Swimming Lessons

17 Mar

Field of young rice

Almost as beautiful as under the Mekong

When it comes to swimming, the Mekong (at least in the dry season), is the don. And the swimming off Don Det, in Si Phan Don, Laos, really vaut le voyage.

There’s a tiny – I think artificially enhanced – sand beach off one corner of the island, with islets at the most beautiful range of distances.

The depth shelves off so fast you can dive from a catamaran moored on the shore, yet, unlike the ocean, there’s no turbulence or drag to go with the drop off, and the decline is smooth, not shelved.

Because of the current, the water in the shallows is cool, not hot, yet because of the heat the water is never cold. And the current is strong enough to drift with, yet not so strong there’s a risk of being dragged away.

The river bed is sand. Not mud. Not stones. Just sand.

There’s a beautiful passage in John Bailey’s Iris where he talks about their shared passion for river swimming, and the colour of the underwater light, filtering through the weeds. Like the best extended metaphors it has truth at its heart, and the film brings out its visual soul.

Off Don Det, the light underwater is a luminous pine green, without the need for weeds. It’s a green even more beautiful than the succulent bright of young rice in a paddy-field.

And, because it’s a river, there’s no stinging seal between your eyes and the water. You’re part of it. Right down to the baby catfish swirling in the shallows and nibbling at your toes.

We spent longer than we planned on the island. Z wanted to tube (frolic around in a tractor inner tube – floating complete with beer and lit cigarette, as per the GAP year crowd, is optional).

In name of homeschooling, we did a bit of token work on his breaststroke (froggy legs, head out of water, time the arms). He’s picking it up.

But most of the time it was diving, jumping, capsizing the inner tube, and the froggy fluency of his exits, his sheer confidence in the water, still wows me.

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