Friday, July 25, 2008

Sampans pulled by "Trackers".

Before long, Shirley our "Tujia" guide entertained us by singing a traditional love song in her native dialect. It was an interesting kind of song as we, the travellers, were involved too by echoing certain parts of the chorus that she had taught us.
It had a nice rhythmic melody and was perfect as we cruised along.

This is the tough part of the boat journey....hitting the shallows. It was a rock-strewn river bed that was so shallow that at some parts less than a foot of water was the depth! Naturally, the boat can still be pulled over a foot of water. And naturally too a boat fully loaded with about 12 persons will get bogged down in the rock and mud! It was at this point where we witnessed the age-old legends of the "boat trackers" at work.
The boatmen kept their paddles and brought out coiled ropes made from a kind sturdy rolled up bamboo vine...not the usual manila hawser type. They attached one end to the sampan and the other coiled round their shoulder. And using their body weight and sheer muscle power began to pull the fully loaded sampan inch by inch over that stretch of bedrock. I watched them closely, their teamwork and their unique spiritedness. Then of those pulling our boat...his rope snapped and he fell into the mud and water. I felt very, very guilty seeing all this!! I was certain many others must have felt the same way too. Here we were, all cosy, comfortable and dry and all being deadweight on the boat posing a huge weight problem to these boatmen who were huffing and puffing and heaving drag us over the shallows.

I really felt the urge to jump over to help them out. [ See my Gunung Tahan posts where we were in similar situations in 1969 at the Tahan River. We all came out to help push the boat over the shallow rapids.]

But we were expressly told not to worry and to sit tight. Just let them do their job.
And that was what they did....excellently! When one other boat fully loaded with bigger sized caucasians got fully stuck and no amount of pulling could budge it, instant help came from the boatmen of other sampans. With additional manpower....the job was done.

I understand that " trackers" only earn about 3 or 4 $ US a day. !!!
All of them deserve our RESPECT for the way they continue to work to preserve their age-old tradition of boat tracking.

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