We could hear the Sungai Kampar rushing wildly off in the distance. It's bounded on both sides by shaggy jungle vegetation, with tree limbs dotting the shores and low-hanging branches gently grazing the dark green water. The river also has nine sets of rapids ranging in difficulty, and as we outfitted ourselves in the hut, Jay-Z laughed maniacally about his big plans to flip our raft and “make things interesting.” Will, a lifelong kayaker, commented that every single river guide around the world seems to delight in these devious intentions.
We dragged the raft down to the water and climbed in. The water swirled gently around our boat at first, beckoning us further into the river. But things picked up fast, and we were suddenly approaching our first set of rapids before I could think through what to do. All my paddling has been in canoes and kayaks, and rafting is a whole other centre of gravity, especially because you're perched so high up on the big inflatable sides. Jay-Z shouted paddle commands, and we moved as a unit through the rush. Abruptly, the water spit us out into calmer waters. We'd made it through. So far.
I was just starting to understand how to read the waters from my lofty seat when we approached another set of rapids, these ones called the Easy Drop. When Jay-Z had mentioned them earlier, I'd gone ahead and assumed that the drop was an easy one. I was deeply wrong: the name refers to the fact that it's easy to drop out of the boat. Four seconds later, my body was flying through the air and I plunged, stunned and confused, into the churning (and thankfully warm) waters.
Finding your bearings in the midst of a set of rapids is a really disorienting thing. I knew I had to point my feet down river and position myself to float with the current, but I couldn't discern where the light was, or which way was up. Several seconds later, I could smell rubber directly over my head, and I resurfaced next to the raft in a bit of a daze. Jay-Z's friend, who'd come along for the ride, had also been thrown from the boat in another direction. We pulled ourselves back onto our seats, fished our paddles from the water, laughing and coughing. The river carried us onward.