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Learning Hebrew in Peru while Tackling Level Four Rapids, too!

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Lucky Kevin psyching himself up for a rafting trip down the Urubamba River with four women.

Upon waking up, I can usually start out by greeting someone with, "Hola, buenos dias!" But today I get a, "Shalom, boker tov!" in return. That's not in my Spanish dictionary but I can recognize a "Good morning!" even in...Hebrew?!? Wait, I thought I was in Peru! Well the group I'm about to go rafting with is made up of four girls, all of whom are from Israel. To top it all off, our rafting guide Eran and his assistant Totan are also from Israel! Pablo our cameraman is the only native Spanish speaker on today's rafting trip.

Inflating the raft takes lots of time so I have ample opportunity to get to know my rafting companions. Einav and I will be sitting up front and Merav, Keren, and Dikla will be rowing right behind us. Rowing down a wild river is difficult and dangerous but can be managed safely if you follow some very simple instructions. Of course these instructions are being given to us by Eran in Hebrew. All I can do is hope that the other four are paying really close attention to what for THEM should be very simple instructions. I don't know a lot of Hebrew, but I think Eran just told us not to, "Dance in the boat, hit each other over the head with the paddles, or smoke or drink while rowing." Or maybe he just said no drinking. The only place I feel like rowing to is the nearest Hebrew language school! I picked up a few commands from the demonstration: "kadima" = row forward, "astor" = stop, "smol ahora" = left back, "yamin ahora" = right back, "kulam ahora" = everyone back.

Map of the Urubamba River near Cuzco, Peru.
And we're off! As we flow down the Urubamba river, the sun is shining, the water is calm, and the mountainous scenery is beautiful. Totan and Pablo follow behind us in their own small raft and record the trip on Hi-8 video. We pass the usual sights along the way - cows, sheep, campesinos, and ducks who are laughing at us easily-sinkable folks wearing our funny red helmets and matching lifejackets. The class three rapids really move, but not so quickly that we can't enjoy the view.

As we come around the bend, we see a gesher (a small orange-colored bridge) before us. Three little girls dressed in their school uniforms are waving to us from the bridge. While passing under, I think to myself, "What fun it would be to jump off of that bridge into the waters below!" and that's exactly what Einav and I decide to do. Einav jumps off the raft and into the water. After a few seconds, he pops right back up and seems to be having fun. Ok, my turn next. "The water is cold" is something you're told by the guide while sitting in a dry raft, but jumping into the Urubamba River as the winter season approaches in the Peruvian Andes is a whole different story. Cold is COLD no matter what language it's in!

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How easy does this look?
"The next section of the river is class four rapids. It's technically very difficult and there's no place to stop along the way, so are you sure you're all up to it?" I hear Eran blabber through my water-filled ears. "Brrrrrrrrr!" I answer while wildly shaking my head up and down (just to keep warm). So back in the raft we go, ready to tackle this white mass of rolling water I see just down the river. "Kadima," we row ahead towards the rapids. Whoosh! The first wave comes over the side of the raft. Kaddish! Another big wave comes over everyone but Eran, who still sits calmly in the back, dry as matza. My Hebrew is improving because I can now tell the difference between "Kadima" (forward) and "KADIMAAA!!!" which means row NOW and FAST or the raft is going to overturn with the next wave! Water is everywhere, in my helmet, my mouth, my (very) wetsuit, and if I had more hair, it would be there too.

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Ahhhhh! KADIMAAA!!!
We're rushing faster and faster down the river and I can only assume that Eran is soon going to give us the brilliant order to quickly steer around the HUGE ROCK jutting out of the water only 30...20...10 feet directly ahead of...CRASH! SWOOSH! KANISH! Our raft is halfway out of the water and washed up on that same enormous rock that we, not so brilliantly, did not navigate around. The water keeps coming at us from behind. As we all struggle to hold on to the raft and climb higher onto the rock, the river immediately fills our boat and pins it against the rock with its mighty force. Fortunately I'm wearing my waterproof watch and can clearly keep track of each one of the 20 MINUTES that we're stuck here holding onto the raft for dear life until Totan comes back with a rope to rescue us. Keren is squashing Einav, Merav and Dikla are panicking in foreign languages, and only my head remains above water, I feel like a gifelta fish! Eran grabs the rope thrown to him by Totan and ties it to the raft, Totan, pulling with all his strength, begins to peel the raft from the rock allowing it to float around to its downstream side.

What next? "Everyone off the rock and back in the boat, we're not out of this yet!" commands Eran, glad to have gotten us out of that mess (and also happy that none of our parents are lawyers). Eran himself is barely back in the boat when suddenly Einav yells out, "Kadima!" Apparently she was a sergeant in the Israeli Army and now enjoys giving rafting orders. Together all six of us plunge our oars into the freezing water and SPLASH! We dive down into a hole. MAMASH! We just make it out before the next wave comes, and on and on we go! Kadima! Ahora! Atsor! Yamin ahora! KADIMAAA!!!


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