Thursday, May 12, 2005
I woke up, momentarily disoriented in a soft bed. The air was damp and warm, miniscule amounts of light tiptoed in from beneath the door. Luang Prabang, that is where I am. Slowly it came back; the long day of paddling the day before; the tuk-tuk ride into town and subsequent hobbling to the hotel laden with our paddling gear; the free movie and whiskey coke that almost put me to sleep in public (it would have saved me the pain of watching whatever movie it was that was on. It was terrible and I don’t remember its name.); finally falling into bed and passing out.
As I lay in the dark assessing my physical state of being Allen lay slumbering loudly in the bed beside mine. My arms, back and shoulders were mighty sore, but their pain was minimal compared to my hind end. Sitting on a narrow tilted plank of wood for 3 days did nothing good to my undercarriage.
Leaving Allen to sleep, I walked off to find breakfast. And boy did I eat: banana pancakes, 2 coffees, bread and cheese and a veggie curry. I was stuffed, to say the least. Allen finally awoke around 11am and after he ate breakfast we grabbed our paddles and some water and food and mounted a tuk-tuk bound for the Pak Ou caves. Or to us, our mooring place.
Our boat was where we left it, though not quite in the same state as the day before. As we neared the water, it appeared that we only had ¼ of the boat that we’d had previously. Laughter began popping out when we realized that our boat was aping a submarine and only had its front end high and dry because the ground got in the way. At least it was a nice sunny day and we had no where else to be. We began to bail. A man sitting nearby brought us his bailing bucket (an old 2 liter soda bottle with the top sliced off) for which we were mighty grateful as it would have taken us a week with our little cup. A few locals sat by and grinned, and sympathizing as well. Finally our craft sat upon the surface (leaking no more than the day before) and we set off.
Since we were there, we paddled across the Mekong to check out the caves, which are touted as a big tourist attraction. Arriving on our own boat and landing down the shore from the tourist stop, we managed to sneak in and not pay. Which was nice because I would have been unhappy paying to see it. Not that impressive. No matter. Due to the overflow of tourist boats, a couple were moored near ours and the driver of one started talking to us; asking about our boat, how far we paddled, and when we mentioned that we wanted to sell it he jumped out and came to check it out. Trying not to laugh, he said we’d never make our money back, that in town we’d be lucky to get $15 for it. We paid $80 (I think?). Why so little? Lots of boats in Luang Prabang, and ours was not the finest vessel he’d ever seen. Hm.
Slightly daunted by this news, and a tad anxious about the rapids to come, we didn’t paddle very hard as we left the beach.
Rapids. We’d talked with a few people who had taken slow and fast boats down the Mekong River to Lunag Prabang and their observations resulted in our being warned about a multitude of rapids on the stretch we had to paddle. To quote Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber: “That John Denver’s full of shit, man!” Only, it was not John Denver but all the people we talked with who were full of it. In the 4-4.5 hours we were on the river that day, no rapids came at us (unless we were asleep at the time). The river’s width varied from maybe 75 to maybe 150 meters and though the currently was blessedly quick, there were no rapids. This day was by far the most relaxing day of the 4 we paddled, and we spoiled ourselves silly. Our efforts to propel the boat were meager at the beginning but picked up after a short while. Eager to triumphantly paddle into town and get some food and Beerlao, our pace increased and we fought the big muddy river. However, it didn’t take long for us to realize that if we got the boat into the main current and stopped paddling, our forward progress would be much greater than we were achieving by our efforts. Ergo, the paddles were lain in the bottom of the boat and we both laid down. Not only did we move faster not paddling, but it seems going sideways down the river was optimal. Don’t ask me, that’s just the way it was. So we enjoyed the sun, waved to quizzical tourists and laughing locals, and relished the ease of the day’s journey. The only excitement came when I noticed that our boat was headed towards a rock-the lone rock bursting thru the surface of the water in the 100 meter wide river. Almost a disaster (the boat would have been sliced in half, but we managed to get around the boat breaker at the last second. I laid back down, but Allen kept vigil for more deal breakers.
During the last hour we did paddle. And we pulled up to a smaller fanfare than we’d hoped for. No one stood on shore waiting for us (though the Genvieve’s were downriver from where we landed, waiting for us. Oops). It was still a triumphant moment. Backslaps and congratulations and requests for beer came from the both of us so we lost no time in dragging the boat up onto a couple rocks so it was free of the water-that way we wouldn’t have to bail the old girl out again.
The success of our journey was celebrated with over-priced BeerLao and congratulations and amazement at other friends who had stumbled into town in our absence.
A job well done. And an experience I’ll never forget.