Posted by: Jessie Kwak | December 23, 2009

Birthdays and river rafting in Arequipa

Mom’s birthday was December 20th (Sunday), and when we asked her what she’d like to do for her birthday she said “river rafting.”

So there we were, floating down the Arequipa’s Chili River with Hugo, our guide. We looked ridiculous in our bright blue and yellow suits, safety orange life jackets and helmets, but we didn’t care. There was no one around to see us, anyway.

The Chili River seems as though it was made for novice rafters. It steps you up gradually from Class 1 to Class 4 rapids over a 6-kilometer run, and with Hugo’s shouted directions we learned quickly, becoming more comfortable with the pattern of rowing, with the water, with the thrill.

Hugo shouted directions at us: “Forward!” “Back!” “Get inside!” We followed his lead, but Hugo had such remarkable control over the boat that at times it felt as though he was just shouting instructions so that we felt like we were contributing.

The teamwork was gratifying, and the river canyon was beautiful: carved of white sillar, the porous volcanic rock that is used in much of Arequipa’s colonial architecture. The cliffs are pockmarked by weather and the birds who have dug their homes in the soft stone. Trees overhang the river and hawks float overhead. I wished constantly that I had more time to enjoy the view, to marvel at the vivid green and rust mosses that coat the stones, to study the small black and white birds that are perched high above, watching us flail.

But we’re shooting rapids, clawing frantically at the water with our paddles: “Forward, hard!” yells Hugo. “Harder!”

Eventually I began to realize that we weren’t going to fall in, and with each rapid my excitement increased. We started working together better, and Rob and Mom stopped clashing paddles quite so much. We were having fun.

Time to throw a wrench in the works.

Hugo had us pull out of the water for a break. “Now we are going for a swim,” he said. I laughed. Year, right. He indicated the peak of a small mountain that overlooked the river. “First we jump from that rock. Then we swim to the other side of the river, to jump from that rock.” I looked to where he was pointing. He must be kidding. Hugo grinned. “Let’s go!”

I had become used to following his directions, so I dutifully scrambled up the gigantic peak he was climbing. Rob, Mom and Dad were close behind. Hugo stood at the top of the precipice. “Jump far out to the river,” he said. “And wait for Daniel so he can take your picture.” And with those last words, he leapt.

Leaving me alone, and next in line for the horror.


Daniel maneuvered his kayak into position, waving for me to wait a second. No worries—I’d give him all the time in the world. I looked over my shoulder at the queue forming behind me. Even if I could bear the embarrassment of turning back, there was no way to get around all these people without slipping on the narrow ledge. No safe way down besides—

I plugged my nose and leapt, screaming all the way down.

And that was just the first mountain Hugo led us off. I won’t bore you with details of my second cliff jump (let’s just say that it was even more terrifying than the first), but suffice to say that my performance has kept our small crew laughing for a day and half straight. Dad’s impression of my flailing and screaming is getting better every time….

[The logistics: We signed up through Marlo Tours (in their office at our hostel, Posada del Parque). The trip was S/.73 a person for about an hour on the river, and our group was 12 people, divided into four boats. They offer two times a day, morning and evening, and occasional runs during the full moon, which sound awesome.]



  1. I can’t wait to see dad’s impression of you Jessie. That sounded like a lot of fun!

  2. Looks like a blast on that whitewater

  3. […] Colca Canyon (twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the US) is known for its scenery, trekking, and white-water rafting. This is also the place to see the majestic Condor […]

  4. […] Canyon (twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in the US) is known for its scenery, trekking, and white-water rafting. This is also the place to see the majestic Condor […]

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