The Lost Boat - Si Nakharin Reservoir, August 2001
My friends say I look healthier, these days. I understand it's their Asian way of telling me that I'm growing fat, means 74kg before the weekend. Fact is, I need exercise.
I pack my kayak into the car, pack the Si Nakharin waypoints into the GPS and some of these extremely convenient MREs into my drybag. For a reckless driver, it's a 3h drive from my home near Bangkok to Si Sawat. Hit zero doggies, this time.
At the launchpoint a Thai lady is delighted to see that even tourists now understand about boats. She watches me while I assemble the folding kayak (a Poucher E65, if you care). Yes, it becomes a real boat that goes on the water. Rather fast, too.
I get going at 5pm, 2 hours before dark. The GPS suggests that I would reach my targeted Island #10 (to find out more about this place, download my Si Nakharin GPS waypoints) near Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall at 7:30 pm, so I need a light. I have 2 of them plus plenty of spare batteries. I'm prepared.
The 12 km trip, crossing the reservoir at its widest point, promises to be unexciting. Still it is exercise and somewhat fun with the waves and wind which both grow to entertaining levels. My boat, an East-German product, handles it all well and I think to myself: Cool, socialist designs work in Thailand !
It is shortly before dark, when I spot a dark object a bit off my course (to be precise, at N14º36.432' E99º03.756', WGS84) but not so far off that I wouldn't want to check it out: Something floating on the water, not a shape that I know. I go closer and it turns out to be a small boat. In the waves, I manage to get alongside with it. It is empty apart from an oil container, an old paddle and a lot of water. The hull is made from sheet metal and shaped somewhat boxy, unlike a Thai fisherboat. It's unaccompanied and a fragment of rope tied to its bow suggests that it has torn itself loose and since then, has drifted about on the reservoir.
I can't make out from where it could have come and decide that I should tow it before it completely fills up with water and sinks. I manage to attach my boat's line to its bow and pull. Damn, it's heavy. My speed is just a bit more than half of what I do normally. A short while later, the wind and waves calm down but this doesn't make me faster. Still heavy. I need to pull steadily to keep it following without turning or going to one side. Definitely good exercise.
So what to do with it now ? Take it home ? I surely can't pull it to island #10 and leave it there, I have to turn it over to the Lost & Found, the police or any official government institution. Otherwise it looks like I stole it. I decide to bring it to the Huay Mae Khamin Waterfall and inform the park headquarter.
It's a tough job of several hours, with the worst part at the mouth of Huay Mae Khamin where lots of floating bamboo is blocking the way. The metal hull with all that water inside doesn't go over the bamboo, instead it tries to push it away. Eventually I succeed and reach an adequate landing, where a local fisherboat is towed. At 10pm when I tie both my boats to a treetrunk, take all my stuff and walk up to the restaurant.
The rangers are watching TV and none of them speaks English. My friend by the nickname of "Gai Damm", a young ranger who speaks English, is not there. I'm taken to the headquarter where someone (seems the guy who is in charge of the area around this waterfall) does speak some English.
I tell my story and ask the man to inform the right people about this boat that I found. The guy says there'd not be a boat while he insists that he understands everything I say. After several attempts, I give up and decide that I better find an English-speaking person next morning. The rangers then conclude that I have to pay THB300 which is even more confusing and I just walk out and proceed to set up my tent at the campsite.
A few minutes later, a pickup truck pulls up to my tent, all the guys from the HQ climb out and ask that I pay THB300 for camping at the waterfall. After some queries, these THB300 shrink to THB230, consisting of foreigner entrance fee (THB200) and camping permit (THB30).
I start the old discussion why-do-I-pay-THB200-where-the-Thai-pay-just-THB20 and would-my-work-permit-make-any-difference ? The guys have a very clear opinion about this: Thai-Nationalpark-for-Thai-people-and-you-no-Thai with the simple equation: You-have-money-you-pay, you-no-money-you-go ! Well, I'm outnumbered and the situation is pretty tense, I pay what is asked and am left alone.
That was a bit hot. Unnoticed, I set up my backup tent (hell, I am prepared !) some distance away from my primary tent while close to other people's tents. I spend the night in the backup tent, just in case that someone wants to run a truck over my tent.
It's a relaxing night at the waterfall, cool, no rain, perfect. Next morning I find a capable lady who indeed speaks English and cares to go to the rangers with me. First she translates me a sermon on entrance fees for foreigners.
Second and with some effort, the rangers understand about the boat I found and assign one guy who would later go with me so I can show him where I have anchored this boat.
Third, I will be leaving Thailand soon and want to give my 2 tents to "Gai Damm", my English-speaking friend, a ranger who happens not to be there, this day. Yes, I can leave my 2 tents, they tell me. However, I must pay THB30 per day and per tent. Ouch. Second try, they understand. I'm told that my friend has been messing with foreigners and they have chased him away. None here wants to see him any more and they won't be able to pass the tents to him.
So I ask if I could give my tents to one of the rangers and yes, that would be possible if I wrote a declaration of property transferral.
Amazing, I'm almost done. I say thank-you to my translator and sit on the back of a dirtbike, the rider bringing me down to the water to check out that ominous boat. It rests where I put it the night before. The guy speaks no English and sais "thank you", I climb into my boat and say "bye".
The kayak with just a few cm of draught carries me over the blocking bamboo smoothly and the GPS reminds me of Island #10, a bit over 1 km away. This island is covered with pebbles and several trees grow there. It's my favourite rest and camping spot. Now in the rainy season, only a small patch of land emerges from the water. I find that someone has built a fireplace.
My hammock goes between two trees, the ground below covered with 10cm of water. Very relaxing. I spend an hour or two, open an MRE bag, shoot around with the camera.
I think about what has happened over at the waterfall: I've paid too much entrance fee, I've given 2 tents and a boat to a bunch of donnow-how-to-call-'em. Should I kick myself ?
The way back to Si Sawat is exercise again, some wind and waves, no surprises.
Once ashore, I get the full attention and respect of a fisherman as I disassemble the kayak. The whole thing, 4.5m in length, eventually disappears into my small car.
Driving. That's fun with the hills around Si Sawat. Then a ferry ride and I'm out of the "Wild West".
The GPS encourages me to pass by Sayok Noi waterfall, where I meet a Thai lady with an American accent. Hell, she indeed speaks English. 20 years in Florida, a real estate agent. We talk about this and that, make jokes without that someone is confused or insulted, these 20 minutes are so relaxing on my mind.
The drive back to my home is the regular Sunday-evening-race, I win in 80% of the situations.
At home I unload the car, take a shower, stand on the scale. Now 70 kg and I call it "success".
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