A boom! boom! time

Enjoying a whitewater challenge!
WE could hear the river before we see it. Safely strapped into life-jackets with helmets firmly fastened and armed with an oar each, we march on.

Holding an oar that measured almost twice his height, my 10-year-old nephew Brendon trots alongside our guides, Norman and Senz. We are on our way and even if anyone’s having second thoughts, there’s no turning back now.

When Jamie and Melanie, my niece and nephew from England, planned a holiday here, I knew that rafting had to be on the itinerary.

They had seen my photographs and read a previous article I wrote on whitewater rafting in Sungai Kampar. After that, there’s nothing like a first-hand experience for themselves. The day before, my brother, his wife, three nephews, two nieces and I walked across the bridge of the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur and now we are in Gopeng, less than two hours drive away from KL.

We are fitted with life-jackets and helmets and given a briefing on rafting protocols. The eight of us are divided up for two 3m Riverbug rafts, with Jamie, Melanie, Brendon and his mum in one and Aaron, Amanda, my brother and I in the other.

Wild Water

I don’t know about the first-timers but my stomach is churning as I see the rushing water again. There’s something wild about whitewater and the thought of bouncing through a string of splashy rapids still gives me the shivers.  But when I spot King’s familiar figure, I feel reassured. King was my raft skipper the last time I hit the waters here.

The river looks different this time. It had rained heavily the previous week and higher water levels had hidden many rocks. The last time I came, the rocks were visible. The water is rushing faster now and our guides confirm that we are going to ride on Class III, maybe even Class IV, rapids. That lump in my throat grows bigger by the moment and when we round the first bend and get swept into the swift flow, I cheer everyone on with loud screams!

Amanda [Far Right] cheering on the rowers!

Obeying instructions, we plunge in the oars and paddle powerfully forward and backward, withdrawing quickly so that oars do not get wedged between hidden rocks.

It’s a wet roller-coaster ride with water roaring around us, rushing us relentlessly on from all sides, suddenly swirling, dipping and dropping down. The combination of thrill and terror is keeping everyone on the edge but beside me, Amanda echoes my screams and turns a strange shade of green.

Challenging Course

With the first set of rapids behind us, we float through flat water and make our first rest stop. The adrenalin rush has our hearts pounding in our ears and rest stops are very welcome as it allows us to breathe normally for a while. After letting us catch our breath, Norman demonstrates how to body raft down a series of shallow rapids and we take turns to practise. One of the guides pairs with Brendon to float him safely down.

Having floated down the river hundreds of times, the guides are very familiar with every twist and turn... probably even every rock and boulder. Awareness of the course — marked with descriptions like Easy Drop, Snake Rapid, Rajah Corner, Hyside Rapid, Slide Rapid and Chicken Run — lets the guides steer the rafts to maximise every roll and riffle for the most memorable whitewater experience. And if the guide yells “Boom! Boom!” we must sit in the raft and brace ourselves for a sudden surge of double drops while he skillfully manoeuvres the raft through.

Rolling down the rapids with a guide

At another rest stop, where we are challenged to swim across the river, I feel the sweep of strong current in the icy cold water and it’s impossible to swim in a straight line. Watching me drift away, the guide throws a line which I thankfully grasp and is towed in like a sack of spuds.

In the final stop, we have fun floating down a series of challenging rapids in groups of three. Tied together and with a guide “steering” us, we are swamped by surging water as we thunder down rushing rapids.

Two hours of adrenalin-pumping later, we stagger out of the river with wobbly legs, wet and wrinkled, but it’s reason enough to reward ourselves with a souvenir T-shirt each that announce us as a “Survivor” of Sungai Kampar. Everyone does amazingly well. Tired but ecstatic, we, the Whitewater Warriors, wear our T-shirts proudly, especially fearless Brendon who’s so small he is actually “swimming” in an “S” size!

Fast Facts

To make reservations for your own whitewater rafting experience, call Traverse Tours which operates Riverbug on Tel: 016-814 0114 or 05-359 6501 and Fax 05-359 7550. Visit website: www.traversetours.com or email: sales@traversetours.com

This article was first published in The New Straits Times, Travel Times on 31 May 2009

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