming.
To think this could have been prevented makes it even more terrible.