I’m currently spending part of my Holy Week taking notes and studying Lonely Planet’s guide on Travel Writing. I’m posting the third exercise from the book on my blog, which requires me to write a ‘personal and compelling anecdotal bridge’ to the last place I visited. Here’s my attempt at describing my wild adventure at Sabah, Malaysia’s wildest rapids at the Padas River.
The waves rushed among each other in speeds that were made audible by the magnitude of the water’s collision and their furious direction. As the train snaked towards the opposite direction of the river we were about to paddle through, the possible injuries and struggles this adventure trip required only dawned on me as we were two stops away from the day’s paddling starting point. It didn’t help that the guides had shirts that said “Paddle or die!” Either it was their way of telling us to sit out from fear, or to force us into paddling away from that fine line between life and death.
Nature has a way of reminding us how insignificant and powerless we are when its dominating forces overcome us. As the guides told us how to position ourselves should we fall off the boat, panic seized my reason. How could a girl that barely makes it to the gym stay balanced and a float on a raging river?
But travel is about new experiences, letting go of your comfort zone, and overcoming surprise challenges. I once had to walk in front of a furious, God-knows-how-many feet waterfall in Bukidnon for an assignment, so I simply had to deceive myself into thinking the Padas River was nothing compared to that experience.
This pep talk however, did not last as the boat rose abruptly and then dived down–all while an (approximately) four-feet tall wave rose up in front of us. In paranoia for my life, I balanced my feet firmly on the raft. Thankfully the raft was sturdy, as was my balance, and we all floated according to the coming waves’ direction. The four-feet tall wave, thankfully did not swallow us whole, but instead refreshed us from the noon time heat. As the water felt calmer below us, my girl friends, the guides, and our two tour companions cheered together to celebrate that we officially survived the first rapid for that day: the Head Hunter.
There were six more rapids ahead of us: the Cobra, Lambada, Whirlpool, Break Point Rapid, Scooby Doo Rapid, and, Lambada Rapid. The waves were true to the direction the names followed after, with the Whirlpool being the most dangerous of them all. Should one of us fall off the raft with the Whirlpool beneath, we would have to shape ourselves into a ball so that the water’s force would shoot us back up to the surface. I had no faith in my stronger powers of panic over adrenaline, so my feet once again held on to its dear life as the boat followed the waves’ circular motion. After whirling about without any casualties, we once again lifted our paddles for a “high five” to celebrate our survival.
To finish off our adventure, the guides introduced to the last rapid, the “Flying Fish.” We were instructed to stay at the end of the raft, and simply hold on to our paddles. In effect, the front and middle areas of the raft were empty and lifted off the water. We thought this was a technique to ride out the rapids–but then we found ourselves submerged underwater, gasping for air. My first thought wasn’t to follow the guides’ survival instructions–which was to float according to the river’s current. I was too busy seeking air, and after having my mouth and nose flooded, found myself under the yellow raft. In a few seconds, it was off me and I saw my two closest friends registering what had just happened: we capsized, intentionally. And it was the most surprising yet exciting moment of my travel life. I wouldn’t mind capsizing off a boat all over again.
Such is the fruit of adventure: doing something you would have never imagined and coming out of it alive. Flying as a fish taught me that most of our qualms about daring activities are merely well, qualms. The only way to confirm they are otherwise is to go ahead and do what the task requires. Unlike the comforts of civilization and architecture, nature begs us to understand its course, while making us more alert in how we can survive. But it can also surprise you with its openness to being a venue of new experiences.