Up in the Boonies
Well, we have returned from the Laotian boonies, and we are still alive! The bus ride was even more hectic than the first, let me tell you. Our driver was legally insane. In fact that information was proudly displayed on his liscence card. At least with the bus we would have won a head on battle, but we were driving in a oversized and overstuffed van. We nearly collided with another vehicle on a blind pass about five minutes into the trip, and I mean we literally were meters away from another hunk of metal hurtling towards us at a high speed. I overheard someone tell him that we weren't in a hurry and that he could slow down, but he just smiled mockingly and jaunted on. I just closed my eyes and sang "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" for the rest of the trip.
But we got to Nong Khiau after 2 hours of terror, and I'm quite sure that it was worth the risk. Nong Khiau was simply stunning. It's a small river town surrounded by mountains, and way out in the boonies, so it was incredibly relaxed and slow-paced. We spent two nights in the town mostly just eating, swimming, and sleeping before we realized that there isn't really much to do in tiny river villages. We took a long bike trip one day and ventured towards the even smaller villages. I guess we weren't the first ones to do so, and the children of the villages have learned that foreigners often have wonderful objects along with them. We were always greeted by a monosyllabic "Sabaideepen," which was confusing because the typical greeting is only sa bai dee. After several seconds of dirty children chanting "pen pen pen pen" and greedily grasping at our bicycles we realized that they were after gifts, specifically (you guessed it) pens. As we ventured further the villages were less accustomed to foreigners, and we didn't have to turn down the little buggers every time. We stopped in one village and got some pictures of the cutest little kids you could imagine. We tried to ask permission, but I don't think they understood what we were saying... on top of that, I don't even think they knew what a camera was. They little children may have never seen white people before, and one small child ran away from us crying.
After two days we figured we'd seen enough, and we took a river boat to a nearby village by the name of Muang Ngoi Nua. This village was quite similar; small, riverside, and mountainous. Our activities were quite similar for the most part... in fact, I suppose they usually are. We hiked out of the town one day, hoping to explore the nearby cave and village. The cave was brilliant. Of course there was no guide, no signs, and no safety features whatsoever. They just took our money and turned us loose in a massive, and probably quite dangerous cave. Four of us ventured deep into the bowels of this incredible formation, and the trip included a lot of wading through a stream the ran through most of the cave. We went until we hit a dead end, a dead end which had a whole bunch of huge bats! It was really great to see all of them, but at that moment we realized that the rocks were slippery not from clay as we had previously thought, but from bat shit. At the dead end, we were so happy about our accomplishment that we had the first ever Cave Rave! This consisted of everyone turning their headlamps onto flash-mode and dancing around in the water. We almost got lost on the way back, and I didn't have a light so I fell partway into a big hole, but we made it out alright. We kept walking towards the other village, but it wasn't very interesting and we headed back.
We spent two more nights in Muang Ngoi Nua, and saw most of what was there to see. It was a great venture into the north though. We met a lot of really interesting travellers, and I met my first ever fellow Canadian prairie boy traveller! He was from Manitoba, but that's about as close as you can get when you're on the other side of the world.
We took another van back to Luang Prabang today, but this one was much less interesting, and consequently much less life-threatening. We've decided that we want to spend some time in Chiang Mai before we go to the farm on the 5th, so we're going to take the night bus to Huay Xai tomorrow and cross into Thailand on the 27th. From there we'll spend time around Chiang Mai until we head to Grandpa's Organic Farm on the 5th... that is if we make it through another treacherous bus ride. Ta Ta!
John Jacob Jingleheimer-Schmidt, your spalunking/travelling boy.