Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Where'd you learn to drive a canoe, you fucking cowboy?

Sunday 8th July, Ban Khao Sok Resort
Adventre, peril, danger. It's all in today's blog entry!      

Our third day started well. The rain had subsided from the previous day and the sun had even come out, though everything was still pretty wet. We could hear birds singing unlike the previous day. So we went over to the restaurant to get some breakfast which was good. We then headed up towards the village to see what else was about here. This gave us our first proper view of the local scenery, and it was stunning. Huge limestone peaks, draped in velvety green vegetation with billows of llow cloud cascading over the higher points. The rest of the village, however, was fairly low key being not a lot other than more resorts, a few bars and a couple of mini marts, but should make for a decent night out at least. I had been looking for some anti-fogging spray for my specs which seemed to be in a constant state of fine condensation because of the humidity. We didn't find any. We did stop for a drink at one particular restaurant, at the Morning Mist resort where they had Wifi so I could update the blog, check up on stuff online, etc.

 Some of the views of the Khao Sok locale
These pictures were taken just from our accommodation as we walked into the main village

We had arranged a canoe trip down the river through our accommodation to begin at 2pm, so we had a little lunch (pad Thai, or fried noodles, for me) and got in the canoe. I was a bit disappointed to find that I wasn't the one doing the paddling as I had been looking forward to a bit of exercise, it being about 4 days since I last hit the gym. However, no. The driver was a young Thai guy who didn't speak much English. Anyway, we set off with our life jackets on and it was a pretty leisurely trip on a fairly fast-flowing river (due to all the rain), but not apparently dangerously so. We spotted a couple of very striking birds (which was what I think was a stork-billed kingfisher and something else which I think was either a Gurney's or a hooded pitta - they look different in these references, I know, but it was the striking electric blue around their head that stood out - which get their name, presumably, because they're well-bred) and it was going well until we came upon a narrow tree trunk (maybe 20 or so cm across) across the river, half submerged. Now, I noticed it fairly early on and was thinking “how do we negotiate this?” then a few seconds later the driver used three of his few words of English to exclaim “Oh, my God!”. We hit the trunk and stopped, running aground on it. Again I was thinking “OK, now what do I do to help us get over this, I hope it doesn't puncture the boat” (though it was a canoe, it was actually air-filled, a bit like an inflatable dinghy) when all of a sudden the stern got caught by the current, dragged under and the boat flipped over backwards. We ended up in this brown, river, underwater with a strong current. We'd both worn life jackets and I remember thinking a I saw this dull brown of the murk “OK, the life jacket will start to bring me to the surface soon”, which It did, but took a little longer than I anticipated. I can't remember if I was past the log when I emerged or got over it afterwards, but I was moving down river. Jane was around somewhere and I saw what looked like some safe area on the bank and I think I may have pulled her over to it somehow (or not, it's now all a bit hazy). Our pilot/driver/guide had also made it over there. We got out and were left on the bank and he was clearly mortified. We stood there for a few minutes as he went to recover the canoe, still held behind the log a few metres back. It was at this moment I realised I had lost my specs in the incident. Jane later said she had initially been trapped under the boat (though this must have been for no more than a few seconds).

Once our man came back, we got back in the canoe and carried on down the river. There wasn't really much choice in this, to be honest, since there was nothing around there and nowhere to abandon the trip and go back until we got to the end. We reached a major road bridge over the river and I helped him drag the boat up the concrete slope to the roadside for our pickup. It came a while later. Too bloody long in fact, but I guess we were supposed to have stopped at some swimming hole for a bit etc and had no way to communicate what had happened to the tour company (and even if he did, his phone would have been knackered in the ducking).

We decided on the way back that we weren't going to pay. Almost drowning on a holiday trip through the fault of an inexperienced guide is pretty solid grounds for this. Reflecting on this a few things come to mind, like what could have happened. We could have hit our head/s on the log or each other and been knocked unconscious. We could have opted out of life jackets and fared much worse. Our guide could also have gotten into difficulty (he wasn't wearing a jacket). On a less serious note, we could have lost a camera, wallet, something else difficult to replace. As it happened, all we ended up was wet and I couldn't see very well. Oh, and lost my flip flops which I had bought for about 40p in Borneo, so not happy about this. Worst of all is thinking about what would have happened if we'd done this with our new child to come. This really does freak me out. I guess the thing is we had no actual idea what the trip was about, what we would have needed on it. Given the way it started and went on for most of the time, I would have had no qualms about bringing a kid or a camera or anything else for that matter, but one incident made all the difference. Still, it's not healthy to dwell on these things

On arrival back we told the owner of the hotel and she was so apologetic. She immediately told us we wouldn't be charged, but that she might have to still pay the company who ran the trip (Bew Khao Sok Canoes, in case you're wondering. I'd give them a wide birth and I shall shortly be giving them a severe kicking on Tripadviser.com). I said she shouldn't have to because it was due to them using guides who weren't properly trained. He should have been more vigilant and known how to deal with this sort of thing. Personally I would have turned so we approached the log side-on,but I'm no expert, though it seems it would not have been so catastrophic, even if we did end up in the water.

We returned to our room, showered, changed and went out for the evening. This added a few more clothing items to our “wet list”, since the place was so damp and humid that stuff just doesn't dry. We headed out for a couple of drinks and a bit of internet at Morning Mist. Here we chatted a little to some Australian guys who were over from Perth to celebrate one of their number's 50th birthday by doing a motorbike tour of this part of Thailand. Here I got some stick for wearing dark glasses, as you might expect from a bunch of respectably lairy Ozzies. We ate here also, later on, mainly because they do reasonably priced cocktails. Their Singapore Sling was made by the numbers (incorrectly if I'm being pedantic, it was made according to a cocktail menu book, not the original Raffles recipe, having no Benedictine etc), but not bad for that and very well presented with pineapple slice and flowers. Food was fairly Thai standard, where I plumped for the gaeng phed goong or red curry prawn which was quite good and quite spicy.

 Beer to destress at the Morning Mist
You can see where it gets its name from looking at the mountains in the background. Mind you, this was sometime in the afternoon

We had a few drinks in a bar nearby as we watched Andy Murray getting his arse handed to him by Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final. During this we were surrounded by very well-off British kids who'd just finished their first year at Bristol University on a trip that Daddy had paid for. Then after one or two too many Singha we were off to bed, having to negotiate the dark dirt track to our accommodation by torchlight which is difficult in itself, but made moreso by having to wear prescription sunglasses and the fact that it was raining (for a change).

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