I never expected white water rafting to be so dangerous.
I knew we’d be on a raft going downstream, and I expected it to be scary but fun at the same time…kind of like being tied behind a boat on a doghnut, you know?
But anyone who’s been pulled behind a boat would know that you can expect when the bumps in the waves are coming, because they’re created by the boat. You know when to hold on tighter because you see your mate turn the boat. It’s just a bit of fun and if you do lose grip it’s only water you’ll fall in to. You have peace of mind because apart from the driver guiding you, there’s an observer constantly watching out for your safety. If you want to stop completely you just give a hand signal and it’s over.
Well…imagine that, but going downstream at full speed, having no control over where the waves come from, losing communication with the guide and knowing that if you fall off you’ll get thrown onto rocks then pulled downstream where boats can’t get to you.
Yeah. That’s what white water rafting was like for me.
If I had known how dangerous this sport was I would have taken the time to carefully choose a company that I could trust before jumping into the first available raft, naiive to the fact that something could ever go wrong. I mean if this wasn’t safe people wouldn’t be doing it, right?
After walking down 600 or so steps through the jungle, trying to not slip on the mud along the way, we made it to the Agung River in Bali.
Then we got put into random groups for the tour, with no consideration for skill or experience. “Have any of you guys done white water rafting before?” we asked the group. “Nope, we’re so nervous!” Hmmm…both Will and I were feeling uneasy about the whole thing, and being put with a group where all 6 of us had never done this before, was not reassuring. Will and I even swapped seats because we thought all the strong rowers were on one side of the raft.
The guide did a 30 second induction, “When I say stop, stop, when I say left, paddle left, when I say right, paddle right, ok?” and off we went. In the first 10 seconds we almost tipped…phew that was close! Second chute (the scary drop), same thing. We even got stuck against a rock for a minute and we struggled to communicate with the guide, speaking no Balinese and him not speaking much English. Okay I’m starting to get scared now, I want to stop please.
We got down to the next part and the guide in the raft in front started joking around and splashing water on us. Not funny when you’re actually frightened! I don’t get scared often, in fact I love adrenalin activities (as long as they’re safely run), so if the guides could be so relaxed then maybe I should just get over the fear and enjoy the ride?
We were coming up to the next scary chute and my heart started beating faster than ever as the raft collected speed from the waves. Next minute I’m underwater…bang.
“Oww, Oww, OWW!” I thought as I tumbled down the hard rocks bruising all along my shin leg and elbow.
I was crushed by the weight of everyone, but at least I was a cushion for them.
When I got to the surface I couldn’t comprehend what had just happened. I thought everyone had felt that pain and that it was a serious accident, and for a second I felt extremely lucky to be above water. I forgot I was hurt and quickly glanced at all directions to make sure everyone had reached the surface…oh shit where’s Will?
My heart sank to the bottom of my stomach…
Oh wait he’s there, phew! I noticed he was holding the other end of the paddle that I was desperately gripping on to. His other hand was still holding on to the raft that was stuck on the rock at the top of the chute. I held on for a few seconds without moving, still in shock. I realised everyone else was fine, but o-oh I’m actually in a lot of pain here. And at that moment Will let go, thinking I was fine to just swim to the edge.
“Don’t let go!!” I screamed. Scared for my life as I felt the waves start pulling me downstream. I’m a very good swimmer but I was in so much pain that I couldn’t swim properly.
Will managed to grab hold of the paddle just in time and by then everyone else had started swimming to safety, but I felt extremely exhausted. I needed to get helped out of the water and when I got to land it sunk in. I looked at my foot and FREAKED OUT. It was a mess and my little toe was dislocated!
Me and pain do not go well together, like at all. I mean I can’t even watch violent scenes in action movies without looking away, let alone seeing my own toe out of place. I’ve never broken a bone, only fractured a toe (the same toe!) and that’s when I started having a panic attack.
I was shaking and there were so many things running through my head. “I wanna go home *cries* OMG do I have travel insurance for this, shit! Please let there be a helicopter to come get me. How cool will it be to fly over Bali in a chopper?? STOP LOOKING AT ME! Everyone is looking at me *cries* They better hurry the f up…it hurts! What’s happening? I think I’m passing out.”
I settled down for a few seconds and started feeling dizzy. Will left me for a minute to get help so I laid on the side of the river and closed my eyes. A moment later I felt something crawling up my bruised leg. As I looked up it was the biggest ugliest scariest insect I had ever seen! “Ahhhhhhh,” I screamed so loud. Anyone who’s had a panic attack before knows you’re emotions are up and down, you can’t think straight and everything seems more extreme than it really is.
“Ow ow ow…I need painkillers! Why did this have to happen in Bali, where there’s no emergency service? How stupid…I’m going to write about this! OMG I’m going to be ugly *cries* I won’t be able to walk. Will, you’ll have to do everything for me…hmm maybe I could get used to that. *more rafts keep coming past* Stop asking if I’m okay, I’m not!”
This went on for another 45 minutes….
“WHERE’S THE RESCUE BOAT?”
When it finally arrived there was no relief, instead I was told that I had to raft down to the bottom of the river because we were in the middle of the jungle so no help could get to us. “Are you serious? I’ve waited this long to hear that? No way, that’s not happening!”
We couldn’t go upstream, we couldn’t go down, there was no chance of a helicopter picking us up so I felt stuck, with no painkillers. And that’s when I noticed a random set of stairs directly across the river. None of the guides knew where it led but that was the only option I was willing to try, to get out of this situation. So we all got back onto the raft and everyone paddled as fast as they could to get to the other side of the river before the next chute. Will helped me out and our original guide stayed with us, while the rest of the group finished their tour with the second guide.
When I stood up I realised there was no way I’d be able to take any steps at all. There was no railing so I started to crawl and struggled pulling myself up each step, I was weak and in a lot of pain (not just from my toe). The stairs looked like they hadn’t been used in years and were covered in mud and tree branches. I looked up at the never-ending stairs and started to cry. Why me?
Will and our Balinese guide ended up taking it in turns to carry me up the steep stairs in the scorching heat, taking a break every minute or so. There was at least 1000 steps to get to the top of this giant hill, and I’m not exaggerating! I was so grateful to our guide and to Will for carrying me up there, it must have been backbreaking and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them both. When we finally got to the top we saw security fences blocking our only path out. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, especially after all the effort we’d just been through to get there. But luckily, there was no lock on the gate! Hooray!
The gate led us to a luxury resort and as soon as I saw people my heart filled with gratitude. My prayers had been answered and I had made it to safety without losing my mind. There was no ambulance but our driver picked us up and took us to the hospital. A really nice Balinese lady from the white water rafting company came with us and I was very relieved to find out that they had insurance (at least!) At the hospital I was given very strong pain killers and taken to get an x-ray. I was lucky that my toe was dislocated and not broken. I was told there was a 4 hour wait to see the next available specialist but that was okay with me, I was drugged up on painkillers so as long as I couldn’t feel anything I didn’t mind how long I’d have to wait. If only I knew about life insurance no medical exam at this time, it would’ve been a huge difference-maker.
8 hours after the accident I was finally being seen by a doctor who was able to put my toe back in place. Though what I didn’t realise was that local anaesthetic doesn’t stop the pain! Even pain from the needle going in was unbearable, so a lot of effort went into convincing me to keep going. 15 seconds of the doctor wriggling my bone around to find the right spot was the most excruciating pain I’ve ever experienced, and I don’t wish it upon anyone. I think the whole hospital heard me screaming. Will even said it looked like I was being possessed by a demon! Hahaha. But once it was done, it was done.
This story may sound dramatic for some of you, especially if you’ve been through a lot more pain in your life, and I can understand that. But for someone who’s never broken a bone and doesn’t deal with pain well, it was terrifying for me at the time. It’s been a month now and the recovery could not have gone any better. My rafting accident could have been A LOT worse (I’ve heard many fatal rafting stories since then) so I was very lucky. I’m sharing this story not to scare you, nor to make you never want to go white water rafting. I just want to raise awareness that white water rafting CAN go wrong, and to prepare you if you’re thinking about doing it.
I would absolutely recommend researching the companies’ safety standards, reviews and the training they provide (we later found out our guide had never had 6 people on a raft before!) It never crossed my mind that Bali, and many other places, do not have emergency services like we may be used to in our home country. Don’t apply the same safety expectations and be as naive as I was. Just because it must be safe back home, doesn’t mean it is abroad. Also, communication is key in whitewater river rafting so I would recommend ensuring that you can comfortably speak with your guide before getting into a raft with them. In dangerous situations it can be the difference between getting out safely and potential disaster.
So again, I urge you to do your research before deciding to go white water rafting in Bali or anywhere else that might not have the same safety limitations on companies and their operations. I would recommend to check out the trusted mybalitrips.com for future activities and sightseeing in and around Bali.
Thanks for reading and good luck! 🙂
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Have you been white water rafting before? Tell us about your experience in a comment below…
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