TJE 7: Danger Behind the Fun

Group of tourists on raft paddle toasting Cagayan de Oro

I am back here in Korea from my very fun almost-three-week vacation in the Philippines. Of course, it wouldn’t be complete without going out of town! I haven’t made a travel video about the Philippines for more than a year, so I was pretty excited about it.

I went with my brother Nathan, my friend Cess, and with her boyfriend Matt. We visited three provinces: Misamis Oriental (Capital: Cagayan de Oro), Bukidnon and Camiguin – all in Northern Mindanao. This marked my first time to be in Mindanao, and I don’t want it to be the last, hence the title of the video.

Watching the video, one might think that the trip went all too well. But one incident could’ve made it otherwise. I am talking about our white water rafting experience.

It was our first time to go rafting. We figured it would be better to try the advanced course to maximize the experience. The major difference between beginner and advanced is the length of the course. The latter starts at a farther point in the river, which in turn takes a longer time to finish, with more rapids to face along the way. The advanced course takes 4 hours to complete. We couldn’t believe how long it would take at first, but the guides were not lying. We started past 3 o’clock in the afternoon. If you do the math, we would be finished by around 7pm. And 7pm in the tropics, throughout the year, is always a dark time.

The typhoon Sendong had a big effect in the area in that the river’s course changed a lot, according to the guides. Looking at the riverside, we got a picture of how high the water level rose during the typhoon, and how destructive it was. There were trees wrapped around other trees – a sign of how strong the force of the water was! The change in the rock placements in the river actually made many of the rapids easier. But, it being a different course meant that the guides were yet to fully master it.

Rafting wasn’t as difficult as we thought it would be. It was thrilling that’s for sure. Watching it is a little more intimidating compared to when you are actually doing it, in my opinion. Well, having guides surely helped not just in controlling the boat, but also our confidence.

It was already dark by the time we reached the most difficult rapid. At this point, it is standard procedure for the guides to dock the raft and let the guests inspect the rapid they’re about to face. We were given a choice to skip it by walking along the riverside, or to give it a go. All four groups chose the latter, and all were successful.  It was a great feeling! After that, there were only 2 or 3 rapids left to overcome.

Having finished the most difficult rapid, we all thought this would end well. By the way, our group was the smallest. The other three had at least 6 members and 2 guides. Ours was just composed of 4 and 1 guide. They fell short of guides that day, as we found out in the end. Aside from the guides on each raft, there were also 3 guides patrolling, each on a kayak.

So on to the next rapid, we as usual followed the guide’s command. Throughout the course by the way, we paddle when he says so and follow the pace he dictates. Even if we thought we should still paddle in the rapids, when he says stop, we stop and the raft just goes into place. He can really be relied on, basically. But he made a wrong call at this particular rapid. We paddled hard and then stopped, however, instead of going safely into place, our raft is headed towards a big rock. I suspect the guide didn’t notice it immediately; it was nighttime after all. So, he ordered us to paddle hard but to no avail. Our raft was just heading towards the rock. The guide on the kayak started yelling “Paddle!” multiple times as well. Going back, it was a sign of their worry, as we were already in a dangerous situation.

The big rock has a protrusion, in that the raft could get partly beneath it, but the passengers couldn’t. So by the time our raft hit the rock, we had to bend. The water started rushing inside the raft, and we all realized it’s time to release our feet from the foot locks for the raft will fall out of balance.

My experience:

Upon releasing my foot, I was submerged in the water. The first thing to do was to try to float and put my head above the surface, naturally. But it wasn’t easy. Upon going up I felt a raft above me. Recalling the guide’s instructions at the beginning, I thought I should find the air space underneath the raft (assuming it’s upside down). I thought I was headed towards an air space, but I wasn’t. I couldn’t stop myself from the act of breathing anymore, the result, I drank a lot of water and choked. I got away from the raft but as I struggled to surface, I felt a push downward. Cess, admitted that it was her, as she herself struggled to go up. I struggled some more as I found myself underneath Matt. Then he pulled me up, shouting, “Jecoy, okay ka lang?!” (Jecoy, are you okay?) I couldn’t answer as I gasped for air and coughed. A guide ordered us to board on his kayak. It went upside down twice, before we found our balance.

The other groups stopped and waited for us. Our raft was missing, so we had to temporarily board on the other groups’ rafts and wait for our own raft to be recovered. But more than that, there was a bigger problem. Our guide and Nathan were missing! I shouted my brother’s name several times but there was no answer. And I started worrying. Man, it’s the first time my brother joined me in a trip and something bad is happening? The tension built as we waited for the other guides to search. You could feel their worry. And oh goodness, they had neither flashlights nor whistles!

I didn’t know how long we waited, but it didn’t seem to be too long. My brother, the guide and the raft were all found. “I’m okay!” shouted my brother, and boy were we relieved!

My brother’s experience:

The first thing Nathan did was to cling to the raft. It was part of the orientation after all: if you could cling to the raft, do so. So he was there, with the raft, stuck beneath the rock. He felt someone pulling his shorts, and our guide surfaced. The guide immediately released his grip, as he later said, he was concerned that my brother’s shorts may get ripped off, or his shoulders may not hold up.

Then, the guide started shouting at him, ordering him to release his grip and get away from the raft! Another guide on the kayak ordered him to do so as well. He wondered why, wasn’t it the instruction, cling to the raft if you can? As it turned out, the current underneath the rock was pulling the raft downward – that’s why it’s stuck! So Nathan was in trouble.

Upon releasing, he struggled to swim away. He felt the current pulling him down, like he was being flushed in the toilet. Then, during his struggle he saw one of his slippers floating. He somehow got energized and tried to swim for his slipper! And probably, there was a break in the pulling current, allowing him to swim away from the raft and the rock. And so he got to the riverside, with one slipper and tried to regain composure. He shouted my name several times, but there was no answer.

Our guide showed up to him asking if he’s okay. He is, and boy, was he delighted to see that our Go Pro Hero 2 Camera (which I purchased the day I arrived in Manila specifically with the white water rafting experience in mind) was still mounted on the guide’s helmet!

Nathan just waited. He thought he could walk along the riverside, but he remembered the guide telling us earlier that there are a lot of snakes in that area. So he just stayed put. Then, all of a sudden his other slipper surfaced. He successfully recovered it, adding more to his relief.

Finally, the guide managed to get the raft off the rock, and both of them went to the rest of the group. No people, paddles, raft, camera and slippers went missing. It’s funny how his slippers were a big part of this story.

Thinking about it, that incident made this trip adventurous – which is great. I know it could’ve gone otherwise. But since we ended up with no casualty, I would like to consider it fun. That experience made us feel more alive!

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