A group of 14 of us set out from Changzhou at 10am in a convoy of SUVs heading for Zhejiang. One of neighbouring provinces that was part of the backdrop for the cult-movie: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
After a McDonald’s breakfast we cracked open the first of many bottles of whiskey we’d brought to keep us company. Alongside the hard-liquor, we were armed with Red Bull (which, for reasons unknown, is not fizzy in China), ice-tea and apple juice. Irish Pete had also brought a couple of walkie-talkies so radio contact would be kept between vehicles at all times; a blatant necessity for a death-defying road trip like this.
We arrive in a small village in the mountains, shadowed by green hills in every direction. Stopping to get a quick munch on, it starts to piss down suddenly and violently. It was quickly torrential and instantly dampened more than just our spirits.
At the rafting place, we were told to stay put and wait to see if the rains tailed off. It didn’t; but we found a man, who knew a man, who knew a dog – and that little fluffy thing led us to another rafting hotspot just downstream somewhere.
Of course, it was still raining at the new spot and things were looking a little grim. We were about to lose all hope when we got the green-light and boarded our dual sized inflatable machines. As we did, the challenge was set: whoever got to the bottom first, would win a bottle of whisky.
The Welsh Wizards raft comprising Tudor and myself were firm favourites with the bookies and rightly so. Although missing out on pole position, we launched off in third place eagerly chasing the competition. Fully equipped with a high-power water-rifle, everyone was completely soaked within minutes. This coupled with the fact after every slope the raft half-filled with water meant one of us was constantly battling to empty the load to ensure we’d sail smoothly towards the finish line. Naturally the two most worthy, and arguably most handsome, contenders won the race – yes, you’ve guessed it: The Welsh Wizards
Having worked up quite the appetite, we headed back to the river-side hotel to be welcomed with a BBQ on our very own private balcony overlooking the water. With a soundtrack of waterfalls and laughter we ate and drank like we were feasting with Henry VIII. Consuming whisky and beers like the end of the world was nigh, we stayed up larking about in the river and exchange stories till the early hours.
After breakfast and a shower in the river the following morning, we headed for a beautiful lake half way down a river we’d spotted on our approach to the hotel. As we stopped, we began to appreciate the sheer beauty of the landscape: glorious sunshine scattered over bamboo-clad forested hills, as far as the eye could see and in every direction.
The water was amazing, warm and calm and barely above head-height. Perching on some rocks for some standard YMCA-posed photos, little fish nibble at our feet giving us a complimentary - and well-earned - pedicure.
We’d spotted a sign that roughly translated read: “Warning five people have already died here! Do not swim in the water!” Ignoring what we presumed must be scaremongering; we paddled about like kids on our first trip to the seaside. After a few blissful hours, some security guards came down and told us to get out and move away as they were about to open the dam upstream. Presumably, the five unfortunate souls didn’t get the same warning.
We got dressed and began the convoy back to the dirtier city-life of Changzhou, satisfied completely that we’d had an exceptionally special weekend. For me personally, swimming in the lake was the highlight - something I’ve never done before in my life, and something I will always remember as one of my best memories from China. See the full Zhejiang photo album here.