Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Sinking Princess

The Sinking Princess is a boat, purchased for 850 dollars up on the Chinese border by three men (boys? the gray area is vast), two of whom came into my bar two nights ago. The American (from Vermont, the second Vermonter to pass through LPB this season) drank Beer Lao and by the end of the night had to be roused, loudly and forcibly, from the couch upstairs he'd snuck up to pass out on. The Frenchman drank pastis and didn't get nearly so drunk, but did disappear suddenly at the end of the night, leaving his friend to stumble down toward the Mekong and the boat alone.

But before last call came and I had to throw them out, they told me the story of the boat and made me very, very jealous. The American, I think, was the instigator. He crossed into the country from China and decided he wanted to do something different, to get off the tourist path, even the relatively lightly beaten Lao tourist path. He, I think, had the boat idea originally, and ended up advertising in a bar on the border for anyone who wanted to join in the adventure. The Frenchman and the other boat captain were the first to respond.

They then had a Lao person write "I want to buy a boat" in Lao on a piece of paper, which then passed around on the banks of the Mekong. The entire town got involved, as happens here, and in a few days they had purchased an old, long, flat bottom boat of the type you see up and down the Mekong. They tied it up on the bank and came out the next morning to find it full of water. Hence the moniker.

But they bailed it out and patched it up and set off down the goddamn Mekong river with a shitty map and an unreliable compass. Why, why have I never thought of this? (Aside from the fact that I've never travelled with a spare 800 bucks...but split between three people that's less than three hundred each...there were times I could have managed that.) They said they almost missed Luang Prabang--they just saw some buildings on the side of the river and thought they'd stop. I bought them each a drink and said I wanted to take a ride--but when I went out the next day, the motor wasn't running; the Vermonter and two Lao mechanics were squatted over it, prodding. I did get to wade in the river a bit, though, so all wasn't lost.

They didn't come in last night--I suspect they're already on their way south to Pakse and then Si Phan Don, the end of Laos. They're going to sell the boat again on border. Here's hoping they don't get sucked down over that big waterfall that leads into Cambodia.

So. Who wants to buy a boat?

Lao: Het/hate: mushroom
Khao bi-uhn: rice noodle soup
teacher (I think): ni koo.

Things I have been meaning to research and write about: illegal logging, laos's debt to vietnam, laos joining the wto. Someone scold me already and make me get to work.

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