Student travel competition: the results


It was a challenge to read through all the entries for the student travel writing competition this year: quantity far exceeded expectation. Entrants were asked to write a 500-word article on their travels this summer, based on the subject a "misunderstanding". Even this topic, however, couldn't prevent the odd rash or bowel description. Mistaken destinations, misread maps, the inevitable left-hand faux pas and (rather too many) train timetable misunderstandings were popular topics. Entries even included one from Moscow: Nicholas Ilyin's "Tragical Misunderstanding" is a haunting story which ends in a suicide bombing of a police post in Grozny from which Nicholas was lucky to escape with his life.

Choosing a winner proved difficult. However, two clear favourites emerged: Tom Morgan (whose atmospheric tale is published here) wins first prize of two round-trip tickets to Sydney, provided by specialists in youth and student travel, Campus Travel. He will be well equipped for his trip with the new second edition of the Rough Guide to Australia. Chris Docherty is the winner of the second prize: two Young Europe Special airpasses on the Lufthansa network within Europe also provided by Campus Travel, and a copy of the Rough Guide to Prague.

Consolation prizes of the Rough Guide to Venice have been awarded to Ade Barber, Jess Bower, M Davey, Giles Fletcher, Joseph Harvey, Nicolette Loizou, Andrew Moscrop, Danny Williams, Elen Williams and Alice Woodwark.

Gesturing to the sky, the farmers laughed as we continued in the opposite direction to them. We headed away from their village, where the women washed children and clothes alike in the shallow river. The men carried ancient flint-lock rifles, but it is hard to be frightened by a man who finds you amusing and grins hugely to show it. We walked on.

A little further down the parched track, a slight breeze stirred the dust. Yes, they were right: it was grey overhead, but rain would be welcome in this heat. On either side, jagged formations of limestone loomed out of the withered vegetation, the dull greens an impermanent legacy of the end of the hot season. Despite this the landscape was beautiful, but also distinctly unreal - imagine someone bad at drawing trying to design fairy- tale scenery of sabre-toothed rock faces and round Plasticine hills. Rural Laos looked impressively surreal.

The passing minutes saw a visible darkening above. Soon vast timpani rolls of thunder announced our mistake. We had, not for the first time, misunderstood. The farmers had not been warning us of a little rain, but of an almighty tropical rainstorm. The skies boomed with a cacophony worthy of the apocalypse, forked lightning ripped through the rapidly accelerating clouds, and we stopped in our tracks.

The realisation that we would have to move, and fast, came a little late, roughly at the moment that the rains began. Not just rain, the sort of rain I had known before, but a real-life deluge. Instantly soaked, we did our best to execute a stumbling reverse but we could barely see more than white sheets of wind-thrashed water. The onslaught actually hurt. We battled on, too stunned by the scale and force of what we had been suddenly caught up in to think too much about direction or distance.

After several equally intense minutes, we were surprised when an old truck drove up alongside us, its engine barely audible over the wind and rain. The Lao men in the doorless cab were amused by our attempts to protect our faces. In turn we started to grin - the inside of the truck was so open and riddled with leaks that they were as wet as us. Invited to clamber into the back, we huddled close to the cab for the little protection it could afford. The rear window had been smashed out, and they laughed while we gestured despair.

Eventually we reached the river and discovered a raging torrent in place of the ankle-deep calm we had waded through earlier. There was, of course, no bridge (Laos is virtually devoid of infrastructure outside the few main towns) so we drove on into the rapidly rising water - and got stuck in the middle. Again we had misunderstood. The truck was not just to be used as an impromptu bus, but as a mobile diving platform. Nothing for it but packs off, try desperately to stop laughing and one, two, three...

The author is 19 years old and a full-time student at the University of Liverpool

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