Row, Row, Row a Raft, Gently Down the Stream…

25Dec05

As published in VirtualMalaysia.com [Editor’s Pick]

We had the chance to go rafting down the Pahang River last week to taste two days from the seven-day International Rafting Expedition organised by the Pahang Tourism Board. The expedition is held annually and this year has brought together over 600 participants on over 90 rafts to the Pahang River.

The expedition began at the banks of the Jelai River at Kuala Lipis, with its first flag off by Tengku Makhota Pahang, Tengku Abdullah Sultan Haji Ahmad Shah. From there, they made their way to the first stopover at Kampung Durian Hijau in Jerantut.

It was a wet Tuesday evening when we met the rafters at the third stopover at Kampung Teluk Sentang in Temerloh. The village is situated approximately 20km from town and is situated along the alternative path leading to Mount Senyum via Seberang Temerloh.

‘Teluk’ refers to a bay located along the 5km stretch between Kampung Teluk Sentang and the neighbouring Kampung Badok. ‘Sentang’ refers to a large and shady tree located right at the centre of the bay. Pangkalan Sentang or the Sentang Jetty is so named for this landmark tree.

Day three for the rafters, day one for us. I was given a life vest and a paddle and ushered to my raft, which was made out of heavy bamboo tied with rope. The raft has a little canopy and was decked modestly with colourful bits of cloth. A prayer was recited and the horn blew, all of a sudden, the river, which easily spanned the width of a twelve-lane highway, was filled with uniquely decked rafts of all sorts, making their way to the next checkpoint: Kuala Triang.

By land, a drive to Kuala Triang would take a maximum of 20 minutes. With five paddlers and the speed of roughly 3km per hour, my raft took eleven hours to get to the Kuala Triang jetty. I learnt that being right smack in the middle of a river as wide as the Pahang River does not mean that our raft was moving the quickest. Our local navigator told us that we needed to look for currents, usually found near the banks of either side of the river.

Sometimes we would come across shallow water, where it was far more convenient to heave the raft across rather that paddling. This, of course, meant jumping off the raft into the water and literarily pushing the bamboo plank along. Little that I know that jumping into soft sand required nimble footwork, and that hopping back onto a bamboo raft in deeper waters required well toned upper body strength.

The long hours on the raft allowed me much time to chat with my raft mates. All of them have been on the expedition before in the previous years and had ready stories to share on their experiences. From paddling strategies to the people that they have met, it is evident that the sunburn and joint sores did not impede them returning to the 329km expedition.

The expedition brought together not only government branches and agencies, but also numerous private organisations and institutions. They deck their rafts with banners and flags, some of which also have colour coded ‘uniforms.’ All in the name of identity and camaraderie.

We arrived at 7pm that evening and were ushered to the campsite, located at a school field. At a corner stood a tall stage, complete with a mobile sound system and lights. All along the sides of the streets leading to the field were stalls by the villagers baring colourful drinks, snacks and toys.

That night, the rafters and what seems like the whole village gathered by the stage to be entertained by the local performers. We were comfortably welcomed and sat among the rafters throughout the event. Despite being really tired, sore and sunburnt, the rafters still enjoyed hearty laughs and jokes until late at night.

Day four for them, day two for us. Today, my raft mates and I decided raft in tandem with another friendly raft for at least this leg of the expedition. On the upside, rowing in tandem meant that we had double the number of paddlers. More of us could rest up periodically and there was certainly much more welcomed conversation. On the other hand, tying two rafts together meant that the tandem raft was now twice the weight and mass. This would have been a major problem if we were in a race, but seeing that chilling out was more on the day’s agenda, a great big raft was just great for a warm day out.

So in the name of fun, we went swimming and I had the chance to go kayaking, which was tremendously exciting. I certainly needed more practice especially in trying to steer and to stop the kayak.

That day, we came across more shallow water, mild rapids and several trenches (areas of very deep water). I got to see the various types of fish traps and riverbank wildlife. Our checkpoint was Chenor, where we were among the last few rafts to arrive.

The rafters went on from there, passing by Kampung Belimbing on day five, Kampung Ganchong on day six, and Pekan town itself on day seven for the state level Water Festival Celebration. Nonetheless, the expedition was really more than just a rigorous upper body workout. With shared tears and fears, and a fundamental emphasis on unified effort, the expedition had all the essential ingredients of a rich team-building curriculum.

Just goes to show that nature with all her splendour provides for the greatest things in life: water, plants, animals, the clear blue sky, unity and friendship.

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