Saturday, April 16, 2005

On the River in Laos, Day 2 

Per usual in Asia, my consciousness for the day began with roosters. Cockadoodling way too early. Hate them. Stupid birds who can't even figure out when it's appropriate to provide their annoying wake-up call (no, 2am is not correct. Neither is 3am, or 4am....).

Anyway. Up we arose to breakfast. Like dinner the previous night I have no idea what the food actually was, but it was excellent. Done eating, we packed up and began moving our stuff down to the boat, talking amongst ourselves how much money we'd offer for staying the night. As Allen and I returned to 'our' home, the girls came out of theirs and told us that they'd actually been given a bill. For 80,000 kip! That is about $8US. Outrageous, since most hotels were charging no more than $5US for a double room-with bathroom and lights, etc. And those were the expensive places! Knocked a bit off-kilter, Allen and I entered our home and then realized that the small slip of paper we'd been given over breakfast was indeed a bill (we thanked them, having no idea what it was). Our offer of 40,000 kip was rebuffed and 8 fingers were held up. I handed over 80,000 kip, miffed, and was shocked silly when our host mother who had been nothing but smiles and laughter and warm-heartedness, motioned that she wanted 80,000 kip for EACH of us! I looked at Allen with my mouth hanging open and saw him at a loss for words as well. Both of us began sputtering "no"s, which is when our little buddy (who'd been swapping language lessons with us) stepped in and let us know that all was fine, we could go. Annoyed now, we returned to the boat and the girls; finished loading up and set off, waving goodbye to half the village though now annoyance was superceding the giddy feelings from the night before.

As we paddled away (it was ~7am), our silence gave way to complaints about the outrageous bill and the dawning realization that maybe this river is not as tourist-free as we'd thought (as it turns out, there are guided river trips run along this stretch of river from out of Luang Prabang. I am thinking that we may have ended up at a village that sees these tourists often. Oops). Our discourse was cut-off as a set of rapids greeted us almost right away. Once we'd cleared them (successfully), our frustration had dimmed, and we discussed the night before, breakfast and the rest of the morning, and focused on only the good. Afterall, it was an incredible experience and there was no need for us to spoil it over only a couple of dollars.

This day was not like the day before. There were rapids most of the day which kept us alert and busy. By the time 4 hours had passed we were a bit tired, waterlogged (the boat was definitely taking on more water than the day before) and hungry. An island popped up ahead of more rapids so we pulled over to rest. The wet gear was laid out to dry; I pulled out more of the food I'd been carrying since China (raisins, peanuts, chipate [sp?]) as well as the bread and eggs we had left. A decent meal. After, I napped for a bit in the shade while the others....did something. How do I know? I was asleep!

Rest time over we loaded back into the boat and set off.

A quest for a boat name began the day before. Three or four incarnations went by before a very fitting name was finalized on this, the second day. The Apocalypse Brown. Why is that fitting? Check out the movie Apocalypse Now. Picture boating up a Laotian river during the Vietnam war. While there was no war going on around us, and we had no mission of assasination, it was quiet. The cicadas had a very eerie buzzing (which I loved) and.....it was Laos! Hence the name. Not to mention the possibility for disaster that hung over our heads (though I ignored/repressed it) the entire time.

One fun stop we made about an hour into the day was to buy a paddle. Our 2 were pathetic; one looked as though a shark had taken a bite out of its side and the other had its fin held together with fishing line. It was decided that a back-up was probably long overdue. Picking to disembark onto shore near a guy working on building a boat (seemed like a good idea), we used hand signals, poorly spoken Laotian, and a sight of our paddles to get across what we wanted. Eventually we made it into the middle of the village to an old dude who pulled out an awesome oar. Large, sturdy, and effectivelooking-for only $2! Good deal! With many thanks we took our leave. Such nice people.

As I mentioned before I knew virtually nothing about this trip. The only map I had was a road map of Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia that I'd traded for some raisins at the China/Laos border. Accuracy in depicting the rivers was not their main goal. Which left us pretty ignorant of where we were and how far we had to go. The people in the village we stayed in had said that Luang Prabang was very far. Not too much help. There was one large man-made object that we had been looking for which would give us a vague indication of where we were. A couple hours after lunch we spotted it-the highway! There was much giggling and cheering when we saw it, as it let us know that we were at least half way.

The next spot on the map that we were looking for was this town, Bon Thop Tiet (I think). It was on the map so our guess was that it was not that small and would have somewhere for us to buy food and water (our supplies were running very low). A brief stop at one village allowed us to meet a Lao guy who told us that the town for which we were questing was only another hour or 2 upriver. An hour upriver, another person told us another hour. At this point we'd been paddling for about 8 hours, mostly Allen and I (the girls kept offering, but steering leverage is pretty much non-existent mid-boat, so we'd end up going from one side of the river to the other. Besides, in rapids, we had to pretend to have control....), and we were exhausted. Deciding to suck it up we ate a few handfuls of peanuts for energy and took off at a quick clip. Unfortunately, the sun was behind the hills and it was getting dark. Our energy did not last long. As we pulled up alongside a village, our enthusiasm waned. Everyone from the village appeared to be clowning in the river. A few older kids were sitting on some rocks mid-river checking us out. They said that the town we looked for was close. So we began paddling....and then pulled off. The sun was getting very low and we were too tired. One of the guys from the rock came over and we talked with him. A student in Vientiane, he was visiting his uncle, the chief of the village. His brother came over and they figured it'd be ok if we stayed with the uncle (after discussions that lasted way too long and filled our hearts with fear that we'd have to paddle on).

Thanking them profusely, we grabbed our gear and waddled behind them up the bank and into a good sized village. Our abode for the night was a concrete number; this village had more concrete homes than bamboo and more of a 'modern' feel than many of the villages I'd been in thus far. Passing thru the entrance hall/kitchen/hall to the bathroom and shower, our stuff was dropped into a large heap in the corner of the living area. Another corner housed a staircase upstairs to the bedrooms (I assume. No one was invited up). A quick changing of clothes and washing of hands/faces preceded collapsing in exhausted heaps on the ground. While we sat and chatted with our new friend, his uncle came in and introduced himself (Very nice and smiling man)then sat off to the side and listened to his nephew speak english with us. At one point, a man in maybe his 40s came running in, said hello to all of us and ran back out again. No idea who he was but he made us giggle. Almost hysterically giggle (we were exhausted, remember?). Then the food came out. Sticky rice and a bunch of other stuff, I forget what. Excellent food once again and we ate until full, more or less. Allen and I could have eaten more but it's rude to leave an empty plate. Fortunately there was a lot of sticky rice so we rolled balls of it and dipped it into a bowl of chili spices for flavor. Mmm!

As the food portion of the evening was wrapping up, a few monks came in; done up in the traditional way with shaved heads and orange tunics. The youngest, 20 yrs old, spoke good english and we chatted with him for a while until they had to leave to go back to their temple. Fascinating chat and another notch in the belt of amazing events.

Our new friend had been studying english for 6 months; the monk had been studying english for a year. Both understood most of what we said and were able to express themselves very well. Impressive. I was going to brag about being able to count to a hundred in Laotian until they told me how long they'd been studying. I stuffed food in my piehole instead of talking.

The ability to be social with our buddy (I wish I could remember his name!) lasted a couple hours until we finally had to call it quits and go to sleep. Mats were rolled out in the common room and we fell fast asleep.

Day 2 over. Another stellar day

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Name: Corey
Location: Portland, Oregon, United States

I'm on a journey with no destination. The path is constantly changing direction but there are always adventures to be had. "Never" and "always" have left my lexicon.

WWW http:/www.jimspeak.blogspot.com