I woke up on Thursday morning in time to see the sun rising between the walls of Boquillas Canyon.
“Our energy on this boat trip is finna be real chaotic” – Willow
After breakfast Willow and I packed up our stuff and loaded it into our canoe, which we named Moby Dick due to its whalelike beaching tendencies. We paddled hard, but Moby Dick had a mind of its own and we often found ourselves alone on the river, far behind the rest of the group. At midday we caught up to everyone else, gathered at the top of a small rapid which separated us from our lunch destination. As I watched other canoes traverse the rapid with grace, I began to doubt my ability to keep Moby Dick upright. When our turn arrived, we ducked our heads to protect against thorny vines and I guided the canoe through the shallow, choppy waters of the Rio. We emerged unscathed, save for a four inch scrape across the right side of my face.
After a filling picnic lunch on the banks of the Rio, we continued paddling until we came to a collection of rocks that invited us to leap off into the cool, blue waves of the river. We all took a much appreciated swim break, and climbed out of the water feeling ready to keep moving. As we paddled onward, Moby Dick once again lagged behind the rest of the group. This is in large part due to repeated beachings which forced Willow and me to take turns climbing out of the boat to pull it back into deeper water. At one point I found myself chasing the boat through the river on foot as it quickly regained momentum.
As we paddled on, feeling as though we were alone on the river, I found myself thinking about what the river means to other people and species. To many plants and animals, overuse of water upstream has led to habitat damage. To border communities, the Rio provides a space for horses to graze. To many migrants, this river is just one of many obstacles in the way of a better and more secure life. To me, this is the remote and beautiful setting of a recreational canoe trip with new friends. It has provided me with the ability to cool off, travel, and “bathe.” That seems so inconsequential, and yet I am grateful for my small experience with the Rio.
My ruminations were interrupted when Moby Dick came to a grinding halt on a patch of rocks in the middle of the river. For what felt like the one hundredth time that day, I got out of the boat to pull Moby into deeper, more freely flowing water. Unfortunately I underestimated both the depth of the water and the speed of the current at this particular point on the Rio and soon found myself swimming frantically after the boat.
After my swim, I felt myself lacking in motivation. Luckily, Willow’s singing supplied me with enough energy to finish the slog to our campsite.
P.S. Mom, before you ask: Yes, I wore sunscreen. Yes, I wore sunglasses. Yes, I got burnt anyway.