Thursday, July 14, 2011

[CAGAYAN DE ORO] Brown Water Rafting, Woohoo!!!

And now for the most important question: Are you going to get wet? No, as long as it is not raining and when it does they provide you with umbrellas, raincoats, and... Of course you will get wet! What is wrong with you. This is not an Enchanted Kingdom ride. This is the Cagayan de Oro river! As for the color, the water is actually brown, although I think the white in White Water Rafting might refer to another aspect of the activity other than the water's color. You do see a lot of white because of the clashing waves.

The taxi was a literal traffic stopper because we ran out of gas. I know, right? What is with taxi drivers and not filling up the tank before scouting for passengers? I had to transfer to another one which further ramped up my transportation costs once again as if what I have spent since I got here hasn't been enough. Damn, I will go bankrupt here. Luckily, there were two groups that day and we still had to wait for the other one.

The cost was 1,200 pesos for the advanced course. The tour group was Great White Water Rafting Tours, by the way. Both groups opted for the advanced course and since I was the one asking favors to get included, I had no choice. I joined the barkada group with five people, pretty much within my age range. The other group was composed of two Americans and two Filipinos, all middle-aged. The tour group managed to convince the group to split the cost of the photo service with me. So they paid 750 and I shouldered the other half. They had waterproof cameras by the way and they would not have agreed if we split the cost equally by six, I guess. After the experience, I do not regret having paid so much because I really enjoyed the ride and their company.

Fast forward to the activity itself! A jeep brings you all the way uphill way past the airport, Macahambus, and Jatico Adventure Park. You stop by a bridge and then the jeep turns right and goes on reverse. One of the guides will tell you that the river level is not that good and you have to try again tomorrow. You only believe 10% of what he says because the other 90% of the time he is just kidding. The jeep goes down an inclined road which they jokingly tag as your first rapid. All the preparations are made in that open space. You wear your vest and your helmet. They give you a paddle. The locals sell warmers for your arms for 50 pesos a pair. Buy yourself a pair if you want to save your complexion.

Leave all your things at the office. The only thing I brought was a pair of shorts which I left with the driver. You can pay for the warmers when you return to the office. Moving on, you all head down to the river after gearing up. There are no comfort rooms, just Mother Nature. Feel free to pick your own spot if you need to pee. One of the guides gives a mini lecture as the others prepare the rafts.

Your paddle has three parts: the T-grip, the shaft, and the blade. ALWAYS hold the T-grip with one hand because it turns into a deadly weapon once you get on the raft. I experienced this firsthand when I hit my left temple with my very own paddle. The other hand should focus on the shaft as a source of force and guidance as you paddle. There are five commands, of which you will only use two: Forward and Stop. We used Back only once; Left and Right, never. The raft has three humps. You sit where the hump and the edge of the raft meet, NOT in the spaces in between the humps. You have to paddle, my dear. This is not a river cruise.

There are 21 rapids in the advanced course. What sets it apart from the beginner's course are the first seven rapids. The other fourteen are common for both. Yes, you can join the advanced course despite your inexperience. All six of us on that raft were first-timers. The first rapid was met with screams of excitement. I think this is the part where I thank the group for allowing me to join them. To the five of you, you know who you are. I did not even get your names but I want you all to know that I enjoyed that raft ride with you all. You were all so fun, especially the girl in blue who kept on screaming and exchanging jokes with the guide. Had I been alone in that raft with the two guides it would have been very quiet, like attending a Sunday mass. Damn, why am I so anti-social?

So, what really happens on that raft? The two guides at the back steer the raft and make sure nothing bad happens to anyone. They have years of experience to back them up. If there are six of you, you sit on the edges. If there are more, the others would have to stay in the middle without having to paddle. The guides give out commands, 99% of which would be Forward. Simple, you paddle forward with all your might, better if synchronized so your efforts won't be in vain. This command is given out when you are caught in the middle of the rapids. You don't really do it to move forward. You will continue moving forward no matter what because the current does that for you. I think its purpose is to keep the raft in a forward position because if it gets dragged downstream sideways, the possibility of capsizing is higher.

Speaking of capsizing, ahem ahem, the guides were telling us how their license would be in danger if the boat capsizes and it gets caught on film. They said that the local government has a no capsizing policy. However, as we were taking a break halfway munching on the delicious pastries from VJandep, the guides were asking us if we wanted the boat to capsize. On purpose. We all agreed and said that we were okay with it. He was talking about a drop of eight feet in one of the rapids. I remarked that it might be another joke, which was what it really turned out to be. As we passed by a wall of rocks he pointed out a mini waterfall around 8 feet in height. 15 minutes later there was a big boulder in the middle of the river. We paddled hard but our efforts were not enough. It was our Titanic moment.

Well, not really. Half of the raft ended up on the big rock while half was still on water. I thought for a split-second that it was over right then and there and that we were just going to be stuck on top of that boulder until the raft flipped over. I immediately remembered how the guide said that an air packet would be formed inside the raft when it is upside down. I stayed there until one of them yanked me out to the open. It turns out they were already going to flip the raft over so we could board again. They allowed us to just float in the river for a while to enjoy the cold water. The sun was ablaze that day and my legs still have the sunburns to prove it. We had a lot of fun. Good thing the river was devoid of crocodiles that day. The Bureau of Customs probably had an emergency meeting back in Manila.

I think everyone should experience what we did. Come to think of it, there are 21 rapids in the advanced course and only 14 in the beginner’s course. After half a dozen rapids you'll realize how everything starts to be redundant. Prepare for rapids! Five strokes forward! High Five! Still water. Joke. Scream. It does become repetitive. In fact, after the first half we were allowed to jump into the river again, probably because it was getting boring. I think we were in that river for about three hours. I am glad I did not give up on this activity and if you ask me: Would I do it again? Hell yeah, with pleasure! This tops the Lake Sebu zipline in my book and this is what that Rio Grande ride at Enchanted Kingdom should be. Try it! Try it now!

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