|We set off for 2 days of white water rafting in the back of a truck with our raft on the roof. The journey to the river was a couple of hours during which we skidded across the dirt road as a cow wandered out in front of us. From our launch point we carried the raft into the water and all our kit was put into dry bags and under cargo net which was lashed to the middle of the raft. There were 7 of us in the raft including the guide, and we had another local guide who acted as a scout and went on ahead to check out the rapids.
It was baking hot, and after a few minutes of instruction we all jumped into the river to cool off. The river was cool, but a filthy muddy brown colour. The river ran through a gorge with trees and vines along the sides. There was no one else in sight and all we could hear were the birds and sound of the water alerting us to the next set of rapids. The first few rapids were fairly straight forward although we battled a bit with our left and rights to paddle through. As they got bigger it got a bit more exciting and we got drenched as the raft took in gallons of water as it surfed through them. At one point we got to our biggest rapid yet, and as we went through the middle ended up beached side ways on a rock, eventually the force of the water pushed the raft over and we all fell out. I was pinned to a rock by the pressure of the water and struggled to get around it, but eventually surfed through. Tim had got stuck as his foot had jammed in a rock, and after taking his sandal off, got stuck in a 'hole' where the water sucks you down and bashed his ribs. His sandal was recovered by the kayak scout along with various other bits and pieces which had floated free. The rest of the day was uneventful and we arrived at our 'camp' for the night about 6pm.
The camp had be built from bamboo and consisted of a bamboo platform for sleeping with a roof of banana palm leaves, a kitchen area also made from bamboo, and a toilet which was strangley a proper 'squat' loo rather than just a hole in the ground. Water had been channelled through bamboo pipes from a nearby freshwater stream and was apparantly safe to drink, although I must confess I didn't take the risk!
After it got dark the sky was dotted with the light of fireflies which darted around the trees. One of our guides captured one to show us the luminous flashing body which creates the light. Two giant centipedes gathered around the toilet which made going up there in the dark a bit more tricky. We could see lightening and thunder in the distance but we only got a few spots of rain. The 2 Lao guides cooked us a dinner over an open fire of steak with pepper sauce and chips! Following that the whisky came out, and although we went to bed earlish 3 of the 4 bottles they brought were consumed...
It has to be said sleeping on bamboo is not the comfortable. We had mosquito nets, and slept on the sleeping bags provided using our silk 'inners' to sleep in as it was still very hot but it was a pretty lousy nights sleep.
Before we went to bed our guide had been telling us how he had got stuck on the river for 4 days with a group of tourists last year, after heavy rain overnight had swollen the river and made it to dangerous to go down the rapids. The river had risen 5ms over that one night. So it was a great relief in the morning to find the river calm and the sky blue as we had left it the night before.
We set off, lathering up with sunscreen as the sun was burning even after a few minutes. After the first set of rapids and about 20mins paddling we jumped in the water and just floated downstream for 1/2 an hour. The rapids started increasing in grade and we got drenched a good few times, which was very pleasant relief from the scorching sun. After our final and biggest rapid we entered the area where they are building a new hydroelectrice dam. After the peacefulness of the river it seemed strange to suddenly be rafting through a construction site. We stopped for the workmen to radio that we were coming through the gorge where they were dynamiting the cliff sites. After being given the all clear we started to paddle through. As we went forward the wind increased and a storm started to make its way towards us. Soon it was pouring with rain and we were frantically trying to fight the wind and rain to get to the otherside of gorge before they started dynamiting it again. After we got to the otherside we were helped out by the workmen and the raft was sent on its way down the river were it was meant to be caught by a waiting boat. 2 minutes after getting out of the river the side of the gorge was blown up and rock was cascading into the water below!
Our 'lift' hadn't turned up so the otherside of the dam we had to continue paddling through the construction area, and an area of forest which had been flooded by the dam. It was very wierd to see hundreds of tree trunks sticking out of the water, or the mud where the water level had dropped since the last raining season. It was like a landscape after a nucleur bomb. Completely surreal. After paddling for ages, the satallite phone finally worked and we organised to rendez-vous with a boat to take us back to (relative) civilisation. The boat followed the path of the old river, but on either side there was a vast expanse of water with more tree trunks protruding from the water. Sometimes, when the boat driver when slightly off course we could hear and feel the old submerged trees scrap against the bottom of the boat. We went for 3 hours through this man made lake until we arrived at the village and were collected by a local 'taxi'.
The whole experience had been amazing.