Saturday, August 6, 2011

Whitewater Rafting

It would be lovely if I could just litter this post with photos of the beautiful countryside - the clear water of the river, gently flowing, tumbling over rocks large and little, bubbling over little falls; the bright blue sky, the pleasing green foliage, the host of pretty butterflies - but I do not own a water-resistant camera. Yes, it is quite a bummer.

I remember once a upon a time my girl friends and I talked of going for this. However, as with most of the things we wanted to do, some didn't have time, some didn't have time that coincide, others weren't keen, and, before the plan was even laid out, it was shelved indefinitely. Therefore, when our Bukit Tabur Outdoor Expert asked if I'd like to join this rafting trip he's signing up for, I jumped at the opportunity. Given past unsuccessful "recruitment" of friends, I was prepared to join the Expert and a bunch of strangers. It is funny how when one finally gives up hope that fate smiles upon one and grants one one's desired. By the time I was ready to email the organizers, I had 4 other names to give alongside my own. So there were six of us altogether - just right for one raft.

We were all first-timers, and except the Expert, no one knew what to expect. We were first given a safety briefing and the more I heard it, the more worried I became. For, there were so many warnings: we were to hold the paddle properly or we could break someone's nose swinging the handle the wrong way; we were not to swing the paddle at low-hanging branches or we might cause the branches and/or paddle to knock into raft-mates; we're not to knock our raft-mates into the water; we're not to "rescue" someone in the water by pulling their arms because they might dislocate... and I kept thinking - if I were with careless rafters, I'd so get killed! Gosh!

After the basic safety guidelines, we were taught some basic commands - "forward" and "backward", which meant the direction to paddle the raft; "hold", which meant we should stop paddling and hold on (for dear life) to the lifeline which is fastened to the side of the raft; "boom boom", which means we should abandon our positions at the side of the raft, move to the floor inside and hold on tight, so we won't fall out of the raft during "big" drops.

The distance we would cover was approximately 7km, with 9 "major rapids" along the way. In a bulky life jacket, with a helmet a little too big for my head and a paddle almost as tall as me, it's too late to have second thoughts. Each group then proceeded to carry their rafts to the starting point.

Reader, there are many disadvantages to being a short person living in the average-sized world - some of my similar-height friends prefer the term vertically-challenged, but I don't see what is wrong with being honest and straightforward - like, I have to climb on a chair to get to the top shelf of any kitchen cabinets (no, stools are not enough), I can only utilize the lower two-thirds of the whiteboard, I have to alter *all* my long pants, I have to smear everywhere on the walls because the next hold is *always* out of reach... you get the gist. Before you misunderstand - we are, of course, very positive people and we've always known the reasons it's better being short. So, back to carrying the huge inflated raft - well, it resting upon the shoulders of the guys was it being elevated to the level of my head. When they balanced it on top of their heads, I could just touch it with my arms outstretched. I'm not too embarrassed to admit that I didn't contribute much to the carrying... it's the privilege of being tiny.

The first sight of the river was rather intimidating. The spot at the riverside was a rocky one, and the water was actually white with froth. The rafts were pushed gently into the fortunately not-too-rapid river, and rafters were told to step into the water. One by one, assisted by a guide (there was one guide for every raft), we clambered clumsily into the raft. It looked so easy when the guide showed us how to do it. I conceitedly thought that being a climber, I have stronger arms than the regular girly girls, so I should have no problem hauling myself up by the lifeline... Alas, just as everyone else, I had to be pulled in by those already in, like a big, fat, flailing catch-of-the-day. *Ahem*

I'm not sure I can describe accurately enough the wonderful exhilaration when the raft began moving along with the current. It was all clear and blue and green, warm sunshine and cool water, beautiful landscape and the river stretching ahead as far as the eye could see. It was mesmerizing. And we paddled on - forwards, backwards, forwards - according to our guide's commands, while he navigated.

The first rapid, which our guide called the "warm-up", was not a scary one, in retrospect. Sure, the raft tumbled a little; I held on ridiculously tightly to the lifeline, got soaked to the waist by the splashes, screamed... but it wasn't so bad. I knew it immediately after we got past, because I saw the next raft tumble through it - it looked like it was nothing, and made the screaming rafters appear silly. The biggest rapid was called "The Easy Drop", which our guide jokingly said meant "easy to drop out of your raft". It was the one for which we needed to do the "boom boom". Again, in retrospect, it wasn't all that bad. But at the time, even though I was inside the raft and holding on like nobody's business, I was genuinely scared. It felt like we were toppling over when we dropped down with the flow over several huge rocks. Of course, if I actually saw another raft at it...

At times, our raft would get stuck on rocks, or tree roots near the banks, or combinations of stuff, and our guide would command us to all move to the front or to be back to the raft, and "jump jump", which was simply to bounce up and down where we sat, to dislodge it. Doing the "jump jump" was fun, and watching the other rafters looking extremely silly doing it was even more fun... until it dawned on me that I looked equally dumb doing it. Well, still fun. At one point, our raft veered to one side of the river where several small rocks formed a little island, and became still. Two of my raft-mates started jumping even before the guide said a word, and within seconds, we were on the move again. That was when the guide did an exaggerated facepalm, which had everyone in stitches. Apparently, he purposely navigated us there to "park", while waiting for the next raft to pass the rapid we'd just passed. I figured it must be a safety practice to have another raft within sight when one is going through a rapid, in case of accidents.

There were several stretches where the water was so calm, so gently moving along, and so inviting we were invited to go into it. The first time, I went in, floated on my back and closed my eyes, letting the life jacket buoy me and the current carry me along. Then, someone dunked my head in. Right, so river water tastes better than sea water. The second time, I declined to jump in, after a couple of my raft-mates did. I was laughing and making a lame joke about how I was very comfortable where I was when I felt a tug at my back, and before I knew it, I fell into the water backwards with a huge splash - and had another generous helping of the river water. My friend showed me how much she enjoyed herself by telling me "The moral of the story is, just jump by yourself!" So, the third time, I did. I jumped - then I swam, then I relaxed, and then put my guard down, and got dunked again. When the guide came around to pass us bottled drinking water, I told him I wasn't thirsty anymore. And he - well, he laughed.

The entire adventure took about two hours, I think. Although I sustained some bumps and bruises from knocking into my own paddle and knocking into someone else's paddle, I came out of it much less injured than I usually am after a session of evil routes at the walls. I was more hoarse though (I don't scream as much when climbing, because climbing buddy / belayer frowns upon it, like, totally!)

When I started this post, I didn't have any shots, as should be evident in the opening paragraph itself. However, I'd tarried so much so that there are others who had posted some. Here's one of us, taken by one of the organizers, right after we "survived" the "Easy Drop". We were smiling because we survived =D

I guess my farewell note isn't needed (just yet) after all...


forestwalk/laura k said...

ha! just strolling through your posts!
so glad you made it through the rapids...and were able to write about it...with a smile on your face!
cool crochet-ing! love those eyeballs!!
...i'll be back...

neil said...

Hi Laura! Thanks so much for visiting =)