Something to Read When You're Bored

China! Part 2
May 24, 2008, 8:01 am
Filed under: Travel

I think my stories from China are going to have to happen a little out of order because I need to write about today while it’s still fresh in my mind. Today we decided to go whitewater rafting and it was quite the experience. Expecting something similar to the guiding I’ve done back home, we got dressed in clothes that would do well getting wet in the river and bagged up all of our stuff in ziploc bags in case they didn’t have a dry bag. I even had carabiners to rig my bag into the boat if necessary. Feeling pretty well prepared, we took off from the hotel, following one of the staff who was sent to show us how to get to the bus station. He pointed us to the right bus and waved goodbye as he walked away.

On the bus my cousin and I seemed to be the only people who spoke english and we were definitely the only westerners. We bumped along for about an hour as the bus haphazardly passed pretty much every vehicle on the road, using the horn liberally to warn them of our presence, all the while listening to very loud chinese pop music skipping on an evidently scratched CD. We also got to watch the girl sitting in front of me have a loud argument with her seat-mate and generally bug all of the people she appeared to be traveling with. It seemed a little odd that everyone else was dressed in normal street clothes, but I just figured we were better prepared than they were.

When we finally arrived at what turned out to be the take-out, it looked more like a large creek than a real river. We got off the bus and found someone sort-of official looking person who took us over to the ticket window where we turned in the receipt from our hotel for actual tickets. After that we were told (in very broken english) to wait about half an hour for the bus that would take us to the put-in. Meanwhile all the Chinese people were changing into more river appropriate clothing and putting their belongings into storage lockers, which we were heavily encouraged to rent for our things. At first we thought that really wasn’t necessary, but when Amanda decided to buy a pair of nylon shorts we opted to rent a locker so we could leaver her dry shorts there. Turns out that was a good call. As we were waiting the half hour for the bus, we took a closer look at the tickets and noticed that the picture on them showed small boats with just 2 people per boat and no paddles. We asked our semi-english speaker about this and he confirmed that there were in fact no guides and no paddles. Interesting.

We finally got into the bus to take us to the put-in. It was a crowded little mini-bus on a bumpy dirt road with hairpin turns and half the people standing up, and of course Chinese techno blaring on the sound system. We get to the top, and joined in the mad scramble of chinese people claiming life jackets, helmets, and knee and elbow pads. Once we were decked out like Japaese reality TV show contestants, we really began to wonder just what we’d gotten ourselves into. Obviously we didn’t sign any sort of safety waiver and the two giant boards that might’ve been explaining safety guidelines were entirely in Chinese.

As we were waiting in line to get into boats (at the back, the Chinese are pretty pushy) we saw the beginning of the run – it starts off with about a 5 foot drop that turns into steep chute about 30 feet long. It really was more creek-sized than river sized but it looked sort-of like a disneyland ride, only without the safety regulations and a lot wilder looking than anything I’ve ever seen at Disneyland. Eventually we made it to the front of the line and managed to let a few other people go ahead of us so that we could end up in one of the self-bailing boats (I’d noticed some people scooping water out of their boats before the trip even begun and I didn’t want that to be us).

So once in the boat we waited in a big pool surrounded by about 50 boats full of chinese people in flourescent life jackets and bright yellow helmets, while guides (or whoever they were) pulled one boat at a time through the little gateway at the end of the pool and sent them down the chute. It was right about then that the rain started to really pick up. I suppose I should’ve mentioned earlier that we decided to go rafting in spite of forecasts predicting rain. We figured it would still be plenty warm and we would end up getting wet anyway. But the rain that started while we were waiting in the boat was more like a monsoon. We were already a little damp from putting on somewhat soggy life jackets and whatnot, but about 30 seconds into the downpour we were soaked through. And I think it was when we were just a few boats away from getting sent down the chute that we first heard the thunder. Oh, and we finally saw a sign with some safety insructions in English. It said hold onto the rail when you go down the chute (we think rail meant handle – there were handles inside the boats) and ‘be careful!’

So down the chute we went – first through the vertical drop, where it felt miraculous that our boat didn’t flip over and that we were both still in the boat at all, then flying down the chute into a roaring white mess that completely swamped the boat. From there it was a series of bumpy turns and drops that completely filled our boat with water about once every 10 or 15 seconds. The water was cool but not too cold, and the rain became pretty much irrelevant since we were getting just as wet from the ride anyway. The thunder was still a little worrisome, but when we saw lightning it was fairly far away and there wasn’t much we could do about it anyway.

So basically the ride continued for about an hour and a half, with more drops, more chutes, and no downtime, except for the occasional clog when our boat would get jammed in with another one and start a pileup. Those got pretty entertaining too. I have to say they put together a pretty awesome ride, I’m tempted to go again before we have to leave town, it was so much fun. It was also cool to discover that when everyone is screaming down crazy rapids, language barriers tend to dissolve and it’s easy to make friends just by helping people get unstuck or helping to tow them to the front of the next big pool for another crazy drop.

There were also people stationed at various points along the route to help when people got stuck, and a sweep boat with two guides making sure no-one got left behind. Also stationed along the route were at least 30 photographers all shouting ‘hello!’ over and over again – the one english word all Chinese people seem to know, which they attempt to use to communicate all sorts of things, but which mostly means ‘look over here!’ When we finally finished we were mobbed with touts all trying to drag us over to buy photos from them. We took our time shopping for the best shots while we waited for the bus and finally picked four which they burned onto CDs for us at 10 yuan apiece. I’ve loaded them onto my flick’r page, so you should be able to see them no the left.

Alright, that was pretty much the extent of our adventure – there wasn’t even loud music on the bus ride back into town, but it was a really awesome day, I’ll be surprised if the rice terraces tomorrow are able to compare…

p.s. I really need to go back and edit this at some point, but saving changes takes forever from this machine, so it may need to wait until I’m back in the states. Apologies for all my typos and long-windedness!


2 Comments so far
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write something new.

Comment by erica

Yeah – I’m with Erica – we miss your commentary about stuff….

Comment by carol

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