Laotian Boy: 1, Water Buffalo: 0

Yeah, looks can be deceiving. Especially when his looks are around 1200 lbs., he has an incredible rack of horns, he can move in water and on land, and he has his head lowered like he’s going to charge.

Wait. Let me start again. As I mentioned in my post Leaving Laos!, I had an, err, funny interaction on the river one day. I was headed to the river to photograph the bamboo water wheels and had just been given a ride to the far bank of the river by a kind woman with a child strapped on her back.

River Boat Ride Xamti, Laos

‘cross the river we go.

I got out of the boat and immediately—as so often happened when I was wandering around—I found myself being tailed by a curious kid. The little boy was in his underwear and had been playing/washing/throwing rocks/running all over, basically creating the chaos that little boys revel in. I think he was the son of the woman in the boat and his father was fishing not too far down the shore. I said Sabadii and gave him a little nop, which he, as most Lao kids did, found quite amusing (adults don’t typically nop children in Laos, but I found it a good way to engage them, especially if they looked intimidated. This boy wasn’t; quite the opposite).

So I started heading up the river side with my accomplice racing around like a water bug. It was the dry season and the water was fairly low, so typically there was a wide bank of stone and sand. But as I came around a curve in the bank, the path narrowed to about three yards wide—to my left was the water strewn with rocks of all sizes; to my right was a sheer vertical cliff of loose stone and sand roughly ten feet tall.

That’s when I saw him. He was about twenty feet away, standing smack dead in the middle of the path, and he didn’t look happy to see me at all. He was the biggest bull water buffalo I’d ever seen. And then he lowered his head in what I could only surmise was his I’m-about-to-flatten-your-skinny-ass mode.

Mind you, at that point, I didn’t know squat about water buffalo. Were they domesticated enough to be tame? Would they charge if cornered or provoked? Or, like many other animals, would they get aggressive if you get between them and their offspring? Nope, not a clue.

Water Buffalo Xamti, Laos

This is not the water buffalo you are looking for. Nor is it the one from the story.

Where was my escape path? In counter-clockwise fashion: I looked to my left to the water and that’s when I see all the Lao/Hmong people on the other bank looking at me. What exactly is this tall falang with the huge backpack going to do now? And, I conjure up in my mind, it may not be the best escape route to go running into the rocky water. That might just be a big, noisy, splashy event that is going to provoke my four footed friend even more. Of course it wasn’t until sometime later that I was struck by the irony of thinking of running away through the water from a water buffalo…

I could just turn tail and run where I had come from, but I wasn’t keen on the idea of turning my back on him, and, I did have nearly 40 lbs. of camera gear strapped to my back. I wasn’t the most rapid and agile thing on the shore that day. To my right was the cliff. I looked up at the soft sand and stone face and knew right away I wouldn’t be able to scale it, loaded down or not. Back to looking forward at the buffalo. He hadn’t moved and was still in the head down position. I expected him to paw the ground and snort. And me without my bullfighter’s cape.

That’s when the the bolt of lightning struck, the jet broke the sound barrier, the bottle rocket was launched. Ok, enough with the hyperbole. However, there was something small moving very fast to the right of me and it was headed directly at the buffalo. And oddly enough it did sound somewhat like a bottle rocket streaking by:

TSSST! TSSST! TSSST!

My erstwhile and now returned friend went hurtling by me, all 35 lbs. soaking wet, and only armed with the underwear part of a superhero’s uniform. And he was making a very loud sound through clenched teeth:

TSSST! TSSST! TSSST!

Laotian Boy, Xamti, Laos

This is not the Laotian boy you are looking for. Nor is he the one from the story.

The bull launched. Not in my direction, no. He spun around and was off like a bullet back into his herd, which then moved into the river—conveniently clearing the path for me to walk. It took me a second to realize what had happened. I looked over to the other bank and everyone was laughing, laughing at what had just transpired. The little bottle rocket just ran back by me looking for something new to entertain himself with. No boasting, no bragging, just a quick smile at moving the ‘obstruction’ out of the way for some odd traveler on the shore of his river.

Turns out, water buffalo are domesticated and aren’t aggressive to people. Pretty docile, actually. I wouldn’t corner one or get between a mother and her offspring, but other than that they typically walk away from humans. As a matter of fact, a while later I was walking along the river bank on the way back to town and came across a whole herd in front of me. They saw me coming and walked into the water and watched me pass by. Pretty cool animals, I like ’em. (Please watch at 480P at minimum to prevent compression artifacts in the water. Click on the gear symbol.):

So, neither do I have a photo of said water buffalo, nor do I have a photo of said Laotian boy. I wasn’t really thinking much about photography at that precise time and it was all over in the briefest of moments. However, I do have the memory, and it is a good one. If I can say I take anything from these travel experiences, it is that you often learn the most when you least expect it. Where a little kid can, in one fell swoop, teach you something about the world.

Laotian.

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