"The most scared I have ever been on the water was while making A River Wild in Montana," says Arlene Burns, a member of the U.S. Women's Whitewater Team and one of the world's foremost experts on whitewater rafting, who was Meryl Streep's double in the 1994 film. Whitewater rafting isn't for the faint of heart, but it doesn't usually call for stunt doubles, either. Here are some of Burns's picks of the world's most unforgettable rafting spots.
Bio Bio River
Jungle scenery, the Mapuchi Indians, and warm water are the draws for this classic rafting river.
This big-water (class IV and class V rapids) river flows through the snow-capped Tienshan mountain range down south to Kisilkum, where the land is lush, and finally dwindles into desert. The mountain and valley communities that lined the Chatkal were victims of Stalin's forced relocation policies, and the abandoned orchards and farms along the river give it a haunting quality. After the put-out, a trip to nearby Samarkand, one of the world's oldest cities, is a must.
The Karnali originates in the Kialash area of Tibet, which Hindus and Buddhists believe to be the navel of the earth. From an altitude of 15,000 feet, the river descends some 350 miles through glaciers high in the Himalayas to the flatlands of Nepal.
The icy waters of the Tatshenshini frighten off a lot of rafters, but the rapids usually are mild, making the possibility of an unexpected swim unlikely. Located in the St. Alais coastal range, the river offers a mild float marked by passing glaciers, grizzly bears, black bears, bald eagles, and osprey.
The Zambesi is renowned as the biggest commercially run whitewater in the world. Rafters put in directly beneath the spectacular Victoria Falls and travel on through the narrow basaltic (volcanic formation) gorges that separate Zimbabwe from Zambia. Warm weather and beautiful, sandy beaches invite frequent swimming, but be careful--hippos and crocodiles are a real threat.
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