On my bus ride from Savannakhet to Pakse a friendly Laotian struck up a conversation with me containing much of the surface level-line of questioning that one can always expect from a local. "Where are you from? How do you like my country, etc.." The Laotian then abrubtly segued into "The U.S. dropped 100 million lbs of bombs in Laos. Killed many Laos people." It was said without an aire of condemnation but rather just a statement of fact of which I could only reply "yes, very sad" and think about how our fear of a failed political system (communism) has left a legacy of destruction in many parts of the world. A fews days later while trekking alone in the countryside I returned to the village to hear the caution about the unexploded mines and cluster bombs in the area. I only spent a little part of the trek off-trail, although enough that it did give me a momentary pause. The irony of an American stepping on an American dropped mine didn't escape my thoughts either. "Just desserts" is what I'm sure many would have thought, and who would've blamed them? Annually, these explosives kill and maim hundreds of Laotians 35 years after their intended use.
Once in Pakse I fortunate to be a guest of Bertrand and Lyne from France. Couchsurfers and true citizens of the world, Bertrand's work in the coffee industry had placed them in extended residency in Mexico, El Salvador, Dominican Republic and now they were gracefully gliding into middle age in Laos. They had been living in Pakse for over 3 years and were a wealth of information about all things Lao. With their experiences it was easy to sit back and soak in their advice and perspectives. Lyne talked of the linguistic benefits received by her children with their growing up abroad and Bertrand opined about the paradox that although Laotions are extremely good people, they are also hideously corrupt. Given his previous locales of residency this kind of statement held a lot weight.
The two were also able to provide some insight into the peculiar culinary habits of the Laotians. A market stroll highlighted their delicacies: beetles, frogs, chicken embryos--they eat just about everything Bertrand stated. Most revolting is the dish where they drain the contents of a cow's intestine into a soup. So, if someone says they had shit soup for breakfast, they are not making a metaphor for their terrible morning, they actually had it for breakfast. I however did not have shit for breakfast the next morning but instead parted with Bertrand and Lyne and followed their advice to head off to the Bolaven Plateau, where I was to end up spending 5 days in the village of Tadlo.
Set to the side of a waterfall and within walking distance to 2 others, the village was a nice place to assimilate into laid back Laotian living. The daily river-swim usually ended up with an elephant or two appearing out of the trees, ferrying people around the area.
I spent one of the days hiking to 3rd waterfall. I set out armed with it's name, "Tat-sung," which means "mighty wall." Well no, that's not actually what it means but I know you like information so just play along with it will ya? Although there is supposedly a trail all the way to the falls, a walkaround in a neighboring village threw me off it. No need to worry (I didn't hear of the mines until later), as I would occasionally stumble across farmers who would point me in the right direction when needed. Like the one I came across in an empty field, sickle in hand, spliff in mouth, and baby on his back. Tat-sung? That way.....
When I did reach it, its volume was significantly less than the other two falls, although it was several times higher. As the only one there it made for just about the most perfect jungle shower one could have.
Just when I thought I was wrapping up my time in the village an opportunity came up to do a bit of teaching. A Spaniard, who had been staying in the village for some time, hilariously announced at dinner one night that he had just realized that he had flight for home in 36 hours. In Bangkok. This presented a bit of an urgent problem as he and a teenage Buddhist monk had started an English language class for the village kids about a week earlier and now needed people to continue it as about 40 kids were eagerly showing up everyday. Myself, two Brits, and a German agreed to do it, although my motivation was more to counter the instruction of the Queen's English on the kids. "Listen kids, I know what their saying but its actually a trash can not a rubbish bin..."
The following day the Brits and German were leaving so I decided to stay another day to teach the class and hopefully rope some other travellers into carrying on the class. With an incredible guilt tripping ability acquired from my mother, I harassed all the other travellers in the village. "Oh the 4,000 Islands area sounds nice place to head to today..I guess the kids will just teach themselves English..."
With this I was able to get a Canadian and another Brit to assist the class that night and then I was off to the Islands myself.....
Hopefully the rumors are true and there is no electricity on the Mekong River island I am en-route to. If true, you'll hear from me next in Cambodia.
Cell phone turned off (if i had one),