This post was written as part of the Scintilla Project as an answer to the following prompt: Tell the story about something interesting (anything!) that happened to you, but tell it in the form of an instruction manual (Step 1, Step 2, Step 3….)
This is my “instruction manual” to avoid death when whitewater rafting in 五指山 (Wuzhishan), a name which literally translates to “five finger mountain.” Wuzhishan is located in the center of Hainan island, China, and was a place G and I visited in December 2011.
How Not to Die When Whitewater Rafting in China
You will need: two first-time whitewater rafters, a strong sense of adventure and a long history of trust and cooperation between the two first-timers. Also a raft, a remote area in China in which to whitewater raft, two helmets, two oars and stick of bamboo.
Step One. Book a whitewater rafting trip through your friendly hostel staff. Realize that neither of you have any experience whitewater rafting and one has only just recently gotten over her fear of being in open water, but pay no attention to either fact. Feel equal parts excited and nervous about this adventure for the duration of the two-hour drive to the rafting location.
Step Two. Arrive at the whitewater rafting location. Strip down to your bathing suit and get sized for a lifejacket and helmet. Select a raft and set of oars. Realize with a sinking feeling that you have absolutely no idea how this all works.
Step Three. Stand next to your raft with your partner and look expectantly at the staff, who stare blankly back at you. Timidly ask for some tips or guidelines for the whitewater rafting process. Halfway through the question, realize that while they might understand your standard Mandarin Chinese, you’re not going to understand what they say if they speak in dialect.
Step Four. Climb into the raft and set sail down the still, timid waters. Realize you’re horrible at using an oar, so you let your partner do the bulk of the rowing. Reflect on the one thing the instructor told you before you climbed into the raft: if the raft leans to the right, you lean left. If the raft leans to the left, you lean right. Feel somewhat suspicious because that doesn’t sound like enough to avoid imminent death.
Step Five. Reach the end of the still water. Watch the guides open up the dams to create gushing waterfalls. Steady your nerves as you realize that that’s what you’re going to be careening through, that this is what you signed up for.
Step Six. Panic as your guides take away your oars and gives your partner a stick of bamboo. Don’t even have time to wonder what to do with the bamboo or why you didn’t get a stick too as you tumble down the first waterfall. Grip the sides of the raft for dear life and sputter from the water that hits you square in the face as you land at the bottom.
Step Seven. As you careen from the first waterfall to the next, look to your right and realize the one other person doing whitewater rafting has completely wiped out and is bobbing in the water next to his overturned raft. Grip your hands tighter on the sides of the raft and pray this doesn’t happen to you.
Step Eight. Tumble down the second waterfall. Shriek when you hit the bottom because your helmet goes flying off. Visions of your head splitting open on a rock dance in front of you. See your life flash before your eyes. Luckily, a guide retrieves your helmet in time for the next waterfall.
Step Nine. After the fourth or fifth (or sixth or seventh?) waterfall, wind up getting beached on a rock because you’re spinning around in the water too fast to control where your raft is going. Your partner will try to shove your raft off the rock with the bamboo stick (ta-da! its use is now revealed). This is not helpful. You need to wiggle your butt as your contribution to get the raft back in the water and moving.
Step Ten. You won’t have time to argue which was more efficient, the bamboo stick or your wiggling ability, because as soon as you get un-stuck you are off again, whirling around in the water once more. Later, debate this at length with your partner and maintain your firm belief that wiggling > stick, because the rafter who wiped out earlier split his stick in half when trying to push his raft off a rock and definitely did not wiggle around.
Step Eleven. As the waters begin to settle and your raft drifts back to where you started, marvel at how, despite the odds, you not only managed to not get killed when whitewater rafting in remote Hainan, but also really enjoyed the entire experience. Surprise yourself with the twinge of sadness you feel when realizing that your first whitewater rafting experience is coming to a close.
Step Twelve. Back at the rafting headquarters, find out that there were cameras set up along the path to take photos of you mid-action. Purchase one for a keepsake. Smile at the raw energy you and your companion have written all over your faces, one that is equal parts fear, excitement and adrenaline. Realize that you will never have an experience like this again and cherish the memory always.