We arrived in San Gil, excited to be in what all the blogs call, ” Colombia’s adventure Capital.” I was excited to get into some of the adrenaline adventures like paragliding, white water rafting and canyoning. We tried to book paragliding, but were unable to for that day so we decided to do white water rafting instead. Both of us had been white water rafting before and knew it was fun, so why not? Thank God we had amazing travel insurance with World Nomads that had us covered for basically any adventure imaginable, little did we know we’d actually be using it so early in our trip! (This was literally week 2 of our year long adventure FML).
Arriving at the Rio Suarez
The white water rafting would be done on the Rio Suarez or Suarez River, a monster of a river with Class 4 and 5 rapids. We got picked up from our hostel and drove about 45 mins to our destination. My heart was racing as we talked about the safety procedures, but I must say they really did a good job preparing us for what to do if the raft flipped or you fell out. Regardless, I never thought we would flip of fall out, I was sure it would be fine.
We got into the raft, practiced falling out and rescuing each other before beginning our descent on the Rio Suarez. At the first stop we got stuck and our guide had to work pretty hard to get us out. On the second one which was also really rocky we got stuck again…not a good sign. Then we hit a rapid and I got knocked out of place and someone’s paddle hit me on the side of my neck. It hurt a lot, like getting punched in the throat but I was okay (sign much?). We were half way through and made a stop for a fruit break before continuing on the river.
We were doing fine, I remember looking around, enjoying the rush and paddling “mas fuerte” (very strong) as our guide kept repeating. We were going towards some rapids when suddenly, BOOM!
the Flip and rescue
I don’t even know how or when it happened but all of a sudden I was in the water, and worse..I was under the raft. I couldn’t breathe. I tried to pull myself up and out from under the raft but it was taking too long and I was running out of air. I finally got out from under the raft but I was still under water and the river was taking me away. My life jacket finally started doing its job and I was up and took my first deep breath only to be swept away again by another rapid. I was panicking. I was scared. I didn’t know what to do.
I saw the green rescue kayak close by and I grabbed on to it from the front. There was another girl from our raft holding on to it as well. Everyone in our raft got flipped into the water. The kayaker looked worried as our weight was going to topple him over, and he instructed her to go to the back and for me to hang on the front so he could gain his balance. We did as we were told. We were still going down the river and I was hanging on to the front of the raft in the “koala” position. The koala position is holding on to the front with my legs wrapped around the top like a koala on a tree. Unfortunately, this koala didn’t do such a great job as the kayak was going downstream and my back hit a rock. It felt like an explosion on my lower back but I didn’t let go of the kayak, I couldn’t. I didn’t even feel the pain at first, I was just trying to breathe. I was hyperventilating. I couldn’t get enough air. Why wasn’t I rescued and in a boat yet?! Finally, I saw the raft coming closer. They were trying to pull me up and after a few attempts, they managed to pull me in. Finally, I was inside and their arms were all around me but I pushed them off because I still couldn’t breathe properly. I asked them to look at my back to make sure I wasn’t bleeding or anything more serious, they said it looked fine. As I was looking out I could see something in front of my right eye. It was a HUGE bump. I don’t know when or what happened to me but I assumed that someone’s paddle hit me in the face before we were all thrown overboard.
I was finally safe and moved back into our raft but I didn’t want to be in the raft anymore. I just wanted to be at the end and over with this experience. My back was in so much pain and I was panicked with this huge bump on my face. One of the girl’s reassured me that it was just a black eye, “like when you get punched in the face.” I told her, “I don’t get punched in the face! So I don’t know what it’s like” We all laughed, but her words really comforted me. There was one last rapid to past before we were done and I just stayed inside of the raft. We made it through and finally I was able to get out.
They had beers and food there waiting for us. I wasn’t hungry so I just had a beer and was waiting to get a phone so I could see what it looked like. The bump was huge and the pediatrician who was on the raft with us checked it out and said that it missed my eye so I should be fine within a week or so. I was relieved, sad about it, but relieved.
After white water rafting
On our ride home Andrew said to me, “I wasn’t scared when we flipped over until I looked around and couldn’t see you.” TEARS. How lucky am I to have someone who loves me this much?
My eye looks horrible but it doesn’t feel so bad, my back is what hurts the most. Through it all I’m staying positive as this could have happened to anyone, but it happened to me. I’m most upset about the fact that I won’t be able to paraglide here which is something I’ve been wanting to do since we planned our trip 🙁 I don’t think I’ll go white water rafting again for a long time but I will go again, just on a class 3 or less. I’ve had enough adrenaline from this sport to last a lifetime.
This is what life is all about though. When life throws you over board, you fight and hang on until you make it through. Never give up. And appreciate the life you have while you’re living it because you never know what can happen. I’m grateful for life. I’m grateful for that experience and I’m grateful to be doing this with my best friend by my side.
We spent a few more days in San Gil, I even went out to explore the beautiful Colonial town in Barichara. I couldn’t really walk for very long without my back hurting so I hired a taxi to take me around. It was actually an amazing tour and he was a great photographer, unlike Andrew who hates taking photos for me (where can I hire an Instagram husband?)
We flew out to Medellin where I went to the hospital to get my back checked since it had been a few days and I still couldn’t function properly without pain. The hospital was immaculate. I couldn’t believe how modern, clean and fast the service was! There was a room just for international travelers, we got helped immediately and the whole process took less than two hours!
The doctor checked me out and confirmed that there was nothing wrong, just a really bad bruising and prescribed me some strong pain killers, they were just Ibuprofin but 3x as strong. We paid and kept all the receipts to make a claim with World Nomads. Making a claim was really easy, I took pictures of all my receipts so I would have a copy and then mailed them to the claims address. Within a few weeks, I got my check in the mail! The whole process was painless, not including my injury haha. I’m just glad that we didn’t have to stress about hospital fees etc. on top of being injured in another country.
This is why I always recommend having travel insurance for any trip, no matter how long you’re gone for. Anything can happen at any time, even if you’re just crossing the street. You don’t want to be left paying for a hefty hospital bill so do yourself a solid and just get the damn travel insurance! I researched a lot of travel insurance companies before purchasing World Nomads and chose them because they’re well known, trusted, have THE MOST EXTENSIVE coverage for adventure sports and was the cheapest.
I hope nothing like this happens during your travels, but if it does you’ll be covered 🙂 Has anything like this happened to you while traveling?
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