Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Day 17 - Rub a Dub Dub

We awoke this morning, despite inserted ear plugs, to the sounds of the people in the next room and the persisitent chanting from the local temple playing as it had been when we'd gone to bed and was still.

A buffet breakfast in town lured us in to enjoy fruit, homemade yoghurt, museli, toast, bacon and even pancakes on a terrace overlooking the Mekong. John even tried a local breakfast - rice noodles with a spicy soup with fried garlic, beansprouts and fresh herbs. It smelled good but not my cup of tea in the morning!

After being well satiated we headed over to the tour office where we had booked to go tubing the day before for the bargain price of $5 each. Tubing is all the rage in Laos and it's great because it is completely environmentally friendly. It involves drifting downstream in a giant inner tube. We piled into the back of a truck with two Germans and the giant inner tubes we would soon be riding in. The staff drove about 20 minutes out of town, dropped us off at the bank of the Nam Khan river, helped us into life jackets and gave us a waterproof bag to put any personal belongings in.

Before we set off on the river - we all slathered oursleves in suncream and changed into swim wear. The river looked good and surprisingly clean. In the water, we could see lots of feathery seaweed being swept in the flow. It made the river look a brilliant green colour from a distance.

The morning had started out so chilly with such low cloud that we feared it wasn't the right weather, but it seems to be the norm here that by 11am the clouds lift ansd the sun breaks through and it is a different scene altogether. Now it was nearly twelve and warming up.

One by one we plonked into the tubes and off we went. The water was refreshingly cool, the current quite strong in parts and it was surprising how fast you could move in places. When you looked down at the water under you you could see more clearly the speed you were going. But in other places the flow was very slow and sometimes stationary. It hardly mattered. The scene was so tranquil and pleasant we were in no hurry.

The plan was to float down river for about 3 hours and then be picked up at the other end. It was lovely just drifting enjoying the sunshine, leaning back and closing our eyes breathing in the stillness that was periodically interrupted by village life on the banks or in the river itself: children at play in the water, locals rowing boats going about their business, cows and water buffaloes drinking and bathing at the water's edge.

It was so funny how we all went at different speeds with the currents and sometimes one of us would be separated from the group for some time. This happened to me - I lost sight of the others ahead of me for ages and got stuck in a very slow patch. During this, I drifted into a group of young guys going out in a boat and some standing at the bank. They seemed very surprised and curious to see me and said greetings in Lao and English and some tried to ask my name in very basic English. They were embarrassed and so was I and I was trying hard to paddle out of their area and away form their staring. As I passed them on their boat, the boy at the back coyly called "I love you!" Embarrassed, I hurried to paddle away.

Later, I found John and one of the German guys disembarked and waiting on a small sand bank. Then we set of together again.

Downstream, we came across a busy operation of people in the river with boats scooping up stones in various sizes and sifting them into their boats and others collecting large bucketfulls of sand form the riverbed. Obviously, they must sell this for building materials, but we wondered what effect this must have.

We could have happily floated all day I think but eventually, we came upon a sign boldly informing us to "STOP TUBING " But it was difficult to do so there as the current was quite fast and in my case the guy had to come in and get me!

We'd lost sight of one of the German guys - getting out the water only one bend before the stopping point, he'd wanted to get something to eat. We ended up waiting for him to come back so we could all return in the truck together. After about 40 minutes he turned up. Apparently he'd been invited in by some locals and they had given him food and beer and he couldn't get away!

We returned to town in the truck for a well-earned cool drink in a cafe and watched the street life in the late afternoon sun. It was there we discovered that, despite our best efforts with factor 75 suncream, we had some souvenirs that would last us a week or more. John's knees were particularly red. If it hadn't been for this, we'd have probably done it all again the next day!

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