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Dressed in rubber, no place to go but down river!
How much fun can you really have with your clothes on? Well, inside a wet suit that is? To find out just how much, you’ll have to go canyoning with Get Wet Cabarete.
I had my first canyoning experience about 2 years ago. Far enough back for me to forget how much adrenaline you get pumping during this fantastic adventure. My most recent trip lingers quite fresh in my memory. I feel as if I can still taste the cool freshwater river and smell the musky humidity of the deep jungle as I descended into the deepest part of the tropical river gorge that day.
But lets start at the beginning... I was picked up one early morning at Dick’s
Bakery, located in central Cabarete. It was here that I piled into the Get Wet taxi-van, joining a number of other guests who had been picked up before me from different hotels between Puerto Plata and Cabarete. We gave each other a quick once-over, scanning each other for signs of the nervous anticipation we felt within. There were eight of us, including Mike, our Get Wet Guide. As we hit the road we introduced ourselves and I tried to keep track of all the new faces and names. Not a strong suit of mine, I must admit. I was along for the trip to take pictures for Get Wet so I tried to make an effort to remember at least a few of the names...
Grant and Dafina hailed from Ontario, Canada. They found a last minute deal on a travel package and had arrived just the day prior. Dori and Greg came all the way from California for a late fall vacation in a Puerto Plata resort. Keri represented the US East Coast, making the shorter hop here from Maryland, USA. Curd, a writer from the German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, rounded out our multi-national group. Well not quite. I forgot to include Mike, our Get Wet Guide, who is originally from Germany and is a long time resident of Cabarete. Mike runs Get Wet Cabarete, which still puts him into the Guide boots quite regularly. And lastly, myself, a Freelance Photographer, originally from Switzerland, who is also a long time resident of Cabarete.
After a pleasant half hour drive trough the lush countryside, passing small homes and villages along the way, we climbed ever higher into the “Cordillera Septentrional” mountain range, eventually arriving at ‘The Hut’. ‘The Hut’ is Get Wet’s base of operations. It was here that Mike introduced us all to what would become our new best friend - a full rubber wet suit pared with a climbing harness. These, and a bright helmet to protect our noggins! The harnesses have a butt sheet, which is a square-ish piece of sturdy cloth of the Army Surplus variety, to give the suits, and more importantly, our butts, a little more protection. We inspected ourselves and each other, not quite sure if we looked cool, or just a little out of place in a wet suit, on land, in the middle of the mountains! Strong coffee, brewed by one of the local ladies, was offered to us along with delicious croissants from Dick’s Bakery, giving us a much needed healthy start. I was certainly awake now.
As we chatted through breakfast, Mike asked for our attention so he could give us a quick introduction to the merits of our gear and advise us to leave any Rolex watches behind, or anything else we cared for, for that matter. “The river loves jewelry and watches”, were his exact words. This was followed by, “I am bad with names but I do need to know them to get your attention so please write them on the front of your helmets. Here’s a waterproof marker.” My name problem was solved…
We hopped back into the taxi-van and drove about a mile down some type of trail, certainly not a road, until we reached a dead end. We piled out of the taxi-van and it was here that we began our hike, in a single file behind Mike. The area was incredibly lush, green, and dewy with the humidity. After about a hundred yards I looked around and thought that we could actually be in the deep jungle of any South American country. The terrain rose and fell, but generally we were moving down, passing avocado and orange trees, coffee plants and epiphytes of a number of different types growing on the trees. I looked up and saw many species of tropical trees, including mahogany and bromeliads alongside the path as we went deeper. I felt like Peter Pan. Well, I certainly had the outfit!
Finally we arrived at a narrow creek bed that had an edge that dipped out of sight. We came to a halt here. It was time for our first abseil! Mike gave us our instructions and attached a long rope to a sturdy looking tree. We learned to attach ourselves to the rope and lower ourselves down into the creek bed. It felt a bit like doing the moonwalk, legs slightly apart, as if we were walking down the side of a building. We all checked each other’s progress, always using the buddy system. As we gained confidence Mike was able to go on ahead and attach ropes to the next abseil/ repelling section of our adventure. I positioned myself to get some good shots of my companions as they lowered themselves down the steep walls. There was little water on this side of creek, but enough to keep the center part of the creek clean so we had no sliding sneakers over slippery rocks here. Looking up, I could see the canopy of forest that enclosed us, showing just a few small patches of the blue sky beyond. We repeated similar abseils six more times before we finally reached the river bottom.
The Rio Blanco (White River) runs lazily on the far side of a relatively flat area with a vertical wall just behind it. From here we could look up and down the canyon, seeing clear pools of water everywhere. It’s a playground for grown-ups and we lost ourselves in the views until Mike signaled to us that it was time to begin trekking down the main part of the river.
Here there is water, and plenty of it! Sometimes we are able to trek beside the river, but where the banks get too narrow we start walking in the middle, or even swim when it is deep enough. We started to get the hang of this, and the more we did, the more we enjoyed it. Jumping into the cold river water in a wetsuit is not bad. In fact, it felt good, even refreshing. Remember this is not glacier water, we are in the tropics! Mike checks our progress and then we come upon our first real obstacle: a waterfall roaring down a steep bowl, showing only whitewater at the base and pushing out on the far side through a window-type arch. It is slippery here so some of us slide on our butts and others walk on all fours. More instructions from Mike, “We have two options here.We can either jump or we can jump.” Straight ahead is the lower jump and around to the right of the huge pool in front of us is the higher jump. Nice options, I thought. A 6 meter jump or close to a 10 meter jump. It was time to set up my camera at this magnificent spot! I wanted to get some jumping action on film.
Keri and Dori opted for the lower jump, and both are a bit nervous. Mike coaches them along and his confidence seems to be contagious. He gives a steady hand, holding on to their harness, reassuring them, soothing their nerves until they are ready. Taking a quick step over the edge, off they fly! I had time for just one shot of them each. Mike retracts back to the rest of our gang and guides us around to the higher jump, leaving me to my game. The spot where we’ll jump from is just bathed in sunlight. This looks just great through my viewfinder. I play with the speed and aperture and push the shutter. Each jump is exciting, even just to watch. I know that I too will soon have to jump. Once Mike jumps I pack up my gear and lower the backpack, with my camera in a dry case, slowly down the rocks. It’s slippery, but my footing is solid, it’s my heart that is beating much quicker now. Once I get the current to move the bag away, it’s time for me to jump. I check my footing once more as I want to push off solid and go down feet first. Don’t wait, I remember, it doesn’t get any easier. Off I fly. YEEHAA!
This was just one of the numerous jumps and other abseil sections, with the river and surrounding areas changing at every turn. There was never a dull moment and it is almost impossible to take in all of the beautiful scenery nature has to display here. It simply takes your breath away. We enjoyed lunch on a large sloping rock that gets sun during the mid-day hours. We were definitely enjoying the warmth at that point. Getting in and out of the cold river water does lower one’s body temperature and we had certainly expended a lot of energy. “Müsly Cakes”and Coca-Cola is the standard fare. “Müsly Cakes” are solid carbohydrate muffins, great for replenishing some our spent energy. “Sandwiches? Forget it.”, Mike mentions. “They look like hell after you throw them off the cliffs a half dozen times.” We got the picture.
The last part of the trip was a little easier and less technical, but we all still got the chance to test or fitness level as we climbed back out of the canyon. The trail going out is quite steep and after a full day of exercise it certainly challenges your stamina. We all made back to ‘The Hut’ and felt as though we could take on the world. Instead, we changed out of our wetsuits and into our street clothes. This amazingly incredible adventure was over.
Just thinking about the trip and putting the words down on paper I feel a resurgence of the adrenaline created at the time. The sensation makes the small hairs along your spine shiver. I am sure my adventure companions are now back at their jobs and when they think about the adventure, they too feel the same way. As they look at their co-workers with a smug grin on their face from that feeling, they are probably thinking, if you only knew!
If you do have are interested to join a group of people to go canyoning in the Dominican Republic visit the Iguana Mama site. Iguana Mama is the Caribbean's top adventure tour specialist. You will find the canyoning tours under their "Waterfall Tours" link. If you find that a couple of images are similar to the ones on this page you right. I did take a number of images used on their site...