Down the river we go

By Melissa Puppo (Kent State University)

All week I had been anticipating an eventful Friday morning with my friends from Kent State’s Florence campus. The day finally arrived with bright sunlight peeking in through my shutters as my alarm went off for my 9 a.m. wakeup time. My roommates and I got dressed and headed to our Kent campus as we waited for others for our special morning ahead: rafting on the Arno River.

I’m not going to lie, I was pretty nervous about what was going to happen, as I had only been kayaking once in my life, but I’ve never been rafting on a river.

As we arrived at our meeting spot along the river, we met up with our instructors Ettore and Zeno from Florence Rafting. They were getting our rafts ready, and we strapped into our life vests. They showed us the proper way to sit inside the raft so as to not fall out and some basic moves with our oars.

We all piled in into two separate boats; I was second on the left and any nervous fear I had of going into the murky waters of The Arno River went out the door—or lack there of. Then, it was time to ascend down the river.

Ettore pushed us into the water as he climbed in to steer in the back with his oar. My friends and I were having so much fun in the first few minutes of going down the river, and we each learned how to paddle in sync while trying our best not to splash one another.

My panic suddenly came back for a brief moment when Ettore informed us that we’d be going down the riverbank. We all started asking questions excitedly to one another trying to prepare for what was ahead, but soon, the opening for our raft came closer and closer to the edge…and down the river we went. Our voices must have echoed throughout Firenze as we each let out a cry of excitement and relief. It was such an awesome feeling.

The rest of our rafting adventure involved learning a bit of history of the Florence architecture from Ettore along with traveling down past the Ponte Vecchio and other bridges. As we passed locals and tourists who were not on the river, they waved to us, and we’d wave back.

The view of Florence was even more beautiful on this day as the bright sun shined down on us all and illuminated the buildings all along the Arno. It was like a scene from a movie.

One of my favorite parts of the adventure was when my friends in the other raft caught up to us on the river. Ettore and Zeno informed us that we’d be racing, and whoever lost would have their raft flipped. Of course at the moment when he said that, my eyes bulged in disbelief, and my instant thought was about my phone that I brought onto the raft and how if it ever went into the water that I’d be out of luck from any communication while studying in Italy. I took a gulp and looked around at my friends to see their reactions.

We all looked the same: in disbelief.

Our two instructors then counted us down. Three…two…one! We were off. Our raft started off at a good pace, as we were surprisingly in synch with one another. We took turns motiving one another to go faster and to finish strong. With each movement of the paddle, my arms were getting sore, but I continued pushing on focusing on winning—because the last thing I wanted was to be flipped overboard.

The view of the upcoming bridge seemed like a long shot away, and I wasn’t sure how much longer my arms were going to make it. But from the corner of my eye I could see the opponent trailing behind my raft, and it gave me the motivation I needed to keep going. Soon, we reached the bridge, and we finished first. We were all smiles and yelling with excitement.

I was so proud of my friends and I for beating the other raft, but it was all friendly competition. Plus, we got a good joke out of the other team when Zeno climbed onto our raft and then told them they had to flip over. They freaked out for a few minutes as we patiently waited to see what they’d do.

Of course, that was also a joke, and we were all safe and paddled back to land where we took pictures with one another and enjoyed the beautiful afternoon around us.

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