Saturday, July 17, 2010

Dashing into Davao River's Raging Rapids

Whitewater rafting, touted as one of Davao City's newest tourist attractions, caught my fancy when I first saw it on TV a couple of years ago. There was this ad hyping it that got me curious about this extremely interesting water sport.

The ironic part is this: river rafting (or any other water sport) isn't really my cup of tea. But being the part-time daredevil and occasional adrenaline junkie that I am, I told myself I'd give it a try whenever there's a chance to do so. And who wouldn't want to "settle the score" with the mighty river which almost claimed the life of a nine-year old boy playing near its estuary? Now, that would be a much-awaited "sweet revenge", right?

It wasn’t until a few weekends ago that that opportunity surfaced. In a fit of wanton abandon, coupled by a burning desire to get a much-needed rush of adrenaline all over my veins, I joined a bunch of coworkers who wanted to experience the exhilaration of shooting the rapids in Davao River. Originally, there were almost ten people who had committed to join the trek but for one reason or another, only six showed up on the appointed day. RiverOne Adventure, the operator which organized our tour, required at least five rafters in order to properly control the rubber boat. Luckily, our six-man team managed to meet this requirement.

Flushed with excitement, we assembled in RiverOne Adventure's headquarters near the Ateneo de Davao University. After choosing and fitting our gear, each of us signed a waiver releasing the tour operator from any liability in case of injury or death resulting from the trek. Geez, it was at that moment that I realized how risky the ride would be. Unperturbed, I signed the form and handed it over to one of the staff.

Minutes later, we were on our way to the sleepy village of Tamugan somewhere in the outskirts of the city, whose body of water happens to be one of Davao River’s main tributaries.  It was going to be the take-off point of our almost 13-kilometer ride of a lifetime. After a nearly two-hour road trip from the poblacion, we reached our destination. Hopping off the jeepney, I cast a wide-eyed gaze all over the place as it’s my first time to be there and catch a glimpse at Tamugan, the pristine yet polemical river which is being hyped as Davao’s only remaining potable surface water source.

There, the rafting crew briefed us about the basics of whitewater rafting. Jimmy, our navigator, showed us the ropes on wearing our helmets and life vests and using our paddles during the journey. He also taught us the different paddling strokes—forward, back, easy and hard paddle. He added that we would be encountering about 20-30 rapids of varying types while traversing the river. Since it rained hard the previous night, he said that we’d be dealing with lots of class 1 to 3 rapids along the way, which are just perfect for us neophytes in the rafting game.

After the briefing, we carried our rubber boat and brought it into the water. Our navigator then positioned us in the raft.  Henry and I were placed at the boat’s front end—we were supposed to be the lead paddlers. Two others, Jared and Mikai were seated after us, then the two women, Tintin and Aya. Our navigator positioned himself at the boat’s rear. As we wallowed in the shallow waters, Jimmy continued telling us many other things. He pointed out the possibilities of flipping over and capsizing.  

The cruising wasn’t all about clashing with whitewater. We also had our occasional breaks—"calms before the storms"—that enabled us to gather our wits and laugh our scares away. Everyone, I assumed, silently looked forward to those moments. During those lulls, our navigator seized the occasion of briefing us about the next kind of rapids that we’re going to be up against, asking us which path we wanted to take, that is, the route of the “chicken” or the “hero”? 

Most of the fellows opted for the “heroic” routes because of the excitement that went with them.  At some point, I wanted to suggest that we chicken out for a change but I always ended up keeping my thoughts to myself for I didn’t want to be a killjoy.  They all wanted to be heroes, so heroes we will be, come hell or high water!  With a sigh, I silently gave in to the general sentiment, hoping we made the right choices.

In one of our breaks, the navigator also gave us the chance to experience drifting. The swimmers among us didn’t pass up on that moment. Jumping into the murky waters, they allowed themselves to be carried away by the strong current, having the time of their lives as they let the water take them downstream.

Aya then took out her water-proof camera and started snapping at everybody—while drifting, of course. Numerous snaps, shrieks, sculling and swimming later, we were soon getting the hang of rafting. Jimmy called on the others and we started paddling our way towards the final leg of our journey.

After nearly two and a half hours, we finally reached the village of Lacson, our pull-out point, where our jeepney was waiting for us.  Still wet and dripping but flushed with victory of conquering the river,  I gathered my wits—or what’s left of it—and joined my colleagues as we talked about our adventure and posed for posterity’s sake. It was already lunch time when we finished snapping so we proceeded to heed the call of our tummies.

Days passed. Still euphoric over my triumph in the battle against the raging rapids, I learned later that I’ve traversed nearly 8% of Davao River’s 160-kilometer stretch. Not bad for someone whose life’s just began to get exciting and thrilling. For whatever it’s worth, the ride on the wild side of the mighty river is one hell of an adventure I’d probably cherish for a long time, something I’d carry with me to the grave. After all, not everyone gets the chance to exact his “sweet revenge”. Indeed, there can never be glory without guts.

To those who’ve tried braving the treacherous rapids of Davao River, you must be sharing this thought: that you’ve died and gone to heaven for nearly three unforgettable hours and came back more alive, more confident, more inspired. And to those who haven’t, here’s a bit of unsolicited advice: I think you’re missing an important part of your journey in this world. Life’s so short, peeps, so why not give it a try? Just make sure you’ve got the doc’s nod to do it. 

So, what are you waiting for? Go, paddle your boat and enjoy the raging rapids…now! (pics courtesy of RiverOne Adventure & R.A. Caligdong)

Here's a short clip of my whitewater rafting experience:

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