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Rowing through the Jaws of Death

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Written by: Carole Ten
Photo by:Carole Ten
Edited by:James Campion, WANG Zijin |  Date:2017/08/2838 Hits

I thought we were to drift downstream and scream along the way in that inflatable boat.

“Oh no… you messed it up again. You’re supposed to row on the right side.” Sitting opposite me, my dear auntie complained.

The boat swirled delightfully on the water again.

I looked at her in despair. I didn't know how to row at all.

“Watch and learn.”

She sighed and took the oars. The oars we had were just two heavy dried bamboos. No paddles were attached, which made it so much more difficult to control the direction.

 

To row in the Golden Cave in Enshi, Hubei Province

 

Before we got onto the boat, the guide had told us that we would drift for seven kilometres in total in two hours, five outside the cave, two inside.

However, the river we drifted on was terribly shallow and still at times. On the way, our boat either got stranded on the pebbles or got stuck between the small rocks. Without proper rowing skills, it was unlikely for us to reach the finish line in two hours.

After several attempts, I finally got the hang of it. I held an oar with both hands, kept an eye on the bow of the boat, and steered it by rowing on one side.

And then the real challenge came.

 

Going into the Cave

 

The cave loomed up ahead of us. Its entrance was like the mouth of a monster, swallowing all the lights and… us. Pointed rocks hanging from the top of the cave were its teeth, as if in any minute they would fall and bite us. I felt so small and weak – the way Pinocchio may have felt when he was swallowed by the giant sperm whale named Monstro.

Inside, the bats squeaked and hovered above our heads, and some colourful yet scary lights illuminated only some parts of the cave. I dared not to reckon how tall the cave was, or how deep the water was. The temper of Nature is unpredictable. Whether the cave would crumble and the water would get rough, I couldn't have known.

The cave was almost shrouded in silence but for the squeaks.

The river ran deeper and deeper, and we moved closer and closer to a fork. On the right was a narrow and dark path cast by red lights, on the left was a wide and bright path. We definitely wanted to choose the left one, but the boat seemed to drift towards the other side. Driven by fear, I steered the boat immediately and row as fast as I could. The boat advanced on the cold water quicker than ever.

 

The exit in the distance

 

Getting closer to the exit

 

Once we got past the fork, we saw sunlight coming through the exit in the distance. But as much as we desired to get out, our boat kept drifting either too close to the incredibly tall and solid wall of the cave or got drawn to a colossal rock in the way. We had to use our oars (poles, to be exact) to push our boat back on the right course.

 

The protruding wall of the cave

 

The last time we got stranded, we had to get out of the boat and drag it by ourselves.

At last, we came ashore exhaustedly. I got rid of the tight helmet and life jacket and looked back. The river was clear in bluish shades of green, ranging from aquamarine to robin egg blue. A dog ambled on the shore, where piled the round white and grey pebbles. The view was indeed magnificent.

 

Out of the cave

 

The water was cyan

 

Now, I still remember how my adrenaline surged through my body in that dark, enormous cave, and how quickly I took actions to overcome the problems.

Maybe when the night grows darker, I become braver.