Rapid confusion set in on my face as a huge, silent, sturdy Czech guy plunked my raft into the Vltava River, hoisted a water-tight barrel with my purse and camera tucked inside, aggressively shoved the barrel under the front lip of the raft in one giant thrust, and then sauntered away.
Our guide’s broad shoulders departing swiftly up the slope to the cozy, warm van confirmed what had just been an inkling: my cousin, friend, and I were about to raft down the river all by our lonesome selves. We had been left without a guide and in a truly tiny raft with dinky life jackets strapped around our chests.
On my way to book the rafting trip the day before, I had passed a sopping wet but widely smiling gentleman who I had previously chatted with on the bus ride from Prague to Český Krumlov. He had just completed a short one-hour trip down the river and he and his buddy completely flipped their boat by incorrectly going over the man-made rapid. They didn’t seem too concerned with having biffed it and he gave me a huge thumbs up when I told him that we planned to take the same trip, but slightly longer, the very next day.
He gave us one warning—stay left on the first rapid, right on the second, and right on the third.
I walked away telling myself: “Left, right, right. Left, right, right. Left, left, right … wait? No! Left, right, right!”
Let’s just say, the mantra didn’t stick. When the huge Czech guy left us riverside, I was worried. But the three of us figured that there was little chance that we had been offered independent rafting on a dangerous river, so it couldn’t be too bad. The worst that would happen is we would end up soaking wet and swimming to shore.
Our boat gently floated down the calm river for a while until we approached town. The river does a lovely loop (remember the Omega Ω shape I mentioned) through town—which would be a beautiful vantage on the historic architecture. Just one problem. The river changes level three times, meaning we would need to navigate the boat down three mini “rapids.”
This is when the mantra was supposed to come in handy. We approached the first one and I questioned, “So it looks like we should go down on the right?”
Caitlin vetoed my suggestion, noting that she thought I had said left first yesterday. So, despite my reservations—I was sure it was right first—we headed down the rapid.
Thank the universe they ignored me! We proceeded uneventfully over the next rapids and then began our two-hour gentle drift down the river.
These people, however, did not get the memo:
Along the way, we played an unintentional game of pass and then be passed with a group of Czech tourists spread across three boats. They would issue forth a hearty ahoj and then release a string of excited and rapid Czech thrown in the direction of our boat. Given that I know absolutely zero Czech, the best I could do was shout a cheery ahoj back at them with a huge smile plastered on my face. My big cheesy smile was meant to communicate that we were friendlies!
This exchange of ahoj hellos continued unabated for the full two hours down the river. At one point, the three boats gained on us from behind and a drunk reveller from the nearest boats adamantly gestured and talked at the three of us. The rest of the people from this man’s boats fell out of their seats laughing—there is no doubt in my mind that we were the butt of a very, very hilarious joke.
The man continued shouting, pointing, and laughing at us until his boat was a speck in the distance and the three of us could only give forth a puzzled chuckle. What was that about?!
Fast forward through the rest of our drift down the river—it was rainy and cold (where, oh where did the sunshine go?!) but peaceful and calm at the same time. Although we had paddles, we didn’t use them, preferring to instead gently drift until we hauled our raft to shore at a large outdoor rest point—our designated pick up point.
After a quick phone call back to town, our rafting company picked us up. As we loaded our raft onto the trailer, our group of friendly Czechs from the river began pointing and laughing good-naturedly at us once again.
I was dying to know the joke. It was really over-the-top and I just couldn’t imagine what they thought was so funny for so long. So, I questioned the man loading up the truck. He chuckled and told us that throughout our many shouts of “ahoj” down the river, that we had understood Czech but chose not to only say that one word.
Once they had figured it out, hearing us speak to the rafting guide, they wanted to make up for the unceasing laughter now. The leader of the group trotted over with a peace offering—a bottle of cheap rum. He was eager for us to take a sip . . . I went last and disgraced myself.
In my defence, that stuff was nasty! I still don’t quite understand the reasons for all of the guffaws on the river from this group, but they were so joyous and friendly that it was impossible to hold it against them. Plus, I mean, I don’t really mind being the butt of a joke; I found that it made the entire day more fun.