Location: Rio Toachi
Last day! Its bittersweet, just like the chocolate that the area of Ecuador we spent our day in is famous for. We woke up early, threw on swimsuits and clothes that we didn’t mind soaking, scarfed down some granola, and hopped on the bus to Santo Domingo for a day of whitewater rafting. We watched the sunrise as our bus cruised through the mountains, listening to Burns songs Electric Love and Past Lives and feeling like the beginning to an awesome, inspirational movie. In a way, we were because today was an adventure, our last hurrah before we soar back to the real world. Our cinematic, nap-filled ride lasted 3 and a half hours, but we finally reached the section of the Rio Toachi where we were going to shove off. Our guides unloaded our two rafts and proceeded to pump them both up with only one manual pump and their mouths. When we were all thoroughly impressed and the rafts all inflated, we had our safety briefing, divided into boats, and carried our rafts down to the river. My raft, which I shared with Quinn, Cristina, Micaela, Sam, and our guide David, shoved off second and promptly engaged in a splash war with the other raft. Thoroughly soaked, we made our way down to the first rapids and began our 3-hour tour. All was going well for a while. Then, we reached the first BIG rapids. Our guide, who had been standing in the back of the raft, got ejected out and into the whitewater on the first or second rapid, leaving us captainless. Knowing that we had to get through the rapids before David could rejoin us, I yelled to keep paddling, and Quinn continued to bark out the rhythm to keep us in sync. Every so often we’d look back to make sure that David was still hanging on to the rope. He was, but the poor guy was getting abused. Finally, we made it out of the rapids, and David was able to climb back in. He seemed a bit shaken up, so we took a long break at a little waterfall on the side of the river than usual. The waterfall was cool. We got to climb out of our rafts and swim under it, the best way to experience the powerful pounding of water plummeting down 20 feet onto your shoulders. The waterfall break didn’t last long, and we were soon out on the river again. We sped through a couple more rapids and then stopped in another calm spot to climb up the steep sides of the river. We traversed a narrow, mossy path to a large rock and, at our guides urging, jumped off and into the current. It was an exhilarating, if short, fall. Even Micaela, who was afraid of jumping, ended up jumping off. The second we hit the water, we started swimming as fast as possible against the strong current to get back to the boat. Miraculously, we all made it back to the rafts in Chacos, Tevas, Keens, and one pair of really heavy, waterlogged hiking boots (good job Sam). We continued for a while, enjoying more Class 2-3 rapids and avoiding a large hole called The Frog. Then, we pulled over onto a rocky beach of sorts to rest. When we asked why, our guides told us that wed soon be reaching the end of Rio Toachi and the beginning of the section of Rio Blanco that wed be rafting, a much harder, rougher river than the tame Toachi. Excited by the prospect of bigger rapids, we shoved off as fast as possible. The rapids WERE bigger. Not by too much, but enough to make us happy. When we reached a fairly calm stretch, the other raft drifted up to my rafts side. We thought that it was a friendly visit. It was not. The second they got close enough, Devin, Sky, and pretty much the entire boat lunged out and, yelling, seized Quinn. They were doing what Devin later called pirating, and, despite our attempts to hold onto Quinn’s boots, managed to drag the biggest member of our group out of our raft, into theirs, and then into the water. While we were watching Quinn get tossed into the water, Devin swam underneath our raft. All the sudden, an arm reached out of the river, grabbed Cristina by the life jacket, and pulled her into the water with one of the most surprised expressions I’ve ever had the privilege of viewing. When she was in the water, Devin boarded our raft and proceeded to pick Micaela and me up and throw us overboard as well. Sam, seeing our defeat, made a quick decision and dove off the side of her own volition. For the next couple of minutes, we splashed each other, dragged the marauding rafts inhabitants into the river, and laughed our heads off. We noticed some rapids approaching but didn’t want to get out and asked our guides if it was ok to ride these out in the water. Both said yes and then, but keep your mouth shut, which wasn’t reassuring. The rapids were fine and pretty fun. However, Quinn and I made the mistake of letting ourselves get caught in other currents and carried far from the raft, he behind and myself in front. We saw even bigger rapids coming up and, despite knowing the futility of swimming back to the raft, I asked David again if it was ok to go through these rapids. Again, he said that it should be fine, but Quinn and I got put through the washing machine a bit anyways and returned to our seats in the boat a few pints of river water fuller. After that, we plunged through a couple more series of rapids and even rode some more outside of the boat (this time while holding on to the raft) before we pulled off the river. After rafting, we made and then ate awesome burritos, using fillings like guacamole made by our guides, onions, beans with beef, tomatoes, lettuce, and even crushed tortilla chips for some extra crunch. After a seemingly short 3 hours of physical activity and cold waters, burritos, crackers, and watermelon were just what we all needed. We headed back to Quito after that, saying goodbye and thank you to our guides somewhere along the way. When we got back home to the Airport Garden, we all showered and headed out to Chesters Pizza for a closing feast of 6 whole pizzas and lots of fresh squeezed lemonade. When we returned home, completely stuffed, we got to work writing each other cards and writing our service reflections. A couple of us (Micaela, Cristina and I) ended up almost pulling an all-nighter at the dining room table, staying up until past 1 am when we knew we had to wake up at 3:50 am or so the next morning. We certainly made the most of our last night together! It’ll be sad saying goodbye to all of these people we’ve become so close to, to our little family and our entire world these past few weeks. We’ve gotten each other through so much. Six hours of hiking up and down mountains at 10,000 feet, spider filled walks through a dark jungle, grubs for lunch, heart attacks from fake bull sharks, Fabian’s photography more crazy things that I can list or even remember in one sitting. Tomorrow the Darwin tribe scatters across the US, off to Kansas, Connecticut, California, Texas, and Florida to begin our lives as wiser, more independent individuals. You could almost say we’ve evolved.