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Tuscan Adventure Series - The Merse River

Every week David, Kristin, Jasper & Bea attempt to find and explore a new spot in Tuscany.

The Merse River in Tuscany is a gleaming green, twisting time-warp. To get to it, you drive south past Siena, past Brenna until you get to a mile-high amphitheater of trees where the river is hiding. It’s a great alternative to the seaside, which is where currently thousands of Italians caravan en masse to set themselves at 30 degrees Celsius and bake themselves until they are the color of a Nespresso pod.

The river has a Tuscan jungle feel. When you float down it, you can see receding reeds, rocky outcrops. In war-time it would be a perfect ambush site. When you’re a new parent (which is not unlike war time), it is a perfect place to make peace with yourself.

At the river, we met our friends Bill and Crystal and their baby Harry, Jasper’s partner in crime in his current role of ‘trying to live out life like a two month old’. Camping at a river outcrop, Crystal stayed behind with Harry & Jasper, while Kristin, Bill and I decided to attempt to swim downstream.

The Merse

The Merse

Kristin & Jasper

Kristin & Jasper



Mother & son


Walking five minutes up a trail alongside the river, we entered the river along some rocks. I have a bum ankle from attempting to run with those idiotic barefoot running shoes, and lurched forward on uneven footing, channeling a drunk ballerina. Bill, our leader, navigated the river by assessing the hardest routes possible and then basically choosing as if he was a retired Navy Seal. The choice of a natural staircase of rocks leading down to a serene pool, or a Class IV rapid-system, always seemed to result in rapids.

After getting through the King’s Chair, a gushing whirlpool of froth where you can ‘sit like a king’ and try to not get shot like a canon-ball, and the Demon Chute, a waterfall emptying into a natural eddy, where the water is more cold and more white, we encountered the Ledge of Zen, a submerged tree-branch, where you must balance yourself while attempting one of those zen poses that no one knows quite how to do. The resulting look is 10% serenity, 90% muscled constipation, and you inevitably end up falling off the branch.

After Kristin, with her yoga-master background, was confirmed as the superior zen-master, we navigated the remainder of the river back to our boys. Stomach-endowed speedo men lounged at an outcrop, serving as our lighthouse to swim for. The entire length of river that had taken us five minutes to walk up, took us much longer proportionally to swim down, suggesting some sort of wormhole had gotten us half way through.

Back at camp, the boys were in good form. Crystal held Jasper soothing him (he had just woken up), while Harry was holding court in his stroller. I carried Jasper over to stare at some tree leaves to calm him down. For Kristin, it was the first time she was able to be apart from Jasper in the last two months. We are all blessed now with managing and maintaining a very serious task – raising kids. So it was a dream for 30 minutes to go through our own wormhole and become kids again ourselves, navigating an obstacle course of our own choosing.

The babies started into a high-pitched spurt of grunts and crying-fits. “Look, they’re talking to each other like dolphins!”, Bill exclaimed. I nodded in agreement, while Jasper, sitting in his king’s chair, did a zen-look of his own.

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