This is story #2 in my Short Stories from the Road series. Introduction found here
“You think I’m pretty?” Tom, our Lao guide asked as we all looked on in confusion. “…without any makeup on!!!” His rendition of Katy Perry left us all shaking our heads and smiling. It’s all we could do. This would become a common question throughout the life of our trek through the Lao mountains and one we all fell for more than a few times. But he wasn’t only jokes. “Tomorrow, we will catch our dinner!” My good travel companion Austin and I were both clearly stoked on the prospect. How could we not be? Tom had just told us we would be spearfishing for our dinner the following day. I was instantly tantalized by the prospect, and within moments began to imagine myself diving down into the cool Lao river, slowly stalking my prey in the wet abyss and ultimately having a field day. I’d emerge with loads of plump, meaty fish, which would soon find there way over a healthy fire and then into our bellies, satisfying not only our hunger, but also my crave for adventure. I’d be a hero, really.
And so it came to pass that after miles of switchbacks up and down mountains of temperate and bamboo forests, we came upon an isolated Lao village nestled next to a broad river. Throwing our packs aside, we jumped headlong into our bathtub rinsing our sticky sweat away in one swift motion. Next came our guides with spear gun and bucket in hand, ready to begin the hunt. However, as I observed them go to work, I saw that the bucket was not being filled with giant trout like fish, as I’d ignorantly imagined. Instead, small pufferfish about the size of tennis balls were suddenly on the menu. We knew they were pufferfish because once frightened or hit with the spear, they blew up and floated to the surface, essentially making themselves immobile. You could literally just pick them up and put them in the bucket as if they were apples. Not the best way to defend oneself or scare off predators if you ask me, but I’m not God, so I don’t ask questions.
After a few minutes, Austin and my chance finally arrived and we greedily took hold of the spear and goggles. But come to find out, hunting tennis-ball-sized floating immobile fish was not as easy as we’d assumed. For starters, I didn’t even see a single fish the entire time I had the goggles. Seriously. I’m not sure if I missed something in the nonexistent training manual or if our guides had depleted the entire river of pufferfish. Tom, in an attempt to ease my bruised ego, tossed an inflated fish from the bucket my way. It splashed a few feet from me and I quickly walked as best I could along the rock bottom to retrieve it, picking it up to give it a closer look. Suddenly a sharp pain entered my pinky finger and I let out a sad yelp. The stupid fish with the worst possible defense mechanism had bit me. I guess it has multiple defense mechanisms. I began wildly shaking my hand above my head in an attempt to rid myself of the bugger and rid myself of it I did. It sailed twenty feet threw the air and landed downstream with a kerplunk. I looked at the round bleeding bite mark on my finger in disgust as Tom and Austin howled in laughter at my expense. I had underestimated the pufferfish. I suppose eating all his homies that night should have helped ease my suffering but it was a small consolation. And that was the time a pufferfish bit me.