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My Horrible White Water Rafting Experience In Bali

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.

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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!”

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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.

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 white water 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.

Thanks for reading and good luck! 🙂

Have you been white water rafting before? Tell us about your experience in a comment below…

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46 thoughts on “My Horrible White Water Rafting Experience In Bali

  1. Pretty sure we did this same trip just a week ago with our 9 and 11 yrs old children. It was amazing. We had a fabulous time and it was a lil scary but its supposed to be. Its white water rafting! We had the same safety talk you did. Thot it was more than efficient, do as they say and if you fall out float do not swim. What more do you need? You say you like adrenaline activities as long as they are controlled?? Sounds contradictory. Its a river that has rapids, there is no real control. Our kids had a blast!

    1. Thanks for the comment Sandi, I thought it was controlled but didn’t realise what it was REALLY like until I got there. You might also feel different about it if it had been your kids were on our raft. I’m glad you had an experienced tour guide!

    2. I had a similar experience and wouldn’t recommend that young children do this. I feel out after the raft tipped to oneside. Everyone slid over & I was pushed out. I held my paddle as per the safety instructions & was bumped along for a while before the raft came to me & pulled me in. I was bruised and battered. Nothing broken. It was not a nice experience. I did complete the course and had lunch after. The next day I was a bit sore.

  2. Oh god I felt your pain all through reading your story and so sorry you don’t have the memory that I do, because white water rafting is such fun.

    But I really wanted to say we went white water rafting our first time in Costa Rica and and had a fabulous guide which made it soooo easy. We also had 2 strong, strapping dutch boys in the front of our boat. I screamed and laughed the whole way and just LOVED it. We nearly went in Bali recently but something told me no… and reading your story I now know why.

    There’s just some things to do in some countries and some things not to do!

    1. Hi Jo! Where in Costa Rica did you go white water rafting? It’s something I would like to do here but there are so many companies!

      1. Hi Sky, We used a company called Costa Rica Descents in La Fortuna – cannot recommend them highly enough for safety. They were also careful to match and balance the boat with the right people back, middle and front. Our guide did not even allow us to scream! – because we would not hear his instructions. It was such a lot of fun – we loved it.

  3. This is an excellent post about following your gut and knowing when something may not be worth doing.

    Not only do I fear doing adventure stuff like this because of exactly this, but different countries have different standards and that worries me.

    If I was travelling with kids there is no way in hell I would be allowing them to do this. No matter what country it was. But to those who say what did you expect? That’s just laughable. Yeah, getting thrown out of the boat and being injured enough to go to hospital? That’s not what people sign up for ever.

    I’m glad you were ok. and I’m glad you shared this. I care more about my safety than adding this stuff to a bucket list!

    1. Thanks so much for the positive feedback Toni, definitely needed to hear this after the hundreds of horrible comments on Facebook. Trusting your own gut for your own experience is a such a great point. Thank you

  4. Wow! I’m glad you weren’t more seriously injured (like you said, that could have easily happened).

    Great post reminding us that sometimes bad things happen, and we should learn from them instead of letting them scare us.

    Hopefully you get to try white water rafting with more reputable company and better trained staff! When done right it can be great fun.

  5. I am so sorry this happened to you! I definitely would have been crying and panicking just like you. This is such an important reminder that these kinds of sports, especially in countries you’re less familiar with, can be very dangerous. And I love at the end you say you’re not trying to put anyone off white water rafting, just trying to explain the negative sides and I think that’s great. You don’t hear many negative stories from white water rafting and I loved reading your experience so in the future I can really think about whether I want to do it or not. I’m so glad you’re ok and believe you were so brave to push through all of that pain and fear!

  6. Thanks for bringing awareness to the need for an experienced, responsible guide. My husband and I have always talked about going white water rafting and I had no idea the issues that could arise if the guide isn’t experienced. I would have been miserable in your position, and I get super cranky when something that’s supposed to be fun results in an awful experience. So sorry you learned the hard way but thank you for teaching us to do our research first!

    1. Hey Mandee, thank you for appreciating my article. I’m sure white water rafting can be a very fun experience I just want people to understand what they’re getting themselves into so they can prepare for any situation 😉

  7. My toe is hurting just thinking about this! I enjoy white water rafting, but I did have a bad experience where a guide flipped the boat on purpose and everyone fell into the rapids- including a 60 year old woman who couldn’t really swim! Thankfully no one was hurt other than some scrapes, but things really can go wrong with white water rafting!

  8. Sorry to hear about your accident, I’m glad you recovered and shared this. I went white-water rafting in Bali few years ago as well and I’m pretty sure it’s this river too. Nothing happened to me, but during one of the drops, my travel companion hurt her back and it caused her pain for the rest of our Bali trip. I personally find this activity not 100% safe for sure, it gets quite scary and I wouldn’t get any kid to try it. Up till now, I can still remember the highest drop!

    1. I’m sure rafting can be a lot of fun and I can see why people want to do it, although there is definitely a higher risk doing this activity than what a lot of people believe, thanks for sharing this! 🙂

  9. Wow, it sounds like there are no standards for white water rafting there! Do they even class the rapids? Here in the U.S. you have different classes of rapids so you know what to expect. It sounds like they just throw everyone in a raft with inexperienced guides! That must of been horrifying!

    I have never been, but it is on my bucket list. I think I will stick to doing it here in the U.S. though after reading your story lol!

    =) Bridget | http://nuttyhiker.com

    1. Hey great point! I honestly had no idea you could class rapids, I literally thought it was going to be a safe joy ride where something going wrong would be highly unlikely, I wish I did my research though haha

  10. I wouldn’t dare haha. I am not quite a daredevil anyway and I prefer my calm little hikes in nature. I appreciate you taking the time to write this and letting us all know. Research is key for sure! Glad you are ok x

    1. Thanks for the comment Cory, yeah I’ve always stood by the idea of trying everything at least once to learn about yourself and white water rafting definitely isn’t for me (even if I hadn’t had the accident) haha

  11. Gah, I was flinching just reading this! I love that you wrote this because so many people keep the “oh it’s super fun and super safe!” mentality over all adventure sports and while most of the time it IS super fun and safe, accidents happen. Things go wrong and people get hurt. I went once while in Panama and I was terrified but it was super fun. The guide knew that I was terrified and talked to me the day because about the size of the rapids and that if the river was high and the rapids were stronger he might recommend no but the river was low so it was a much easier trip. I felt really confident after that and the rest of the guides were fantastic. We were given a long safety speech and the groups were divided by who had experience so everything was balanced. It was a great experience, if slightly terrifying.

    Reading this post doesn’t make me never want to raft again – it just reaffirmed what I already knew about doing research on the tour company, the river, etc, and recognizing things can happen. (Also on making sure I have insurance!)

    Thanks for giving your honest opinion and I’m happy you are recovering well!

  12. Sounds really scary for you at that time! Accidents and incidents do happen and that’s why I always have travel insurance. Glad you are feeling better already.

  13. Wow you poor thing. I was getting anxious just reading this. I’m sorry for some of the ignorant hateful comments you are getting. You absolutely should expect more safety precautions from companies that do these kinds of activities. I grew up in a white-water rafting area and they always grouped people accordingly to skill and what they were looking for. Not everybody wants to live on the edge! That must have been so terrifying. As a nurse who know what those kinds of injuries are like….and someone who has been injured plenty….I feel for you. You aren’t being overly dramatic. That whole experience sounds like hell! So glad you are ok!

    1. Thank you for reassuring I’m not overly dramatic! I obviously didn’t expect to end up in hospital when I signed up for the tour 😛 It probably would have been a totally different experience if the guides had taken the time to group people according to skill, and you’re right not every one does want to live life on the edge! hahaha

  14. One of my friends has been trying to get me to do this for like, two years and I still won’t. Water activities freak me out, but this just sounds awful if I fell in. I don’t blame you for wanting to leave at all! Sounds like quite the experience!

  15. Oh my God! that must have hurt a lot and I can understand all those emotions. I have always wanted to try my hand at rafting but this experience of yours makes me doubt if I will ever do it. I also loved the style of your writing which was in itself like a roller coaster ride for me..hahaha..Keep up the good work and keep travelling.

  16. I was cringing reading this!!! I’ve always been weird about white water rafting and I love adrenaline activities… Guess it’s good I thought twice about it. Glad you’re feeling better!

  17. I think it’s brave of you to share travel experiences when they go wrong. Although it’s not nice to focus on the downsides of travel, it’s essential to bear in mind that you are going to encounter risks on the road. I think reading posts like these willl help encourage people to make sensible choices and minimise risk. After all, your safety should always be your priority, right? I’m relieved for you that it wasn’t anything much worse than a dislocated toe and I hope that you have a speedy recovery!

    1. Yeah totally! I try to always look at the positives in any situation but sometimes it’s important to be real because a life of travel and adventure isn’t always as glam as it may seem! 😛

  18. Oh my gosh this is crazy!! I’ve never been white water rafting but kind of expected the same thing you expected haha happy I know now that it is much more intense than tubing behind a boat! Glad you’re okay!

  19. Omg this is such a dramatic story I was nervous for you! Glad to hear you are okay – maybe it will be a while until you raft again?!

  20. I hear you about rafting!!
    Was my second rafting trip, I was thrown from the raft to the side, head whipped to the right, then I was stuck in Rapids splashing in my face, I thought one more swallow of water I’m done, till finally someone got me back in!!!
    Four years later I have post concussion/TBI to where I couldn’t work or do much of anything, neck pain, headaches, no sleep you name it
    Thousands of dollars in medical and I’m still not better!!
    I was a super active in shape person then, I’ll tell you, it can take you with zero notice of anything, water is definitely an unpredictable thing!!
    So I understand your terrible experience, it is scary:(
    Thanks Shelly

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