A Travellerspoint blog

What were we sinking?

I spent the week from April 11 until the April 18 in a 6 meter long Lao canoe attempting to paddle 370 kilometers from Hue Xai to Luang Prabang. I have yet to complete my own rendition of the events of that week so here is Tims version. If you have no idea what he's talking about, thats ok...i was there and I only understand half of it...

There are some great pictures on Bree's webpage at:
if it dosent work let me know and ill sort it out...

"...i met an israeli guy called Noam, and we thought it would be a stonking idea to buy a boat and row it to Lurang Prabang, so we bought a wooden long boat for $110, stocked up on grub, munchies, a bit of food, some nosh and other bits and bobs for our supposed 5 day journey, we roped a random bloke called mike from the usa into the plan as well at the last minute, turns out he's the only one who knows anything about boating! i blagged some carpenters to make some paddles out of a red & white painted bamboo barrier i nicked and we slapped our rucksacks in these pikey zip up shopping bags, stocked up with water, too much water and set off in the afternoon. we landed at a beach 2 hours later, made a fire, ate some rice, had an ipod goa party with the village kids, fended off a madman and were invited into this guys house as it would rain, he was wicked and his house was full of people checking us out, he cracked open the Lao Lao, (Lao whiskey) and we all got stupidly drunk, then it rained all night! the next day he offered us a chicken for 100 baht, about 1 pound 40, i thought it would be quite good fun to have a maskot on board but alas no!

We set off well fed and rowed for 2 hours or so, named our boat the Spy Flyder, had a break, ate some lunch in a village, had a swim then set off, we passed some fast ish water, then calm, so we relaxed a bit, then took a wrong turn at the first rapid we encountered, massive 1 and a half foot waves flooded the boat, i hear "ABANDON SHIP" though no one has admitted who said it yet, anyway, the boat sank underneith us, i see our cooking pot float off, our new fags are wet, they dissapear down a whirlpool, sh*t, a whirlpool!! everyone grabs hold of a bag and drifts off down the mekong for 5 minutes, Mike saves the boat, i saved 2 paddles, my travel pillow :) my sandles and Bree! so we end up washed up on some damn pebble beach and count our losses, camera dies, as does my passport, but the ipod survives!! we think the 9 litres of water - each - may have had a part to play in our sinkage! 9 bloody litres i ask you! We played sharades with some villager to get Bree a cigarette, ringing out our soaked packs but the dude played dumb, he was smoking when we asked him so we resorted to saying Durka Durka but to no avail. We spend the next 3 hours drying out all our gear and crying. Then we have to boat it to the next possible overnight place, we find some random shack thing surrounded by water buffalo and manure and decide to kip there, the logs in the fire are still warm so we try really carefully not to disturb anything, but then a nice cuppa would hit the spot.. so we borrow their fire and pots, make some noodles, some tea, and noam being the resourcefull chap he is, some pitta bread from our flour! it rained again that night so we were glad to find that joint. we cleaned the place up and as we paddled off we make out the occupants walk to the shack and start scratching their heads!

we paddled hard the next day and that evening got to a sweet beach, we asked the village cheif if we could stay on the beach and he agreed, we made a fire and the whole village, everyone, about 50 people came out to watch us, it was surreal, we felt obliged to do something so Bree taught them the chicken dance, then the makerina, then Noam taught them the family guy theme, and i gave them all a stonking great beat box, so now there is a mekong village that can beat box and dance the macerina.. at the same time!! so we gave the cheif all our Lao Lao, oranges, fags and all the other odds n bobs, fishing for an invite but no! so we sleep under the stars next to our fire, which was lush, until the thunder storm comes and we have to huddle under a tablecloth with our rucksacks in our sleeping bags and get soaked. we renamed the boat 'what were we sinking!' So we awake to the sound of "Sabai Dee!!" the whole village had been watching us sleep! too wierd for us so we bail, row for 3 hours and land at the next village.

these guys are cool and the village is pretty big, LaoLao all round, got wasted, and it happened to be the thai and Laos new year so we had a huge waterfight! then we slept on the concrete floor of the long house for 3 hours, village watching.. we bought 8 eggs, some mangoes, and some drinks from the shop, which became 7 eggs, no mangoes and no drinks after a few 5 finger discounts, we slept on mattresses, sweet, i gave the kids a beat box which they lapped up, i knew that would come in handy one day!
So we left them pretty well sorted the next day, and paddled for 3 hours, stopped at a family village for water out of their stream, and set off again, round the corner there was a bloody great big rapid. we had to go through it, we got through the first wave but are taken down by a double wave, whirlpool swirly whirly thing combo, the boat sinks, we grab our bags, paddles and get swept down the river, we know the drill, after a few minutes a speed boat passed us and rescued us, it was pretty embarassing as it was full of passengers, but we all decided that our boat could stay sunk! we swapped our boat for a lift back. he told the villagers upstream about us and they let us stay in a shack, with a fire to dry our gear, and fed us pork jerky stuff sticky rice and water from an old 10 40 turbo deisel oil canister! i audited my gear again, this time knowing that i wouldn't be as lucky, the ipod, alas my dear ipod is dead, and my clock, and pretty much all my gear, journal, the laos lp was hit for the 3rd time and sort of survived ish. the speedboat came the next day and took us the half hour downstream to Pak beng, the half way point! we got the guesthouse lady to wash all our funky mekong fresh gear for about a quid and got the slow boat to lurang prabang, me and Noam noted all the places we would have sunk, about 8 times! we reckon it would have taken us about 2 weeks to boat it down the damn mekong!!

all in all it was an amazing adventure, i feel like i've been in Laos for a lifetime but its only been a week and a bit! it took us 7 days in total to get to lurang prabang, but it was efinately worth it. if anyone would like to donate a shed load of cash to my new ipod and camera fund for my birthday (29th April) then that would be very welcome!! :) "

Posted by J kerouac 10:10 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Chang Mai

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After a few days Sa arrived with Kenny and then Ray showed up. Theyre a good bunch. We spent a few more days in Koh Tao and then went up to Chang Mai. Unfortunatly Chang Mai sits in a valley that was flooded with smoke created by farmers burning the last crop of rice paddies before the upcoming monsoon season.

We did get to see A Muai Thai fight where a third of the matches ended in KOs and I made it to Crazy horse buttress for a day of climbing, then everyone went back to Bangkok for Thai New Year and I headed to Laos.

A climbing story:

I met a climbing partner at the local climbing shop and we caught a ride to the crag with a few other climbers. After a mediocre day in the smoke at the crag this 84 year old swiss climber with wild blue eyes started to tell me about a route that isnt in the guidebook. He said its a hard 30M 6A+ in a cave but that the route isnt offically rated by anyone. Getting to the route was an andentue in itself. We had to shimmy down a 3 foot wide tunnel in the face of the limestone cliff for 15 feet before we entered the first cave. The cave was completly dark with a roof so low that we had to stoop to avoid hitting out heads. From here headed deeper into the crag and further downhill as the air grew continuously cooler. After 5 meters through the increasingly narrow corridor we saw some light and then emerged into a massive room. It was easilly 25 meters by 25 meters and 50 meters tall and was lit by a single beam of light comming through a hole in the top of the cave. It was eerily quiet and my first thought was 'what would the echo of a bad fall sound like in here?'

The light was just enough to sort our gear. We were told that the route was about 12 clips long plus the anchors. I had 12 quickdraws exactly but both my partner and I wanted to tackle the route so we used my extra slings and some locking biners to make extra draws. Of course we took a bail biner just in case.

Rock, Paper Scissors and I lose, so I lead it first. The light was just enough to see the next bolt as youre climbing. Luckilly belaying was a somwhat easier task as you could watch the silouette of your partner asscending into the light. What a cool onsight. Despite needing some serious cleaning it turned out to be the best route of the day. All smooth static moves with two great stemms in a dihedral. It was exactly 12 clips long so we had sufficient gear and the rappell to the floor in the twilight was alot of fun.


Posted by J kerouac 01:05 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

A close call

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After I left P. Perhentan Kecil I crossed back into Thailand via the precarious S.E. boder. A week before I crossed the border a muslum school had been bombed and several monks had been killed. I decided not to waste any time in the south and hopped on a northbound train to Surat Thani where I caught the ferry to Koh Tao. I was scheduled to meet Sa and her friends around the 28 but I was early so I thought Id get my advanced open water diving certificate.

Each dive during the advanced course has a specific teaching purpose...navigation, peak performance bouyancy, depth, etc. I had completed all my dives except the deep dive; a dive to 30M (100 feet). On the boat my dive partner and I double checked all our equipment and we hopped in the water to wait for the dive master. There were six of us descending together when at about 14 M (50 feet) my regulator suddenly stopped giving air.

This just dosent happen; in my open water class i was told that my air supply would never simply cut off. I was told that if there is a problem with the regulator that it is designed to free flow air, we even practiced breathing from a free flowing reg. I was told that if for some reason I used up all the air to the point that there was no more pressure that there was still 50L of air that I could suck from the tank. Thats not what happend; there simply air in one breath and then nothing.

So here I am 50 feet below the surface, my BCD (the vest that you inflate or deflate to ascend/descend) is empty because we are descending, I breathe in, equalize my ears and mask, and exhale completly to continue the descent. I drop another meter or so and try to breathe in. Nothing comes out and my heart skips a beat. I glance down at my pressure gague, which shows 195 PSI left in my tank. Plenty of air in the tank. The other divers have continued to descend and are now 2 meters below from me and two meters to my right. I attempt another breath. Nothing. A quick glance to the surface and I know that I cant make it. Even if I could, Id have decompression sickness from the quick asscent. I can feel my heart racing as I fight the overwhelming urge to make a bee line for the surface. The other divers have not notived that Ive stopped and continue to descend. They are now 3 meters below me and their features are no longer clear through the darkening water. My lungs start to scream for air and I have only one option. Despite what my instincts tell me, I roll 180 degrees foreward and begin swimming down hard.

The ten feet to my partner seemed an impossible distance and my face must have reflected that thought because as I shook my partners arm and gave her the "out of air" signal (ironically a hand drawn back and forth across the neck) she looked absolutly terrified. Luckilly my partners secondary regulator slipped easily from its attachment point and I got another breath.

When the dive master looked up and saw me breathing from my partners rsecondary she looked pretty panicked too. She swam up to check that the tank valve was open. It was. And that made her look even more concerned. The DM and I swam to the surface together where the regulator resumed functionng. The reg. was inspected later and it was determined that a piston in the first stage had gotten jammed due to the increasing pressure. It was then freed when we ascended. No one at any of the dive shops had ever heard of this happening before.

I swam back to the boat, got a new regulator, checked it three times and got back in the water to finish my dive. Everyone bought me beers that nite...


Posted by J kerouac 00:17 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Art etc.

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After I left P. Carey, I returned to KL thinking that since art was such a good avenue to meet loacls, I'd try it again. After some hunting around I found a local artist colony and the more I researched, the more I came to believe that KL would be a good place to purchase contemporary art... either that or I was rationalizing my desire to be an art collector.

Either way my thoughts were this: Malaysia has only been independent for fifty years and seemes to have little concept of its own self identity especially given its dramatic diversity of Indian, Chinese, Malay and Indonesian people. As a county, Malaysia also has no history of artistic production outisde of the craft and traditional art circles. So the artists who are now making contemporary art will influence any subsequent artistic tratition in Malaysia and are helping to nurture the young country's artistic identity. Seemed like a good time to be buying to me...

Though I did not see any art that I could recognize as brilliantly innovative, im not sure that anyone really can identify who will be important in the future. What I did see however, was some works by two artists (Yusof Gajah and Long Thien Shih) which I believe are aesthetically attractive and may be historically important. I suppose time will see if the investment pays off but it will substantially shorten my trip.

After hammering out the details of the sales of the paintings, I went to Pulau Perhentian (a tiny island of the east coast) for a week to relax on the beach and get my open water scuba certification. Diving is cool.

Posted by J kerouac 23:16 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

Mah Meri

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I know im remiss in blogging but ive been busy. Last time your heard from this self styled "wayward anti-hero" he was getting ready to visit the Mah Meri Tribe on P. Carey so I suppose thats a good place for this edition to begin. For the record, these events took place in the begining of March.

I met Ra-Tah at the Klang bus station at 1 PM. After 20 minuits of driving east I didnt see a single tourist. The bus ride lasted another hour and a half and a nervous smile crept across my face as I found my way happilly off the beaten path once again. After a stuffy ride we stopped in a town that can only be described as "podunk." You know; one "main" road, a handfull of assorted food stalls and a greasy motorcycle mechanic asleep in his shop. It was the kind of town that exists everywhere in the world, but boasts no particular reason for anyone in the world to visit. The curious stares that followed me around confirmed that I was probabally the only tourist for 50 kilometers (Yes ive started thinking in kilometers and celcius).

After an unidentifiable but tasty lunch at one of the food stalls two kids cruised up on motorcycles. They smiled politely, avoided eye contact, answered my questions briefly and attempted none of their own. They were our rides to the village.

After a few introductions to the elders and the folks with the largest English vocabulary (perhaps 50 words) Ra-tah left me with in the care of Maznah, the leader of the womens weaving group and a quinticentiual mother figure whose kindness and broad smile crossed the cultural and language barriers when nothing else could.

While staying in the village I slept on the floor of the craft workshop (the open air building with the thatched roof in the photo) and ate with the women, who were amused that I wanted to help clean the dishes. My favorite meals were fish head soup (delicious once you got over the fish head) and boiled bananna flower which tastes a bit like artichoke. Lunch and dinner were followed by betelnut, lazyness, and attempts at conversation and laughter over its inefficiency.

On my first visit I stayed for 2 days. During the days I wandered around the village meeting carvers, watching the women weave palm fronds for an upcoming festival and playing with their children. (For anyone at CAS who is reading this: "motor boat" and "spaghetti arms" are now an international sensation).

As I was leaving, Maznah asked how long I spent in Kuala Lumpur. When I told her a week, she was a bit offended that I had only spent two days with her and she asked me to return in 10 days for the festival.

The second trip was similar to the first except I was somewhat less looked after. That is not to say that all my needs werent met (they were and then some) but I felt that I was less of a vouyer and more a guest. During the day I managed to read a bit of my book (im trying to tackle War and Peace) and go for a ride to the river. At night when the band from the next village showed up, none of the women would let me take a break from dancing. Acording to the the Maznah "I much good dance." I think she was just being polite :)

Much as i would like to describe the village as idyllic and the people as traditional the truth is that the Mah Meri are struggling incorperate modernization while holding onto their traditinal identity. The Mah Meri's land rights were not recognized for many years and palm oil plantations have encroached on their land so much that they are no longer able to subside by fishing and forraging. Everywhere around the village are constrasting images of modernity and tradition. The oldest generation speaks no english and had no formal education while the youngest generation is receiving a standard education from a new school on the island. Everyone still lives in raised huts with thached rooves but the teenagers take breaks from their weaving to answer text messages on their cell phones.

For the Mah Meri it seems that daily objects and lifestyle were the medium through which culture was transmitted from generation to generation. But, as those lifestyles and objects are no longer possible or necessary the memory of their traditional culture is fading. In an attempt to strike a balance between the benifits of modernity and the importance of history Ra-tah and the villagers are attempting to make comercially viable replics of taditional objects that can supliment their inome while keeping tradition and traditionals skills alive.

After two days of negotiating, I managed to purchase a small moyang votive statue from Piun. He is the eldest wood carver and recently recieved a UNESCO award for his work.

Take care,


Posted by J kerouac 01:03 Archived in Malaysia Comments (0)

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