4. March 2016.   •     Matej Milanović

Let me share my “Rafting guide abroad” story as long as I am still abroad. The world is full of different types of adventure guides, the thrill seekers, money-making ones, just for fun ones, wanting to look cool ones and there is me: a guide who just wants to explore new rivers and have fun while doing it. Here is a short introduction about me before we begin the story of Malaysia.

English translation of my nickname

I am known as „The Goat“ (English translation of my nickname Koza), born and raised in a beautiful small town called Ogulin in the heart of Croatian mountain area. In my hometown, we had the best river for rafting in Croatia, and that is where I discovered the beauty of whitewater. So I started as a very young rafting guide and worked until I got to college. When I moved to Zagreb I obtained my graphic designer degree, but still, I was surrounded by all rafting friends who started to go on rafting competition.  Then my guiding time stopped, and competition time started. So, for the last 12 years, I have been a white-water rafting competitor, Croatian representative on 3 World Champs, 5 Euro Champs, couple of World Cups and many, many Euro Cup races, almost half of my life I spent rafting. In the meantime, I finished college, started working in one creative agency and after 8 years of office job, I said NO MORE OFFICE.

So I quit my job and got back to guiding and life in nature. I have worked the last couple of years with Raftrek as a rafting guide taking trips down Zrmanja River and also as a trip leader on some active holidays that combine different activities within a week in Croatia. As my guiding job is seasonal, this year I decided to visit Malaysia for 3-4 months. I come in contact with one of the biggest adventure companies in Malaysia. They were looking for adventure guides firstly for rafting, and also for other tours, like jungle trekking, waterfall up-sailing, tubing, and caving, guess what? I applied and I’m finally here, new country, new culture, new nature, new river… all new, but “old & full of experience” ME.

As they say: “Same, same but different!”

So, my new crew picked me up and brought me to the middle of the jungle, to a place called URL (Ulu river lodge), of course by Kampar River. If you ask me, this is what one should consider “heaven on earth”, the sound of the river, crickets, million birds and all kind of animal singing.

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Way to my lodge

The lodge capacity is around 200 guests, but people usually come in small groups for one or two nights. When the lodge does have an overnight, then generator starts and we have electricity from 7 pm until 7 am. But if no guests, no generator sound, no lights, then the jungle comes alive. Perfect harmony. Only the first night I slept in the room, with my new roommates Dawa from Nepal, and Hannan from KL. All of the other nights I choose my hammock, to enjoy the fresh air and jungle lullabies.

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My hammock

OK! Back to “why I’m here”.

The next morning, after my arrival we had a crew briefing, and after breakfast, we went straight to the rafting starting point. I went rafting with the morning tour to scout and familiarize with the river. Kampar River is a technical class III river, very nice and enjoyable. Only one scouting trip was enough for my crew to see all my capabilities and already the next day I had my own clients, safety talk etc. so let the show begin. There are more than 10 rapids all different from the other, and I needed to remember them all. When I arrived it was still rainy season, which means that the water level was medium, but every afternoon you would have heavy rain, what makes the river increase in a couple of minutes, it can rise up to 1 meter in 5-10 min. So all afternoon tours must be with more safety or even canceled if necessary. The biggest rapid is called Easy drop, which is actually double drop. If you don’t hold the safety line strong enough, you fly.

Of course, I flew, everybody does 🙂

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My first rafting as a guide in the boat

Rafting guide abroad

Haunted rapid was my nightmare, it’s not a big rapid but you can get stuck easily and heavily. Somehow water always gets you where you don’t want to go, and of course, you get stuck on a rock. Our typical rafting trip lasts about 1, 5 to 2 hours, and it depends on the water level or how big is the group. We have 2 ending points. First is at our lodge and the second is 3 km further at Jahan bridge. The part from the lodge to the bridge is shallow water and not too dangerous, so on that part, we do the activity called tubing. That is really fun for the guests, but not so much for our guides. Because they are floating in double or single tubes using the paddle for control, but actually they can’t control anything. So guides must be positioned on the river, jumping out of their tube and pushing/re-directing guests in the right way.

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Raftrek-Rafting guide abroad-tubing

The atmosphere is great

There are 3 big, and many small agencies that run this river. And all of the guides know each other, help each other, and run the river together. Lots of the guides are also freelancers, so they also work for the company when they have big groups. All in all, it’s like one big happy guiding family. The atmosphere is more than great, lots of fun for the guides and also for the guests. So let’s talk about the next activity that I had to master, waterfall abseiling. There is one beautiful 8m high waterfall further of our rafting starting point. There we give our guests the chance to experience the thrill of abseiling thru waterfall. It’s really nice adrenaline shot for guests.

There is also jungle trekking. It’s 2-3 hour trekking through nice rainforest jungle. There you can see all kinds of animals, of course, if you are quiet and lucky. Trekking ends by crossing the river to the river lodge. I had one interesting experience on that trek when we guides went on the training. We started from the lodge to reach the starting point because we planned to go rafting afterward. So, after 20 min of our trek the rain started, which is not a problem, but leaches love the rain. Coming to the end of our trek I removed about 25 leaches from my legs. Luckily they didn’t climb too high if you know what I mean. After I took them off, I had blood all over my legs, disgusting.

The last activity

I was trained for is caving. Kandu Cave is a big half-nature cave. I say half because in 2nd world war people were hiding here from the Japanese and dag some of the cave more. You can explore this cave 1-2 hours; you can enter from one side, and come out from the other.

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Me Caving

Of course, I have a funny story about this too. One day, in our free time some of us guides went there to explore the cave little more. To start off, we went in from the wrong entrance, it was a really small entrance that later on became a really tight tunnel. By the end of it, it was like a small “room”. We were going in a line, one behind another, when the first one spotted an animal, it was a really big porcupine. It was scary but fun at the same time until Dawa started jelling “It’s coming, it’s coming!”, we were all trapped in that tight tunnel and crawled back as fast as we could, some tried to stand up hitting the ceiling, lucky with our helmets. Of course, Dawa was only kidding. After that, we explore the cave from top to bottom, more than three hours. We got out all dusty and muddy.

Bad luck

I guess, after one month of enjoying and guiding nice tours, something needed to go wrong. One afternoon doing my everyday awesome rafting trip I had bad luck. One of my colleges got stuck in a hydraulic on the end of the Easy drop, I was coming next and when I saw him I try to stop at the top, but unsuccessfully. So I went down, hit his boat and we both got capsized. And that is not the problem, the tragedy happened when I re-flipped the boat, I jumped in the shallow part of the river and hit a rock. I hit the rock with my right foot, and my fibula bone cracked. At first, I thought it was a twisted ankle, but it started swelling and that means it is a fracture. I guided the trip to the end but I switched boat with less people. Got to Kampar civil hospital, they took an x-ray, and they saw it was a small fracture at the end of fibula bone. They put my whole leg in half-cast, and after one day I had so much pain that I could not stand it.

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me and my broken leg

I immediately send the picture of the leg to my friend in Croatian ER, and she told me that they put my leg in totally wrong position, and to take the cast off and put my leg in natural position. If I leave my leg like that, I could never walk straight again. When I did it, I feel so much relief. Next day I went to a private hospital, to a real specialist and put the cast right. So the next 5 weeks I was just sitting in my hammock and welcoming guides who were finishing tours. Of course, I was never bored I had always something to do, like learn to play the guitar, I also got some tasks from my boss to write training lessons for rafting guides, and that led me to become the project manager for white water rafting manual for Kampar River.

In the meantime

I visited my friends in Thailand; I took just one week off. Believe it or not, my friend and coworker Beli from my Croatian work company Raftrek came also to Thailand after 2 months motorcycle travels around Vietnam. We went back to Malaysia together.

Brane and me in Thailand

So, I hosted him for 2 nights in the lodge and went down the river with some guides on their training. After 5 weeks, I took off the cast and slowly started to walk first with the crutches, then with my own carved bamboo trekking sticks. My own psychical therapy in salty water also worked for my quickly healing. Two weeks later I was ready to ride the waves again. I was back.

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The walking stick evolution

I am still in Malaysia, and some of my further plans are to go visit Sabah on Borneo Island. There I will ride the Padas River which is class IV. After Borneo, I plan to go on a well-deserved vacation on the Philippines and after that, I fly back home and prepare for the upcoming rafting season with Raftrek travel.


See you soon!