Anna-Leena Harkonen


Toomas Tartes 


Into the Unknown

When on vacation, I usually don’t bother to take part in local trips. They always start too early and end too late.

However, when my son was a teenager, I decided to shape up and provide him—and perhaps also myself—with an experience: a canoe trip in Krabi, Thailand.

I pictured us paddling peacefully along a river in the jungle, admiring the scenery, occasionally engaged in profound discussion. Silent camaraderie would prevail between us, and my son would have a memory to cherish for the rest of his life.

I HAD NEVER paddled before, but that didn’t strike me as a problem. I was sure there would be other virgins as well.

We were helped into the canoe, and it was launched. From the very beginning, I did everything wrong. I couldn’t get into the paddling rhythm. Paddlers must take turns, but I was all over the place, fumbling around nervously.

“You suck,” my son announced. “It’s better that you don’t do anything. I’ll handle this.”

That didn’t feel right. A teenager doing all the work, with his mother sunbathing—what would people think?

I GRADUALLY GOT into the rhythm, and the canoe moved forward. At first, we paddled near the shore. The guide pointed at a snake in a tree.

“It’s poisonous, but it’s sleeping. No danger,” he said.

No danger? I remembered hearing that somewhere in Croatia a poisonous snake had fallen from a tree onto the shoulders of a hiking woman. I did everything in my power to keep the canoe as far from the shore as possible.

We protect nature, but nature doesn’t protect us.

I MUST ADMIT that the scenery was impressive. The karst towers looked magnificent against the blue sky.

The stalactite caves were gorgeous—as long as you could see something. There were stretches of pitch darkness when you needed to focus on steering the canoe cautiously to avoid hitting a sharp piece of stone with your head or another canoe. 

At some point, I ran out of patience. I cursed my whole life so loudly that the entire maze of caves echoed. I proclaimed that I needed a piña colada. Immediately.

My son was mortified. The people in the next canoe found my outburst hilarious.

WHEN WE RETURNED to the hotel, sweaty, with aching arms, I had my piña colada. I promised myself that I would never again take part in a guided tour.

The jungle is not for me, and paddling seems like a surefire way to ruin a relationship. Traveling together puts a relationship to the test, and I prefer taking that test by the pool.

But I survived. I was an active, involved mother. To prove this, I have a photo of my son and me in our sun hats. We are sitting in a canoe, blissfully unaware of what awaits us.

© Anna-Leena Harkonen 2023

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