I had quite an adventure while swimming at Tadlo Falls in Laos. My friend and I had been travelling through South-East Asia and were staying in some small huts right on the bank of a river for the bargain price of 15,000 kip a night (about 80p), and there were piglets, cows, chickens and puppies running around like it was the children’s section at a zoo. It was perfect and we ended up staying for a week.
We asked one of the locals if it was safe to go swimming in the river near the waterfall. He said that it was fine so we walked to the base of the waterfall, where there was a large pool of water which led to a much smaller set of waterfalls further down. The water in the pool looked quite calm and slow so we jumped in.
As soon as we got into the pool and tried to swim across to the rocks on the other side, we realised the flowing water was much more powerful than it looked, and before I knew it I was being swept away. The smooth rocks on the bottom were slippery. I couldn’t grip onto anything. The second smaller tier of the waterfall was fast approaching. As I went over it my legs, bum and feet were scraped and dragged on the rocks, removing some skin from my legs.
I saw another group of rocks approaching, so I reached out and grabbed onto one and pulled myself behind them to try and shield myself from the water, whilst leaning on the rocks in front of me to stabilise myself. The water was hitting me hard in the back, enough to take my breath away. My heart pounding in my chest, I pushed as much as I could with my legs against the rocks in front of me to stop myself being washed away over the rest of the waterfall.
I tried to locate my friend, who had managed to swim across and was now on the other side. I shouted to him that I couldn’t hold myself there much longer. My legs and arms were shaking from the effort.
Apart from the rocks I was leaning on, there were no other rocks nearby which could have provided a bridge across to the bank. So I asked my friend how big the drop was if I were to let myself be carried with the water and be swept over the rest of the waterfall downstream. I was busy psyching myself up to let go but after having a look he said it didn’t look like a small drop. And I would have been squeezed between some large rocks sticking out of the water.
With all my effort I eventually managed to pull myself up onto the biggest rock. I sat there, stranded and shaking but relieved that I wasn’t going to drown just yet.
My friend said he was going to get help, and went to a restaurant nearby. A while later a man came back, and said that my friend could tie a rope around himself and try to come and get me. That didn’t sound like a good idea to me, as I didn’t want anything to happen to both of us, so I started thinking how bad it would be to spend the rest of my time in Laos sitting on this rock, which was quite comfy compared to the water. Maybe my friend could throw me food parcels, beer and clean clothes.
In the end another man came out, smoking a cigarette. Without hesitating he walked straight into the fast-flowing water like he was King Kong. He climbed from rock to rock, and finally made his way over to me, still chuffing on the cigarette. He then started to help me back across the river, shielding me from the water and helping me onto rocks. We were doing well, until we reached a large rock which he tried to help me onto. It was slippery and I couldn’t get my leg high enough to climb on.
I slipped, fell back into the water and started going backwards down the waterfall. I reached out for the man’s hand but couldn’t hold on. All he managed to grab was my bracelet – just like in a movie. My friend later told me that the look of sheer panic on my face at this stage was priceless. I thought that I was a goner as I couldn’t see what the hell I was heading for, and could do nothing except try to keep my head above the water as I tumbled about like I was in a washing machine.
Finally I turned myself around and saw that I had made it over the waterfall alive, and swam over to the side of the river. I got out and tried to walk properly with my jelly-like legs, which had scrapes and cuts galore.
Every time I see a waterfall now I am reminded of how powerful the water can be. It definitely put me in my place!
September 24th, 2007