The adventure began when six of us jumped in the back of an old beater truck. We drove through villages and jungle foliage, past temples and rice paddies, weaving between motorbikes, janky construction sites, and women carrying oversized baskets on top of their heads.
We arrived at a bamboo shack in the middle of a farm where our tour guide slapped some stinky, damp, mildewed, life vests and helmets on us and sent us on a 100 stair trek down the mountain to the river bank.
The stairs were all shapes and sizes and built of all materials possible. Power lines were draped over sticks and trees trailing all the way to the bottom where they used the electricity to blow up our rafts and charge their cellphones.
Andre, our guide gave us some loose instructions on what his commands in broken English meant for our own safety during our three hour escapade. I should've paid more attention.
Sardined between a family of Persian speaking Iranians we set off on our journey down the rapids. Growing up in Southern Oregon and rafting the Rogue countless times throughout my life gave me a false sense of confidence in the raft. I was quickly humbled. "BOOM BOOM" yelled Andre as we rambled down the first stretch of white water. I mentally crapped my pants as I almost flew out of the raft! I was jolted out of my comfort zone. Instantly my fight or flight instincts and adrenaline kicked in.
There I was, stuck in a thousand pound raft full of first timers and a hundred pound Balinese steersman in a 3rd world country. One of those 'What am I doing here? God help me. Sorry mom.' moments. I was right to throw my mental guards up but I still wasn't prepared for what was next.
We crashed into rocks, were attacked by fire ants, saw a huge snake swimming by, faced the most treacherous rapids I've ever rafted, bounced off the banks, swerved around rusty rebar and fencing poking out of the river, and held on for dear life.
Being so familiar with rivers and rafting made this experience even scarier. I've heard all the headlines of people drowning, rafts tipping over or deflating, and rescue searches being held. I've been in rafts where collisions are followed by concussions, passengers are flung into the water, and blood is shed. The river is not like the ocean, it is constant, it gives no breaks between sets. It is a force to be reckoned with. Not to mention all my experience was in America where there are rules and regulations and safety precautions, where the water was clean and clear, not muddy, contaminated, and full of who knows what.
I don't think the others in the boat realized how dangerous it actually was or how many things could've easily gone very wrong. Ignorance was bliss in their case. Having my strong and wise husband beside me put my mind at ease. He knew something was wrong without me even saying a word, and I didn't due to my belief that the spoken word is powerful. Manifesting unfortunate events by speaking of negative thoughts was the last thing I wanted to do. Besides, if all else failed I imagined we'd Tarzan and Jane that shit and figure out a way to make it out alive.
Despite all of my worst-case-scenario-worry I was able to soak it all in with a smile on my face (nearly) the whole time.
We floated past majestic waterfalls, 3rd world villages, jimmy rigged water irrigation systems, plush million dollar resorts, bamboo huts, and waterfront villas straight out of the travel channel. The views were ones that can only be seen from the river itself. The architecture and scenery were absolutely breathtaking.
Halfway through the trip Andre pulled over at a sketchy looking "rest stop" on the river. We were greeted by two happy Indonesian women, a refrigerator filled with cold drinks sitting on the river bank, a basket of chips, and coconuts laying in the mud. The women sat under a tarp structure and yelled "Come now and rest, one more hour raft and two hundred stairs more. You must eat and drink. Eat now, pay later no problem!"
We were refreshed by the coconuts after they machete chopped them open for us. The Iranians took selfies as we brushed up on our Balinese speaking skills and munched on indo chips that tasted like the dry saimin I would eat as an after school snack in the 3rd grade.
We hopped back in the raft and continued on. We creeped through a canyon where the walls were covered with intricate designs carved artfully into the rock. The sight of it all was jaw dropping.
All the while our Iranian boat mates sang songs of their country in Persian. They a were loud, enthusiastic, loving, and a crazy musketeer-like group of three. They left me with a lovely curiosity of their culture.
At the end of the float we hiked up the 200 some stairs we were promised. Near the top there were locals trying to sell us trinkets and clothing and clutter for 60,000 rupia a pop. (just over 4 bucks.) If I had money on me I would've bought something just for their efforts. I'm such a sucker for supporting the locals, even in my hometown. We popped out of the jungle onto a chaotically busy road with cars and scooters whizzing by, just a short block from our start point.
We made it back to our sweet driver Ketut, who waits patiently smoking cigarettes and chatting up the other locals while we slay our tourist activities. Seeing something/someone familiar gave me a sense of safety again. His huge smile was contagious and reminded me to smile myself. In that moment I realized, Holy shit guys we survived.
For the record, I don't think I gave Andre enough credit, that man was smart, swift, and knew what he was doing. Maneuvering a boat ten times your weight through all of those obstacles with little help from your guests is no easy task. We kindly thanked him with a tip for getting us down the river safely.
Rafting in a 3rd world country was about the same kind of fun as skydiving for me. An incredible and mind blowing activity that we were lucky enough to enjoy un scathed, but probably won't push it and do it twice too close together. Nevertheless, once again life serves the risk taker. Another adventure down. Thank you Bali, for the unforgettable experience of white water rafting down the Ayung river.