Bats, White Water & Pickups

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Asia » Laos » West » Vientiane
July 21st 2006
Published: July 22nd 2006
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One very good thing about Vang Vieng is that it is very easy to book up to do almost any activity you want. I needed to get to Vientienne so decided to take a fun route - and go by Kayak. Actually while 'Kayaking to Vientienne' is how the trip is sold, it really is nothing of the sort. What you actually do is drvie to Vientienne, and kayak for a bit on the way. But I knew this in advance, so I wasnt dissapointed!

After an hour or so on the road we stopped and took to the kayaks. I was in one on my own, while all of the girls were put in doubles with an instructor - a very sexist way of the instructors saying the girls were too weak to paddle themselves! My kayak had a tendancy to turn sideways, but I was sure that this was just due to the current rather than for any other reason.

The fist section of whitewater came as a little suprise. The water was far rougher than I expected, especially given that we had had absolutely no training whatsoever in how to negotiate it. "You just keep paddle" was the useful advice of the instructor. To be honest the rapids looked far worse than they were, but 4 of the 7 boats did capsize here, and we had drifted far down river before everyone was back in the paddling seat. I survived that one intact... but was my luck to last?

A few minutes later came the second rapids. Again scary looking, but actually pretty straightforward. I got through the scary looking bit no problem, but then immediately afterwards I realised I was paddling and going nowhere... and starting to spin round. Id got myself stuck in a large whirlpool, and it took all of my might to get clear of it. At this point my kayak started to feel a little low in the water and slightly unstable, but I thought nothing of it. Paranoia, I assumed. An overactive imagination.

Then came the third rapid. I got through the first stretch of surging water, and then at the point at which a waterfall was hitting the water from the top of the steep sided valley I capsized. It wasnt even that rough, I guess I was just badly balanced. No big deal I thought, but

Actually another groups kayaks, not ours
then I realised that I was in a downward current. Then I realised that my head was underwater, when it should have been at the surface. I was getting dragged under the water in spite of my buoyancy aid, so i pulled up on the kayak and swum upwards throwing my arms over the top of it. Now able to breathe I looked at how to get out of the situation. I flipped to kayak over, and managed to climb on top of it... before rather stupidly flipping it again! I had now drifted out of the section of white water, and managed to get back into the boat properly and paddle to shore for our lunch stop.

It turned out that my boat had actually been sinking, hence the low in the water and unstable feeling. The strategy for stopping it from sinking any more - plug it with a leaf. Ingenious! We only had another 30 minutes to go, and no more rapids, so I elected not to pull over to the bank and drain the boat. When we finally got to the end of the trip and I emptied the kayak, I was amazed at the amount of water that came out. And embarrsed that I hadnt sorted it out earlier!

From the end of the kayaking we boarded a small pickup van which at home would legally have seated 3. From the offset we had 16 on board - and to our disbelief this swelled to 19 with 2 people actuall hanging of the back after the driver had stopped a few times to pick up more passengers. He also seemed to keep stopping to sell dead bats from a plastic bag behind his seat - I can only assume this was for food. Sometime dodgy happened as we reached the outskirts of Vientienne. The driver pulled over, made the 2 people hanging of the pack jam into the main back of the pickup, pulled curtains around us all and changed his numberplate. Very suspicious!


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