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Rolling on the river

Over lunch, I watch in awed silence as Klaus inhales a dozen sausages and four beers without drawing breath. That morning, within the first hour of rafting, he fell in twice – there would have been a third, but three of his mates managed to haul him back on board.

Returning to the raft for the afternoon session, we again wade in and take up our positions. I slide my right foot into a pocket in the base of the boat and latch my left in behind my leg to hold myself in place.

The water’s ripples catch the mid-afternoon sun, throwing up a soft, hazy light, the way an old camera might capture a lens flare. We pass under rope bridges fitted with containers used to transport cattle from one side of the river to the other, the banks pockmarked by small waterfalls trickling over steep, soaring ledges.

There is little time to take in the scenery, though, as we are soon bracing ourselves for the next series of rapids, all of which, of course, have their own names. There’s the Wall, the Angel Dam, the 800, because it spins the raft two-and-a-half times, and, perhaps most suggestive, the Washing Machine, a brutal, whiplashing whitewater maelstrom.

We speed down-river, bumping over rock-shelves, caught in plumes of water thrown up after each rapid sucks us in and then sends us cartwheeling through. Jaime barks instructions – when to paddle, when to row backwards, which side to stop rowing. At one point, he steers us into a rapid and then jack-knifes us out the side. The raft spins and slams hard into a broad, flat rock. Klaus, unprepared, loses his balance and takes his third dip for the day. One of his countrymen extends his paddle, which Klaus gratefully grabs, and it’s all hands on deck to drag him, dripping and out of breath, back into the raft.

Most of the rapids can be seen in advance, a pit opening up at the base of a wave, allowing us time to brace. The ones that come from nowhere, from the blindside, are the ones that cause problems. On one such rapid, even Jaime comes a cropper, tumbling over the side of the boat before bobbing up, drenched.

Klaus rocks back, his booming laugh echoing out across the Pyrenees, loud enough even to wake the giant woman.

Tom Sturrock travelled through Sort and the Pyrenees with adventure sport operator Paddle In Spain. A range of tours are offered; a day of rafting costs from £70pp, and a week of kayaking costs from £486pp.
More at  paddleinspain.com

Gettting there: Return flights from London Southenad to Barcelona start at about £66 with easyJet (easyjet.com). Sort is then a three-hour drive away.
When to go: The Pyrenees are great any time of year, but if you want to get involved in watersports, the summer months are best, with the season running from now until mid-October.
Currency: £1 = €1.22
Accommodation: The Hotel Les Brasas in Sort is a three-star surrounded by the Pyrenees. Great views, clean rooms and an excellent breakfast make it a good choice for the budget traveller. Rooms from £19pn.
pyreneestourism.com.au; catalanculture.com.

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