Playing tourist
by Jen Reeder

I t's not so bad being a tourist in Durango. In early June, I found myself splashing down the Animas in a raft. It was the last few weeks of high, fun water, and my husband and I decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about.

We booked a two-hour trip with Flexible Flyers. The owners, Robin and Stephan, are friends and fans of the Telegraph, and they were happy to squeeze us into the 2 p.m. group. "Bring a new Telegraph," Stephan said on the phone.

We showed up, paper in hand, at their meeting place: a bus parked next to some camping chairs along the river at Ninth Street. At 2 p.m., we boarded the bus, which was blasting upbeat world music, with the other tourists. There was a heavyset, pale couple with two kids who were playing a game that involved saying, "No, you smile at the ketchup" repeatedly and squealing with delight. There was a mother and her young daughter, who stared stoically at the other group's antics. Rounding out the flotilla were three teen-aged girls who were going on an inflatable kayak with their soccer coach, an elderly couple, and us. Meanwhile, Joaquin, Robin and Stephan's "river dog," paced the aisle in his life jacket, looking for love in all the right places.

We ended up with the elderly couple on Stephan's raft. "Do you want the dog to come?" he asked the four of us. Bryan and I started shouting, "Yes! Yes!" but the old folks eyed him nervously as he jumped into the raft, surefooted as a goat.

"We're from Virginia," the woman announced to us as we shoved off. "About an hour from the border of North Carolina, near ___ and ____... We're here to see our new grandbaby. Where do you live?"

"Here," we said, abruptly ending the conversation, until the woman interjected, "I can't swim."

Stephan looked worried.

"How did you get to this point in your life without learning to swim?" he inquired earnestly.

The woman started to reply, but Stephan changed the subject by pointing out a spot of interest.

"That's where an old vagrant laid down and died a few years ago," he offered cheerfully. "It took them two days to find him. You can imagine ."

The couple gripped the ropes on the boat tighter as Joaquin walked over them to join Bryan and me in the bow, where we were grinning at the upcoming mini-rapids. Stephan steered us around a rock with an adept turn. Bryan raised his eyebrows, and Stephan said modestly, "A pirouette."

"Jen is a writer for the best newspaper in town," Stephan said, buttering me up. "Are you doing a story about this?"

"Only if we flip," I joked as the woman listened in horror.

"I haven't flipped for a month," Stephan assured her. "If you fall over, just remember to go feet first so you don't hit your head on a rock."

The couple didn't say much after that. Instead, they listened as Stephan pointed out "All-log-gators," and once we were close to the raft with the ketchup kids, a "spitting turtle," as he sprayed their raft with his oar.

"Again! Again!" they squealed. An hour had passed as we pulled up to the meeting place to let Joaquin off before the juicy rapids, and pick up two more women. They started by introducing themselves, and had the rest of us state our names and where we were from. One was tickled when we said "Durango."

"Oh, I wondered if locals did stuff like this!" she said.

She was interrupted by a guy yelling, "We've got a swimmer!" about one of the teen-agers. We had just left the shore, and everyone on our raft wondered how the teen had managed to fall off in still water. This prompted the Virginia woman to proudly restate, "I guess I'm the only one here that can't swim!"

"Jen says she won't do a story unless we flip," Stephan said as he turned me into prime splashing position where I stayed and was repeatedly drenched for the next hour.

Smelter was the worst, or best, I suppose. We hit the hole just right, and Stephan was lifted high above us as the raft seemed to bend in two. I screamed in delight along with my new tourist friends

"I'm glad you're up there," one of the women said to me. "That water's cold."

Before the end of the ride, we got up close and personal with a heron, as well as the A-LP pumping station. A woman asked me why people are angry about A-LP, and I answered her for about 30 minutes less than I would've liked. But we came around a bend to a gaggle of geese, and I was soon distracted by the woman, who began clucking at them.

We pulled up to the shore, where Robin and Joaquin were waiting. I was cold and ready for a beer, but exhilarated. "It's a little chilly," I said to a guide.

"If you think this is bad, you should've seen it two weeks ago," he condescended.

I smiled to myself. In his mind I was a tourist, and I was cool with that. In fact, I can't wait for my next chance to play tourist. n



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