Saturday, July 27, 2013

Epiphanies on a Ferryboat

Canoeman weaving his net at the start of temple stairs
A Laotian canoe man fixes his nets at the bottom of an infinite stairway up a mountain to a temple over looking the Luang Prabang valley. He sits calmly in the lotus position and doesn't look up from his work. 'Good view' he says. Pilgrims may climb atop peaks looking for enlightenment, but my sage sits calm at the bottom, by the riverbank, living in the surface of things. 

The golden lace like paint of the Mekong racing canoes, ready for their September celebrations, is a beautiful sight within each temple (Wat) I visit. But my last week in Laos, fighting through dengue, was spent learning to make, in part, and paddle the fisherman's three plank canoe at is the style of this region.

Wat racing canoe
I've been back and forth on the Luang Prabang ferry,moving slowly over the muddying Mekong waters. The ferry takes me to a village across the river where I've been working with  few villagers building their fishing canoe for the rainy season. 

Though I missed much of the build because of the dengue, I was able to help hammer on the two keel like wooden pieces which connect the two side planks to the bottom. The planks are joined flush and fastened only with nails and these keel like pieces. The inner frame including seats, partial ribs for  extension pieces, and two or three hull ribs for structure. 

Hammering a canoe
Few people in the region specialize in canoe building, rather a family builds its own canoe, paints it the color they choose. The vessels vary based on the skills of the family craftsman. with a stick or a small piece of bamboo, chunky gasoline tar is spread throughout all the cracks. In a light rain I worked with this family to spread the tar and seal their new canoe.

Putting on the joining pieces

Small bees seemed to love this tar and would swarm in places on it, bothering us not. It also seemed as if they were eager to help build the canoe and push tar deep into the cracks, sealing it for good. 

Tar sealing

A few of the canoe men shows me their paddling techniques, adjusting between bow and stern, rotating which is which while following calm sections of the fast flowing rainy season water. It's always inspiring to see the quick balance of someone whose has grown up paddling on rivers. The canoe men use the current to drift and cross the river while moving along its length.

Paddling on the Khan River where it meets the Mekong

The final time I took the ferry across the Mekong, a truck filled with more than its weight of bamboo scrapped along, rocking the boat as we laugh. The ferry men wore cowboy hats, smoked cigarettes and laughed softly. Just another day of Mekong life.

Ferry boat in Laung Prabang, Laos

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