Sunday, September 09, 2007

First white-water rafting experience

Saturday, 25th August 2007

The five of us were looking forward towards our white-water rafting trip to Padas River (Chee Jiat couldn't join us at the 11th hour). According to the hotel brochure, there are two adventure routes in Sabah : Kiulu River (Level 1-2 for beginners) and Padas River (Level 3 - 4 for advanced rafters). We were enrolled for the Padas River route.

We departed from Marina Court at 7:15 am. Our rafter guide Hendry greeted us at the guard house, in front of a very old minivan. Hendry is a veteran in this field, having 11 years of white-water rafting experience. He briefed us on the itinerary of the day, and certain procedures we need to adhere to. As we were supposed to go to Padas River, we need to board the steam train in Beaufort. The journey to Beaufort takes around 1 1/2 hours. Although we mostly slept throughout the journey, I keep waking up because the minivan does not have any more suspension, and we could feel each and every pothole or bump along the way!

After a very bumpy ride, we finally reached the town of Beaufort.

Beaufort is a very small town, mostly untouched by new developments or technology. For example, the sidewalks outside the shops are still made of wooden planks. There was some ongoing project by the local municipal council to upgrade the sidewalks from wood to cement.

We felt like we have travelled back in time. The shops were still selling cameras that uses film and you need to manually wind once you taken a photo. There isn't a single laptop or PC in sight. Perhaps the only sign of the modern times are some shops selling VCDs (no DVDs!), basic handphones and lots of Hotlink and Digi ads plastered around the little town.

As the departure time was 9am, and we still had around 20 minutes to kill, we opted for some light breakfast at a coffeeshop.

Maybe it's just me, or the way coffeeshops in Beaufort operate is different. In KL, a coffeeshop usually comprises many stalls selling a variety of foodstuff.

However, this coffeeshop was just filled with tables and chairs. No stalls whatsoever (except for the cash register). The customers sitting around us did not order food, just drinks. Is this literally a "coffeeshop"?

We asked the coffeeshop lady what do they offer as there wasn't any menu being displayed. She said they sell some kuih, sponge cakes and waffles. (This coffeeshop had a waffle-making counter in front of the shop along the sidewalk, which I supposed was their attraction). We ordered some drinks, cakes and waffles. The waffles were too soft, the drinks too sweet and overall it was pricey (not sure if it's because we were 'tourists'). Oh well...

We returned to the train station 10 minutes before 9am, only to be informed that there was a landslide somewhere that affected the railway tracks, hence no train service for the next few days! Hendry informed us that the train was the fastest way to Padas River, and if we were to travel by the minivan, it will take us another 3 to 4 hours to get there! He offered us another alternative : to try the Kiulu River route instead. Dejected, but still keen to go white-water rafting, we said OK. As we left, we managed to catch the disappointed expressions from the other tourists as well when they were informed of the bad news.

After another 2 hours of travelling (From Beaufort is south of KK, while Kiulu River is located north of KK), we finally arrived at Kiulu River (phew!). At first glance, the river looked rather calm and there wasn't much rapids. After all, what is there to expect from a Level 1 - 2 route? Even the Kiulu River map only indicates three rapid points, which didn't look very interesting either. Then again, this would be my first time participating in white-water rafting, so it's better to stay conservative :)

Kiulu River obviously had fewer tourists, and the locals were happy if visitors come by for white-water rafting. When we arrived in the afternoon, there was a group of Caucasian tourists who just finished their 'adventure'. It took Hendry another 15 minutes to prepare the raft and safety gear. As none of us had a waterproof camera, the only shot we got was the one before we hit the waters. Hendry is shown on the right, looking very cool indeed :)

There was a group of local tourists who boarded another raft. Two rafts were definitely more fun than one, as we engaged in paddle wars and tried to get the other boat to capsize. The rapids itself was quite scary at times (Link almost fell off the raft a few times and one of them from the other raft was thrown out from the raft at one point) but most of the time the river was very calm. It felt like a repeated climax - anti-climax situation throughout the entire journey. The thrill wasn't continuous but at least we had time for a breather and admire the scenery around us.

The highlight of Kiulu River white-water rafting would probably Body rafting. Body rafting is where we just let ourselves go with the flow of the river current, supported by our life jackets. Hendry led us to a particular section of the river whereby the current was quite fast, but no rocks or other obstructions. The minute he let go of us, it was really free flow! We were supposed take control by paddling forward, but ended up spinning around uncontrollably. I was quite terrified because I can't swim, and to lose control in the river was quite a harrowing experience. After looking back, it was actually fun and interesting. I doubt we will get to try this if we took the Padas River adventure due to the currents.

By the time it was over around 3pm, we were thrown out from the raft just for the fun of it. I was pushed twice into the river, both no thanks to Hendry! After changing into dry clothing, we indulge in a small BBQ buffet lunch, and then it's time to return back to KK.

Looking back, the Kiulu River white-water rafting experience wasn't as exciting and challenging as we expected it to be. Perhaps one of the reason was due to the initial expectations of Padas River. The other was that it has fewer people, hence no so much of the 'fun' atmosphere. However, I was in a way thankful of taking this route first (then again, what other choice we had?) because it gave me a taste of how white-water rafting is like, and to be better prepared for the Padas River experience next time around.

Kiulu River (above) vs Padas River (below)

The other reason being that the waters from Kiulu River is very cool and clear (the river source is from Mount Kinabalu), as compared to the waters in Padas River (according to Hendry it is the colour of teh tarik). I think I swallowed a few gulps of the river water when I was pushed down, but I take it as drinking spring water because it wasn't murky at all!

Overall, it wasn't as exciting as we would like to be, but definitely a good experience, and we will come back to Kota Kinabalu for more!

Next : Island tripping


lilium said...

Ooo..didn't know u can't swim? Anyway, I can imagine the freaky experience of not knowing to swim and yet want to try those water activities out.. =)

David Deland said...

Oh, don't worry. It's hard to avoid swallowing water when you're white-water rafting. It's totally clean, since it's in the middle of the forest. White water rafting is usually done in that kind of river! It's actually a good choice! :)