‘This is perfect!’ I laughed.
‘I love Laos!’ shrieked Becky enthusiastically.
We synchronised our oars and were doing a great job of paddling our way downstream like true pros! Unfortunately, Francis wasn’t having such an easy time.
‘I can’t believe I wasted all my money on this’ he grumbled under his breath.
Becky and I tried hard to stifle our giggles.
‘I think Francis is on his period again’ she whispered.
My yell of ‘Stop being such a grump!’ was met with a face of thunder.
It seemed only fair to paddle on quickly and allow our grumpy friend to sulk by himself. So we hastily splashed on into the roaring rapids ahead. Our guide was two miles ahead at this point- clearly not keen on hanging around for three unfit foreigners. And so it was alone that we faced the task of how to safely enter the rushing white water. The first 10 meters went well. We bravely conquered the fierce torrents, defying the huge spurts that threatened to knock us off our little kayak.
‘Wahoooooooo!’ I cried in delight.
But it was too soon to congratulate ourselves on the success… for we hit an obstacle. The river was divided into two. We desperately attempted to steer ourselves away from the huge rock that loomed dangerously in front…but it was no use. The kayak span out of control and headed straight for the rock. The water had forced us into facing backwards. I closed my eyes and did the only thing that seemed appropriate in the situation. I held my little Buddah necklace tight and prayed!
It felt like a theme park ride gone wrong. Like when you’re at the fairground and it suddenly occurs to you that the ride you’ve somehow been dragged onto probably failed its last safety check. Except this time I’d chosen to put my blind faith in Mother Nature…and a tour guide who apparently didn’t understand that ‘guidance’ was part of his job description.
After what felt like hours of spinning and turning and after I’d swallowed countless mouthfuls of dirty river water, I came to the conclusion that I was indeed still alive, and built up the courage to open my eyes. To my delight, we’d flipped forward again! We were both still aboard the kayak. And we both still had all our limbs. Relieved, and slightly in awe that my prayer had worked, I considered the possibility that it might be time to turn truly Buddhist!
‘We made it!’
‘Someone wasn’t quite so lucky’ laughed Becky as she pointed to a floundering figure being dragged down the rushing river minus a kayak and an oar. Maybe if he hadn’t been so grumpy earlier I might have felt slightly sympathetic, but it took all my efforts not to topple off the kayak from shaking with laughter. The guide had magically reappeared and set to work rescuing Francis. But not before he had rescued his own equipment it must be said.
After a busy and tiring morning, it was thankfully time to eat. We floated past a group of local villagers who were diving for little granules of gold, and parked up on a small sandy deserted beach…that turned out not to be so deserted. As we settled down on the riverbank to tuck into our lunch, there was a pattering of many footsteps across hot sand. With a mouth full of fried rice I turned to see a bunch of half naked children racing each other towards the water!
The kids hijacked our kayaks and started swimming away from the shore with them. Great. This was all we needed! Who knew how long we could end up stranded at this random little village? Our guide looked vaguely concerned…but he wasn’t about to put his chicken and rice meal on hold for anyone. Becky, Francis and I headed down to the shoreline in a poor attempt to supervise the hijacking. What we failed to realise was that it probably wasn’t everyday that these kids had a group of white folk washed up in their village. And that we would probably be of more interest to them than the kayaks! In the thirty minutes that followed, I remembered what it was like to be a child again. We were attacked by mud balls; pounced on; splashed at; laughed at; made to give piggybacks; forced to take photos and kissed on the cheek when it was finally time for us to set off again on our journey.
Laos may be a third world country, but the children here are the happiest I have ever come across. These kids by the river were free in a way that children in England can only ever imagine. They didn’t have a care in the world, and maybe they didn’t own much, but they didn’t need to. They had all they ever needed around them. Their friendships, their families and the river around which their whole community was based. Sometimes, the simple pleasures in life really are free. Hell, even Francis was smiling after this encounter!