White knuckles and white water

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Leigh G Banks tells of his experience in Slovakia

I’ve just had the most fun it’s possible to have whilst drowning.

White water rafting is for crazy people … and, you know what, it should be compulsory for everybody to go crazy at least once in their lives.

And it was on the Bela River under the Tatra mountain landmark of Krivan  that my mad adventure began.

After a brief briefing that basically consisted of hang on no matter what, we pushed off in to the cold cold  Bela  in a dinghy that groaned and undulated more than the river itself.
As we sailed down the rapids backwards, sideways, upside down, in the boat, out the boat, my attention was drawn to  an eagle that flew as silent as plane with a rabbit in its claws.

But it was that split second’s lack of concentration that nearly drowned me … the dinghy skimmed round a rock, leaped to the left and dumped me into the river to the right

Well, as the Bela took me, all I  knew was that it didn’t matter any longer whether I could swim or not, I was rolling and tumbling beneath the waves, devoured by the current that miraculously slid me safely through the rocks.

And as the river turned me and began to choke me with my own hair, I remembered what the group’s captain said – lay your  head on the pillows of the water and refuse to struggle.

My body skimmed across a rock and I shot into a syphonic alley as if I was an eel. The shale turned into smoke as I shimmied through it.

I finally broke the surface like a maniac, thrashing my arms around and coughing and splashing and for that split second I was back amongst the living I couldn’t tell if the looks on the faces of my companions were of horror or hysterical laughter.

… But then I was gone again beneath the surface.

I  was jettisoned over a waterfall and crashed feet-first in to the next natural lock  of white water. I grabbed a slice of breath before the surface closed over me as tightly as the whale closed over Jonah.

Now, there is a natural corkscrew in a fast-flowing river – and that corkscrew with the conspiring of the rocks can knock you inside out, crack your skull and disembowel you all at once. But I’d been taught well and allowed myself to glide as if I was riding the edge of the air.

And I survived. They found me perched on a rock … the dinghy shuddered and jerked as my colleagues helped me back in. And yep, they’d been laughing all along – while it had been a journey of discovery and trauma for me, to them it had been a big  joke that actually lasted less than 30 seconds.

But it was like a right of passage … I knew how Davy Crockett must have felt in all those 1950s B movies.

Whitewater rafting is a big thing in Slovakia now with bases across the country … but the best must be in the Tatras mountains or at least near them.

For instance, the Dunajec is a river running through southern Poland and forms a border between Poland and Slovakia for 27 kilometers in the Pieniny Środkowe (Slovak: Centrálne Pieniny) range, east of the Czorsztyn reservoir. It is the only river taking waters from the Slovak territory to the Baltic.

What’s different about rafting here is that you can take the ride on a wooden raft!

Rafting on River Orava offers smooth sailing and is ‘suitable for beginners and  children. Orava river is navigable throughout its course from Tvrdosin to its confluence with the river Vah in Kralovany.

Ondrej Cibak Area water slalom  is located 1.5 km far from the city of Liptovsky Mikulas in the North and is worth a visit.   The area is fed by water from the river Vah. The best conditions are in the spring months of May or June the course is open from early April to late October. It is suitable for everyone.

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