Friday September 14
Nick’s breakfast was chocolate croissants, while I enjoyed granola with fresh walnuts. We liked the hotel’s nutcracker so much that we bought one for ourselves. Our group’s first morning activity was a trip to Rouffignac Cave, in which a little low-tech train took us through a subterranean riverbed to see 13,000-year-old cave paintings that were discovered in 1956. An incredible marvel, I found it humbling to observe art that humankind’s ancestors felt compelled to create. It was explained to us that the term “cave man” is a misnomer. People at that time were nomads. They did stay at the mouths of caves for protection on occasion, but they didn’t live inside the caves. It’s fascinating that the art is more than half a mile into the cave in an area that its creators had to crawl to reach. What images did we see? There were rhinos, wooly mammoths, horses, and mountain goats. There are also scratches made by bears.
The activity for the afternoon was to be canoeing. Nick hadn’t made up his mind whether he would participate, because he was still congested. When the sun popped through the clouds, he decided to join the rest of us. Although Nick had canoed before during Boy Scout excursions, this was my first canoeing experience. In the morning, Nick had suggested that I wear my bathing suit under my clothes, because one year ago the temperature had been so high that many tourists chose to swim in the Dordogne River. I had no intention of swimming in the river, so I declined.
There were twelve canoes, and ours was the eleventh to embark. Nick explained that the main paddler sits in the back, which he did, and I sat in the front. Atop our street clothes, he and I were each wearing a fleece, a jacket, and a rain jacket, with a life jacket on the very top. We had been given a large plastic jar in which to put whatever we wanted to keep dry. Nick opted to leave his camera on the bus, and we planned to use my camera instead. We’d be going six miles down the Dordogne River, seeing medieval castles and villages along the riverbank.
I was getting the hang of paddling and enjoying it. I marveled at the scenic villages that we were passing. After awhile, Nick began to feel warm, so he decided to take off some of his layers. In order to remove them, he took off his life jacket. Because he was in back of me in the canoe, I wasn’t aware of that. I was aware that there was no paddling going on behind me.
Very soon, we had strayed from the middle of the river and were getting close to the left bank. Suddenly we hit s a submerged tree. As I turned around, I saw that Nick was without his life vest, attempting to free us from the tree’s branches. Then I saw a look of complete panic on his face as the canoe capsized and the two of us tumbled into the river.
I was alarmed by many sensations and thoughts at once. I was surprised and shocked to be under water in the river. I had no idea how deep the river was, and although Nick swims well, I knew that he wasn’t wearing a life jacket. A strong current was pulling me, so much so that I couldn’t stand.
Rich and Anne Marie, who were in the last canoe, started to paddle toward us to offer assistance. As for me, I saw the bobbing plastic jar that contained Nick’s watch, and grabbed it. I also grabbed my paddle and Nick’s sinking jacket. While I was doing that, Nick had righted the canoe and had pulled himself into it. I tossed the things I had retrieved to him, and then he pulled me into the canoe. We started paddling again. I turned to see that Rich and Anne Marie seemed to be going ashore. I wondered if they were okay. After that, we lost sight of them.
Although we paddled the rest of the way thoroughly soaked with water a foot deep in our canoe, I remembered Rick’s Number One Rule: No grumps! I counted our blessings. We were safe. We hadn’t lost our eyeglasses. The weather was cool but not cold, and there was very little wind. My camera was ruined, but it could be replaced easily, and Nick hadn’t taken his camera. I got back into enjoying the magnificent scenery on the hills above the river. I asked Nick, “If we had known in advance that we would have toppled into the water, would you still have gone canoeing?” He said he had to think about it. For me, the answer was easy. “Definitely!”
Because Nick and I and Rich and Anne Marie were in the last two canoes, none of the others knew what has happened to us, so when we arrived at the point of disembarkation, everyone was surprised to learn about our mishap. We had paddled quickly enough to catch up to some of the others, who took photos of us. Eventually, Rich and Anne Marie arrived in their canoe. They had seen us capsize and tried to get close enough to help us. Before they reached us, Nick and I were back in our canoe. We didn’t realize that Nick’s rain jacket was missing, but Rich and Anne Marie saw it in the water. First Rich tried to retrieve it, and then Anne Marie tried, but then they hit the same submerged tree as we did, and they were in the water just as we had been!
When we reached our hotel, we checked in and made haste to the nearest laundromat, where all of our wet clothes had a spin in the drier. We decided to go to a fondue restaurant for dinner. Cheryl and Bill from our group joined us and we had a lovely dinner together.
My fondue was an entire wheel of melted cheese that could be spread on potatoes, with slices of prosciutto di Parma encircling the plate. Yum! Inside the restaurant, dozens of prosciutti were hanging from the ceiling. I could hear my Italian roots calling.
Back in our hotel room, Nick went through everything we had in our waist belts when we went into the water, our credit cards and drivers’ licenses. My license, he said, was missing. I thought about the long day I’d have to spend at the DMV getting it replaced, but I refrained from grumping.