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Travels with Pavel: 11 February 2005

There’s two sides to me (and there are schizophrenics, yes). One is the cautious fellow, who tries to make the right decision under the circumstances, takes the better-safe-than-sorry approach to life. This ‘me,’ I’m afraid has missed a lot of fun in life as a result. The other side of me is the one that doesn’t want to miss out on anything, always burdened with the feeling that he’s already missed out too much in life, and so thinks, “let’s go for it!” This ‘me,’ I’m afraid has a lot of bruises to show for it. Not that I could’ve stopped Pavel today short of having a full-blown fight. The issue was waterfalls.

The white man’s approach to the elements (and I do not base this observation only on my experiences with Pavel or Sandro, my regular climbing partner in Taiwan) is often based on confronting them, based on immense self-belief and on as much a must-do spirit as the can-do. The Asian by contrast is ready to bow to superior forces. Or maybe the Asian mind just doesn’t see the point of climbing of a mountain, even if it is the highest mountain in the world. The more important mountains for the Asian are the holy ones from Emei Shan in Sichuan to Mt. Kailash in Tibet and of course mythical ones, nobody actually has to climb, like Mount Meru. Or it is the beautiful ones like Mt. Fuji in Japan.

Now me, well, I am caught somewhere in the middle – the consequences of my upbringing I guess, in a world caught between the middle class straight-and-narrow cut-the-risks approach and my Indian schools on the one side and American TV, Western literature and a fantastic 20-volume encyclopedia at home on the other.

So then, all it takes for me is a little encouragement. And Pavel, well, he is the Great Encourager – like Mao was the Great Helmsman. There ought to be constellations in the sky like that.

Three stolen cashew-nut fruits. That was the sum of our nutrition till about 8 in the evening when we finally got back from the last of our waterfalls for the day. I was driving on the right side of the road for the first time in my life and I chose the worst tracks in the world to do it. With the chap riding pillion about twice my size and on a scooter/moto that could barely carry me, it didn’t get better. One brake-too-late-and-crash! into the remains of tree stump in the middle of the bloody track later, I was nursing a bruise swelling beautifully over my ribs from Pavel crushing me against the handle.

The first two waterfalls weren’t the problem. Standing over the first one at Choang and then walking under the falls, was fun. Even if what Pavel called a “massage,” was quite painful at times.

It was the hunt for a seven-tiered beauty advertised in the Lonely Planet that had me in ‘cautious’ mode and asking silly questions like “who would put a waterfall here?!” The dirt track was murderous. Pavel, quite unwilling to listen to reason (as I defined it) was always immediately solicitous of my health after spilling me – even though a few seconds was as long as the solicitousness lasted. One time, the damn scooter reared up right on backwards with me landing beautifully flat on my back. I picked myself up off the track a few seconds later, laughing anyway, but Pavel was looking rather pale, quite like “This time I’ve done it, I must’ve killed him. No?!”

The damn waterfall finally came into our sights at 5pm some two-and-a-half hours after we started from the last one – rubber plantations, cashew-nut plantations, bare-breasted tribal women, rickety wooden-plank bridges and a French-speaking old man in a village a few minutes from the waterfall, all on our way. The French speaker quite clearly put up two fingers to indicate the distance in kilometers but said something that sounded closer to “trois” than “deux” and told us that we should be there in “quinze minutes.” So I, who had 12 minutes ago given Pavel another 10 minutes to look for his waterfall, was prodding him to “hurry up” for another however many minutes more. The waterfall in the end, wasn’t anything to write home about.

Several spills later and in complete darkness (call the light from the lamp of a less-than-100-cc moto, illumination?) for most of the way, we got back into town. Me the god-fearing, god-believer with the atheist. Well, the good thing about this is that the believer tends to pray double. And prayer always helps, doesn’t it?

We’d found ourselves new lodgings. This time we have a room – rat-infested, lizard-infested, dirty pillows and all – together with the aforementioned moto at a daily rate of US$5, which is good in our currently straitened circumstances. However, for dinner at the same place we went to yesterday, we’re charged double for what was pretty much the same thing – or maybe just a little different. Anyway, Mr Hak Boonthan, our new host, will hopefully refurbish his dwellings if he wants to make a proper guesthouse out of it. He will probably name it “Lakeview Guest House,” after our suggestion. We seem to be the first paying guests here – his family occupies the other rooms. Mr. Hak has got photos of his travels in Nepal and of his wife’s in India on the outside wall. I could identify Bombay at least. Talk about a small world.

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