Monday, April 15, 2013

Floating, Walking and Pushing my Way Back to Luang Prabang

I left Nong Khiaw excited to get back to Luang Prabang for Pi Mai Lao (Lao New Year) celebration. I had decided to take the scenic boat down the river. It had to be better than a minivan with too many people...right? So, I loaded my backpack and walked to the boat dock. I asked how long the ride was and the gentleman told me 5 or10 hours. Whoa! What?!? He did not speak enough English to answer my questions. I decided to go for it and have a new adventure.
All the tourists loaded the boat and we headed down the river. It is really beautiful. We passed children playing in the river, adults fishing and a few looked like they were panning for gold. I had to check the internet to see if that was correct. I verified that the people pan for gold on the Nam Ou! 

 As we floated down the river, the boat suddenly hit huge rocks. We all jerked and the wooden boat tipped to the right. I think I felt 6 huge rocks hit under my feet. I looked down and could see water coming in the sides of the planks!! I started to wonder if I was on the Lao version of the Titanic. I wondered what would happen next. We continued to float down the river for another hour. Then we hit rocks again and the captain headed to shore. The first mate instructed us to get out and take a bathroom break while they replaced the rudder. We wandered around the shore and waited. After about 30 minutes, the captain picked up a cell phone and made a call. This was not going to be good. He handed the phone to a tourist. The guy got off the phone and chuckled. He stood up and said we all needed to hike down the river a few km and they would pick us up later..... Ok. We were off through the wilderness. I knew there were snakes and I did not want to encounter one. I decided to just keep my eyes up and follow the guy in front of me. The hike was ok and a nice break after 3 hours on the river. We got to the next clearing and the boat was waiting for us. Yay! Seems everything was fixed and they rearranged our bags to put more weight in the front of the boat. We waited as they finished fixing the rudder and steering alignment and eventually boarded the boat. At this point the captain said we were half way....another 3 hours! We sailed smoothly for a while. Then, I noticed the first mate stood up and took off his shirt and pants. There he stood in his underwear (jockey's not boxers). Then the captain stood up and removed his clothes. Hmmmmm.....I wondered what was going on. At the same time, 2 naked little boys came running across the river to us. I looked down and realized I could see the bottom. The river was too low. The first mate told us "everyone out. You are all pushing the boat." Ok. Everyone looked around trying to decide if we should remove our pants and shirts. We were a little confused but instructed to get in the river now! So, I jumped overboard. The water was only ankle deep. It felt cool and refreshing. The river current was fast. The rocks on the bed were sharp and we were walking and pushing the boat pretty quickly. I giggled as I looked back and everyone was pushing the boat. That is a memory I will never forget! Some people used this as an opportunity to take photos. I wish I had grabbed my camera but did not think that quickly! We walked for about 30 minutes. By this time we were waist deep in the water. Everyone was cooled off and ready to rest. Many of us really wanted a beer! Too bad they didn't sell any refreshments on board. We all boarded the boat and were back on our way to Luang Prabang.

As the afternoon work was done, many families headed to the banks of the river for their evening bath and to wash there clothes and enjoy dinner. This may seem a little odd that families and friends bathe together. In Laos villages, they bathe in public but adults are never naked. The men always wear their underwear and women wear a sarong. This is a common scene in village main street watering area or at the river. They are very discreet.

The sun was setting as we arrived in Luang Prabang. It was a beautiful day on the river and a fun adventure. Now, I was ready for the Pi Mai Laos celebration to begin! Let the water fights start!

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