by Renee Godfrey – Researcher, Rivers/Urban team
The mighty Mekong River in late June is like no kind of water I have ever seen before. The rapids rage and boil like a tempestuous North Atlantic storm that would have even the hardiest of sea dogs heading for the hills.
The water here moves more like an angry ocean than a romantic river. Despite this, the lithe quick footed local fishermen of the Si Phan Don area in Southern Laos are fearless. They skip and dart across treacherous rocks while the water, inches below them, gorges and swallows any solid object that dares to cross its path.
As a serious surfer, I like to think that I can read moving bodies of water – but the mighty Mekong has an intimidating mood and agenda that is undecipherable to me. Its sounds have no pattern like the familiar lapping of a tide – rather just a constant, thundering roar more akin to being front row at a banging drum and bass night than sitting next to a meandering river.
To have the chance to film and see such daredevil traditional fishing techniques feels like an indulgence and blessing; but to transport forty odd boxes of filming kit across sharp rocks and in and out of local narrow boats, whose cargo is normally kilos of Catfish rather than all manner of cameras and contraptions, is more like a curse.
Carrying our kit across the sections of rocks and rapids is like some sort of military operation crossed with a bad Torvill and Dean performance. The crew and I are dressed in hideous high visibility life jackets, neoprene boots, and have rescue boats and throw ropes at the ready as we inelegantly clamber, slip and slide our way to various filming locations. The locals, in their shorts and flip flops put us to huge shame as they dance precariously across the rocks with the balance and style of Olympic gymnasts. I feel an oaf in comparison! All this before we even begin the challenge of getting the cameras out and actually trying to film something…