I’ve been home for nearly a week now, having eaten almost my body weight in chocolate and cake to try and put back on the weight I lost while away, coming to the end of my malaria pills, anti-biotics out of my system, tropical jungle rash on my arm slowly fading away, mosquito and ant bites almost not itching anymore…almost.. and with my cuts and bruises clearing up, I can finally reflect back on what was actually an amazing adventure with some fantastic people.
Many people would probably question my sanity at this point (although being mad often helps) ‘I thought you were going on ‘’holiday’’ over Christmas’ I hear you ask…. Well it turns out my definition of a holiday is not that similar to everyone’s…
When Beth mentioned a trip to the jungles of Sulawesi, Indonesia, for three weeks of paddling I don’t think I really put much thought in to the ‘remote jungle’ bit of it and just figured it’d be an amazing paddling adventure with stunning scenery, and it’s only class 4 right?! How hard can it be…..
It’s one thing thinking about the fun of paddling through a jungle… it’s a completely separate story when you’re sat alone on a beach in the middle of said jungle, days away from any help, having seen two of your friends paddle down river after kit and two friends start hiking up through the jungle two hours ago…that’s when you really realise that you’re in the middle of the jungle in the dark with no-one, and all you have are your own thoughts for company.
To say that our first of a four day trip on the Lariang didn’t go quite to plan would be a slight understatement, but what is a trip without a bit of adventure and excitment!
Having had a long day pushing on some high level hard rapids we had to portage up through the jungle, and in getting back on to the water a couple of issues resulted in two boats floating off down river over the next rapid and two members of the group chasing after them. I was the third to start chasing until I got to the lip of the next rapid and had a very sudden back paddle reflex as I saw what I was about to go down through… ‘they can definitely handle getting the boats’ I thought to myself ‘and they definitely don’t need me’…back paddle back paddle…
Having checked the other two were safe, we then made a plan to help me portage the rapid then arrange a meeting place right around the corner, and so they set about their hike up through the jungle in order to get back to where I was going to be waiting.
Once the jungle trekkers were back with me we spent the night as a three, with the other two somewhere further down the river. Dinner ended up being one freeze dried breakfast meal shared between the three of us, and one can of beer (always good to have an emergency can in your boat!). And who would’ve thought you could fit three people into a single person hammock on the floor! Luckily singing Christmas carols in to the night gave us the slight distraction we needed from our situation….I think they call this team bonding?!
It’s amazing how your thoughts on rain change depending on where you are. When at home you get so excited about rain and the rivers coming up, when paddling in monsoon season you spend your whole time praying it would just stop!! The realisation of the daily change in river levels came after a 3 foot rise in an already full river overnight…just makes it more exciting right?!
Once the sun was up we set about the task of reuniting our group! I paddled to the next corner while the others left for another climb up through the jungle. Having got around the corner I spotted all of the boats out on the bank and felt a huge sense of relief that we would all be back as a team soon!…… Another 2 hours spent alone contemplating the world on a rock by the side of the river (there seems to be a pattern here) and we were all back together.
The next three days of the Lariang were spent pretty much trouble free, christmas day paddling down some amazingly big fun rapids with a great group of friends has got to be up there with some of the best paddling days had.
Although I’ve picked out a few of the worse experiences of the trip, this is by no means the overall impression I wish to give, it was an amazing adventure that’s for sure ,but no trip is ever perfect and if you’re after the perfect paddling adventure then you’re probably in the wrong sport!
The fact that we were in the deepest depths of the jungle and far from civilization and help also meant that we got the most beautiful unspoilt scenery, along with some amazing wildlife that I feel so lucky to have been able to experience. The array of large butterflies was amazing, along with the multi-coloured spiders (great to look at from a distance…), and the lizards ranging between one and three foot long that were happily basking in the sunshine on the boulders then the moment you got anywhere near they would launch themselves into the water in front of you and swim a lot closer to you than you really felt comfortable with! Fruit Bats, wild buffalo, monkeys and snakes, eagles that glide their way down the river with you. Also the beautiful display of fire flies that covered the terraces of paddy fields one evening, such a magical sight.
There are definitely creatures that we could’ve done without, the red ants have got to be the worst creatures on this earth, but luckily for most of us they seemed to all like to keep Beth M company, she took them for the team! Large snakes that, thankfully, we only saw by the roads when we were travelling between rivers.
Experiences like this make the river trips as memorable as the rapids, admittedly if some of the rapids were slightly smaller I could’ve enjoyed the scenery more but sometimes your attention is required elsewhere!
Off the river we were amazed at the hospitality of locals, everyone seemed to want to help in any way they could; offering accommodation, food, drinks, trucks and whatever they could find to help us. It is definitely a trait that seems to have been forgotten in everyday life at home and when they have so little do we really believe that having more makes us happier people?!
Before leaving for this trip I decided to take a gamble on the 9R, having paddled it already and loved it the boat still had a reputation for being a ‘race boat’ so when I suggested that I was going to take it to the depths of the jungle and do expeditions with it having not even paddled it with anything more than my packed lunch in, I did get some odd looks and a lot of ‘good luck’ wishes…. turns out that I made the best gamble ever. The 9R outperformed any boat that I have paddled before and actually due to my weight, loading it down with loads of gear probably helped me a little. The change in the way it reacted with 4 days worth of gear in it had only positive effects on the way it handled, and as a result I wouldn’t consider any other boat for trips like this.
Sulawesi has some amazing paddling that I would recommend to anyone that is up for a proper adventure, definitely not for the faint hearted though!! The trip was full of ups and downs, luckily more ups, but even after some bad experiences I still had such an amazing time with memories that will stay with me for a very long time, and some friendships that will definitely last well in to more adventures!
Thanks to everyone involved! Roll on more adventures in 2015….