June 03, 2011

Fearless in Switzerland

A few days ago Dana and 15 of her friends had planned to jump off a cliff and paraglide over the Pacific Ocean in Miraflores, the upscale Lima suburb where she and fellow students are living for a few weeks of their six-week Peruvian edu-adventure, but Lima's crappy winter weather took the wind out of their sails. Which made momma happy.

But my relief was short-lived, as I've been informed via Facebook that the group has scouted a paragliding venue near Cusco, their next destination. Instead of jumping from a cliff and sailing over an angry, gunmetal ocean, Dana and company, when they can find a few hours off from language and culture classes, will be leaping off a mountain and sailing over Andean foothills and brown valleys dotted with Inca ruins made of really hard stone. Oh, I feel better now.

Dana's fearless. She's been a sassy ball of chutzpah since she was born and has often demonstrated this trait while traveling. Like the time she jumped off a bridge in Switzerland.

We were in Bern, a medieval idyll built astride the fast-moving, glacial-blue Aare River. The Bernese use the Aare as a natural waterpark and a big patch of grass near downtown as Mazili Beach.

People hike from Mazili up a trail to a bridge in the woods, jump off the bridge, then float down the Aare, grabbing onto metal bars at intermittent concrete exit ramps, where they pull themselves out.

The water was too swift-moving for my liking, and I told Mike and the kids I didn't think body-surfing it was a great idea. They looked at me, stripped down to their bathing suits, left me holding everybody's clothes, and followed the population of Bern up the trail to the bridge. I followed and planted myself a bit downstream from the bridge.

There were a few dozen people on the bridge when Mike, Adam and Dana marched onto it. Mike and Adam stood by the railing, looked over the edge, then backed away. Dana looked at them like they were wusses, climbed over the railing to the narrow ledge on the bridge's outer side, and jumped off. I screamed at Mike, "Get in there with her!" Mike and Adam duly ejected themselves from the bridge and were whisked away by the current. Happily, they were able to steer their bodies in Dana's direction, and I soon saw my family's bobbing heads rush by me.
I ran to the nearest exit station and jumped up and down, pointing to the grab-bar. I was petrified they'd miss it -- and succeeding off-ramps -- and get carried over the waterfall that lay downstream. When they saw me, they aimed for the ramp, joined hands, and Mike grabbed the bar. They emerged from the Aare dripping, laughing hysterically, and primed for more. Off they went up the trail and back to the bridge.

For the next hour, I sat on a rock on the riverbank and watched my family float repeatedly by. Sometimes it was hard for me to pick them out from the rest of the river-surfing crowd. Hundreds of people were in the water at any given time. Most used their bodies as their craft, but others whooshed by riding on tubes, boogy boards and rubber rafts. One family zoomed by atop a giant, inflatable plastic zebra-striped couch.