I was wondering if it would be an issue I couldn’t remember my home address while I was filling out the disclaimer form for whitewater rafting in Cairns. But then who needs an emergency contact when you are travelling with someone with a smartphone and a Facebook account? Should anything happen to me, I would just trust my Apple family will be in good hands, so I submitted my form with a fake address as the van drove on.
But they kept throwing tricky questions at me:
‘Have you had any accidents involving any water sports activity?’
I wouldn’t consider almost drowning in Bondi Beach nor breaking my tooth while kayaking real accidents; they are more results of my own stupidity. So I answered ‘no’, as the driver of the van continued to give us instructions:
‘If you fall out of the raft and can’t get back on, raise your legs toward the surface of the water and float on your back with your face out of the water. Hold onto your paddle, but if you lose it, don’t worry, we have your credit card details.’ Gee, well, that’s a relief! They could have at least mentioned how much those things cost, so I could have an idea of whether it’s going to homebrand cereal or water and bread for the next month.
The first thing that caught my sight was a Danger sign – black, red and white – the most alarming combination of colours known to men. In my head, this sign meant death (even if it had said ice cream truck ahead, which I suppose could be dangerous if you are a diabetic) or it could mean something far worse – I could break my tooth again, make children cry whenever I smile and pay hundreds of dollars just to get it repaired. It’s hard being accident prone.
‘You guys are in Marty’s group,’ one of the guys pointed at a toned, tall, middle-aged man with tanned skin and modern sunglasses. I took a look and proceeded to put on my life jacket while looking for my GoPro camera at the same time. ‘You are putting it backwards,’ Marty startled me while I was multi- tasking. I turned the jacket inside out and proceeded to put in on. He grabbed my life jacket and pulled it down himself while singing, ‘Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle, wiggle’.
There were six paddlers: a married couple from India who didn’t know how to swim, a couple of Brits who reside in Sydney, Lachy – my friend – and, of course, me. Both Lachy and the British man volunteered to be at the front of the raft. He told Lachy to set the pace and said to them both to steer the raft. I kept thinking of how to protect my tooth from getting broken, and how to protect myself from going broke if it happened while Marty was giving us instructions.
‘You guys will be fine as long as you listen to me’, he said after telling the Indian lady off for doing the opposite of what he was saying. ‘Some people get confused with right and left so we’ll just practice now to make sure we all know which side is right and which is left,’ Marty said. ‘Don’t worry, we are going to be team number 1,” he said. “Look at that boat ahead of us. Four Japanese women. Very light boat but NO power! Do you see the other boat ahead? That guide is doing his trial today to become a guide in Raging Thunder. Actually, this is his second time around. I assessed him last week and failed him within 5 minutes… I was harsh, but I was fair.”
We paddled forward and rafted through the rapids, across still water, rocky slides and fast currents. ‘Steer right! Right!’, he told the British guy who had steered left. ‘Don’t try to go against me, look at my muscles and look at your arms. Who do you think is going to win?’ he said jokingly. I thought that remark was hilarious but the British couple didn’t find it so amusing.
‘We went the other way again. Why do you guys paddle forward when I say backwards? I’m going to have to say the opposite of what I mean. Go forward! Go forward!’ which caused a wave of confusion on the boat. I turned to the British girl questioningly and she merely shrugged.
Once we reached still waters, he told us to jump off the boat. I thought maybe he had had enough of us and was deserting us there. ‘Come on, jump in the water, relax, go for a swim,’ he said. The water was fresh, not cold but just perfect, and the life jackets made the whole experience effortless. I was enjoying the fresh water when I heard Marty encouraging the Indian lady to jump in whilst she refused to on the grounds that she can’t swim. ‘I know, but you can float. That is what the jacket is for,’ Marty said and finally convinced her – ehem pushed her – stating ‘that is how babies learn to swim. Jump in the water, lesson number one.’
Then Marty asked the British girl and me to sit at the top of the boat facing backwards. Marty kept pushing us against the rapids as the current pushed us back. Exhilarated, I returned to my seat and watched the other guide doing the same activity with the Japanese girls. It must have been a really light boat because in a matter of seconds, two Japanese girls were propelled into the water, and we watched as the current dragged them through the rapids and in the direction of some spiky rocks.
Instead of swimming against the current, the Japanese girls remained motionless and let themselves drift away towards the rocks.
‘Let’s go team. Hurry! Let’s rescue those girls!’ and just like in an American movie, we finally delivered under pressure; we paddled forward at the same pace – for the first time – and faster than ever. We pulled one onto the boat but the other one was farther and getting closer to the rocks. I was going to give her my hand when we were close enough, but Marty asked me to hold his paddle instead. He moved quickly and just in time to get her aboard. After feeling that adrenaline pumping through my veins, I wondered if this had been staged. ‘Can you swim?’ he asked the Japanese girls. They said yes. ‘Why didn’t you swim?’ And they looked confused as if they didn’t understand. ‘Do you speak English?’ Yes. ‘Can you swim?’ Yes. ‘Why didn’t you swim then?,’ he asked one more time and that is when realisation hit them and one of them apologised. They didn’t know they were supposed to. The Japanese girls were really sweet and thanked us before they jumped back on their own boat.
Marty told us we were reaching the end of the rapids which is the most challenging part. He told us to wait and let the other teams go down first. Then he pointed at the guy on trial and said: ‘Ah going down a rapid backwards… FAIL! But we say “not complete”. It sounds nicer, doesn’t it?’
I will just ask you to look at that point over there. Our cameraman is standing there ready to take your picture. You can wave, smile, use the paddle as a guitar or fall out of the boat if you want. For some reason, people buy more pictures when they fall out of the boat.’ We posed for the picture as we slid through that rapid, fast and wild, which led to some of us getting propelled out of the boat. Not me, though, I had my foot further in. I may sprain my ankle but there’s no way I’m breaking my tooth again while trying to get out of crocodile-infested waters. Lachy had the roughest trial at the front of the boat. His side was almost underwater, but we pulled him back in. Far from scared, he was rather amused the current almost took him in – no doubt the Xbox has ruined this generation’s survival instincts.
‘See that rock over there?’ Marty pointed at a very high rock. ‘That is as high as the water gets during rainy season.’ So I asked if they still go out rafting then. He replied that is beyond level 5 which means certain death. ‘In rainy season, we don’t raft. We go to the pub.’
He told us we were past the rapids and now we could swim for a while. As I floated through those tranquil waters, under the blue sky and surrounded by nature, I couldn’t help but fantasise I was in Middle Earth and What a Wonderful World was playing in the background. But when we got on the boat again, Marty told us about the serpents in the woods and the crocodiles underwater, which sent shivers down my spine. ‘But I’ve never seen a crocodile. That’s just what the government says and who believes the government anyway? They are just trying to protect themselves.’
Uh huh… That’s comforting!
I would recommend Raging Thunder to any thrill seeker. Hopefully you are lucky enough to get Marty as your guide.
Photos courtesy of Raging Thunder