(That Thing I Do)

Not-So-White Water Rafting @ Padas, Kota Kinabalu (Sabah)

I’ve always enjoyed being in the water. Walking in the storm gives me a sense of freedom. Laying down in a bathtub blankets me with serenity. Sitting in the streams of a waterfall excites my senses.

Recently during my trip to Kota Kinabalu, I indulged in a new level of fun with the water. I went white water rafting at Padas, less than two hours from the city.

Getting there was easy. At about 7am, we were picked up from the hotel lobby by van. It was comfortable, with air-conditioning and didn’t smell like an old bus; which I was half-expecting for the low price we paid for the package. On the way to the destination, we stopped by a petrol station to fill up and buy whatever we needed. This was our cue to buy some quick bites for breakfast. I grabbed myself two packets of nasi lemak, even though I had some biscuits and milk before leaving the hotel. I figured I needed the strength. After all, I’d only just returned from my climb up Mt. Kinabalu the previous day.

The drive to Tenom saw us passing through the countryside at moderate speed. The quiet view outside was serene and relaxing. The roads led us up and down the highlands along the way. The air was so colder than air-condition so we just wound down our windows and enjoyed the chilly air blowing in our faces. On the way, our guide showed us something interesting, which I’d sparsely ever heard about. On a very nondescript stretch of road in the hills, there existed a sort of gravitational anomaly. The road was flat. When you stand up, it’s obviously flat. There’s nothing to indicate that the road is slanting in any direction. It’s flat. Our driver stopped the van at the roadside, turned off the engine and waited for traffic the road to be clear. Once the coast was clear, he released the handbrakes. Here is the video of what happened:

Some might say it’s an illusion, but if that were true, I’d not be standing upright as I was taking the video. I can’t explain how or why gravity behaves this way there. That’s why it’s called an anomaly. For safe measure, we repeated the same experiment with a water bottle. First we tried it with an empty bottle. It didn’t move. The gravity pull was weak so it needed some weight to counter wind resistance and friction. When we tried it with a bottle of water, it moved. Proves that it’s not the wind at work – the wind would be able to blow the empty bottle much more easily than the one with water. Here’s the video of what happened:

This time I tried to chase it. It gained momentum faster than I could run. That’s gravity for you. It was a cool natural party trick and all, but that’s not what we’re here for. So, after being childishly amused and a few giggles later, we resumed our drive to Tenom. On the way we stopped again for a break at a little cafe just outside Crocker Range National Park, which happened to be along the way. It was very chilly (I was still feeling weak from the previous day’s climb) and it was the middle of nowhere. After our crew had a coffee and a smoke, we resumed our journey.

In no time, we arrived at the town of Tenom. By this time my weakness had devolved into a fever. There is where we had our lunch, which was included in the package. Not some crappy package lunch, mind you. We had actual food. Fresh from the kitchen. Chicken, fish, two types of vegetables, and sweet corn soup (seems to be the default choice of soup in Sabah) with rice. That’s a decent amount of food for two people who had breakfast just two hours prior. The food was actually quite alright. Flavors were dulled by my poor health that day. My whole body was also terribly sore. I stockpiled on some Panadol ActiFast from a nearby 7-evelen, took a dose and soon after I was all good to go. We arrived early so we had time to visit the Murut Cultural Center, but I decided to sit down and get some rest. I wasn’t in good shape and I thought it best to conserve my strength for later. And I was right. I definitely needed it.

Padas is only accessible by train, or helicopter, unless you can walk really, really far. The train from Tenom is very old-school. A ricketty old cabin with no air-conditioning. The more adventurous of us rode on a trailer at the back of the train. It was basically an open air trolley with nothing to grab onto. The more conservative and (ahem) sick of us rode in the cabin and stayed out of the scorching noon sun. The ride was under an hour, and was not too uncomfortable. I spent most of the ride staring out at the villages and the river.

When we finally arrived at our destination, we had a briefing on what we could expect and what we needed to do. In between, we had some fruits and drinks.

Before we entered the raft, we put our personal belongings and change of clothes in a waterproof bag, which was taken with us on the raft; and they helped tether our sunglasses so it wouldn’t fall off. Finally, we could start our white water rafting!

Row, row, row your boat…

Okay, so the water isn’t exactly white. In the spirit of 1Malaysia, let’s not pass judgement based on color. The water was relatively calm that day, because it hadn’t been raining. According to our crew, there was excuse to capsize that day. Don’t be fooled though. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t exciting or intense. There was some very calm waters in between the eight rapids, but when we got to the rapids, we really needed a lot of strength to maneuver our raft, as we only had five of us in the boat. The other boats had at least ten people. Three of us in the boat were the river guide and crew.

It’s so calm, let’s just… pose!

What can you expect from this 21-kilometre-long adventure?

Gently down the stream, indeed…

Lots of paddling. You will need strength for this.

“Iceberg, right ahead!”

Water getting nasty with you. Hang on tight!

They don’t call these the rapids because they’re gentle, y’know…

Water getting extra nasty with you. Hold on even tighter, and keep paddling ! The water is relentless. It doesn’t give up, and neither did I. It only gets tougher!

Hey, where did our raft go?

Let your guard down for a moment and BOOM ! The water attacks and tries to swallow you whole. Hang on really tight, and paddle really hard, and you might just come out of it triumphant, like we did. We didn’t capsize. Victory!

There’s really not many ways to celebrate when on raft

All that paddling and shouting (optional) gets one very tired, very fast. Somewhere along the way we had our scheduled lunch break by small waterfall. By lunch break, what I really mean is 100 plus, Oreos, and water. All this was included in our package. It was all carried in a cooler for us on land. After stuffing my face with double-stuff Oreos, I decided to sit in the streams of the waterfall for a bit.

Tee-hee, that tickles!

This is SO. MUCH. FUN. WHEE!

Something about water tends to get me just a little bit too excited.

The whole adventure lasted some hours. It is estimated to be a 4-5 hour adventure but we finished in about 3. Your mileage may vary, we sped through. I guess my painkillers were really powerful. Be careful though. When you’re ahead of the pack and ahead of time, you become the target of attack. There were two other rafts which we had battles with, tossing each other off and capsizing each others’ boats. I did get myself thrown out of the boat a couple of times. It took 3 of them to get me off. I weigh quite a bit, and I put up a good struggle.

At the end of the day, I felt satisfied. It wasn’t too much, and I didn’t want more. I was all smiles, and the tranquil outdoors really lifted my spirits, even though my body was exhausted. After washing up and changing into our clean clothes at the train station, it was a train ride back to the next stop with a lot of happy and boisterous people. From our last stop at the station, we got into our van and just reflected on the day on the ride back to the hotel.

The experience was rejuvenating, and I’m definitely coming back for more. Next time, during flood season. I’m up for a bigger challenge. Maybe next time, water, you’ll haveyour day. Maybe next time.

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