At our hotel we grabbed a quick bite to eat first thing and then hot-footed it down the street to the agents we had visited last night to wait for our guide for the trek. It appeared that the rest of the ‘party’ had dropped out so it was just me and Liz on the adventure, which for us was not a problem at all. We were not long waiting before a tired old minivan rolled up and we were greeted by our guide, a man called Kabaye (I thought he used to play for Newcastle United back home!) and our head of transport – aka the driver – and, once aboard, the first thing we did was head off to the market to buy provisions for the trek and … well some lottery tickets! It turned out that our guide loved his lottery so we decided to have a crack at it as well.
Then came the long, long and somewhat bumpy, bumpy drive to the beginning of the trek. The ‘road’ (i.e. track) to the beginning of the walk was all mud and sodden so we wondered exactly what the path for the trek would turn out to be like. On the minivan, Kabaye explained the ‘theory’ of the trek to us, about how that, ‘as the crow flies’ the distance to the village we would be staying the night at was not all that far BUT also that our walk would take us straight up a decent sized hill and straight down the other side, so this would be quite challenging to say the least, even more so if both sides of the hill turned out to be mudslides!
Well we would soon enough be finding out as our minibus pulled up at a restaurant at the end of the track and here we disembarked to begin the trek. We got straight into it without further ado as they say and started off, although it was not ‘easy peasy’ it was quite interesting and at first at least, not too taxing as we crossed stream after stream using a variety of methods, the only one we did not try was pole vaulting and yet around us there was plenty of bamboo! The rains had only fallen last night so the streams we crossed were full and fast running and we even passed a couple of significant looking waterfalls to wet our heads under. After this so called ‘easy’ start though after a bit of a break then the real uphill climb started and so did the real sweating. It only took a short while before both myself and Liz were absolutely drenched the air was that humid, so the guide made us sticks! I tried sweating even more in the hope that he would whittle us a helicopter from the bamboo but as you can imagine, that just did not happen! Also his footwear was causing me great consternation, there he was in what seemed to be the most inappropriate footwear, smooth loafer-looking shoes and there we were in our hiking finery, slipping and sliding all over the place – I fell at least three times (Liz nil!!) — and there he was like a sure-footed little mountain goat!
We had many a stop along the way especially for water to try and slow the feeling that we were actually sweating to death! Along the way our guide even caught some river crabs for our entertainment, these were originally supposed to be for our dinner but he managed to leave them somewhere, possibly trying to escape from the bindings he had tied them up with. The finale came after the most arduous trek up the final part of the ‘mountain’ which was a killer but then it was all downhill into the final valley and the scenery here (almost) made the long trek all worthwhile. We knew we were reaching the village as we were coming across signs of cultivated crops.
We finally reached our objective though, the wee village that we would be staying the night at – it was all very quaint in a very block wood and corrugated kind of way. We stopped at a little shack and with the help of the guide said ‘hello’ to the few people sat outside and we then continued on into the heart of the village to the little hut on stilts which would be our home for the night. They were going to kill a chicken for our tea which my bloodthirsty wife said that she would like to see but by the time we had our ‘tap’ shower, in front of the locals too, the chicken was already well underway to being cooked. The food was very tasty and spicy and with it, as always there was plenty of boiled white rice and some stringy vegetation that we had no idea what it was but under the failing light it all tasted good enough and after our wearying day we welcomed it like it was a true feast.
Now feeling full to the edges we simply sat down and relaxed and it was then that the chief, the headman of the village came to visit us. Through our guide we told him he was welcome and as he had brought a few beers it made him even more of a welcome addition …lol. After a drink he then asked if he could ask us a few questions, our guide explained that the village had only in the last three years been connected to the electricity grid and the chief himself had only recently bought the village’s only television – possibly elevating him to God status if Laos people get as hooked on television as the rest of the World appears to be! We said we did not mind and he seemed to be quite unsure as to the truth of the new information about the outside world that he was receiving, particularly that concerning the Seas and Oceans (bearing in mind that Laos is a landlocked country) and Space. In these days of information being at everyone’s fingertips you forget that there are parts of the World where this is a relatively new phenomena. So his first question was about the Seas, he said that in a recent programme that he had seen it said that in the Seas there were fish as big as trucks and he wanted to know if this was true. He knew that in the Mekong they came across some very big fish but these were small compared to what was in the seas. We told him, as best as we could through our interpreter, about whales and as we did so I wondered what he would have made of my laptop if I had brought it with me and the photos we had on it of the Whale Sharks! He also asked about satellites and if it was true that they could see into your house and I think he quite liked the fact that that was not yet something that technology could do. It was just really amazing for us to be asked such questions like we were true explorers coming across primitive peoples yet the villagers and their chief looked like any other citizens of Laos or SE Asia! With his interest satisfied he gave a somewhat rueful shake of his head, bid us goodnight and just wandered off possibly to go and see the Laos version of Coronation Street or X Factor, poor fella.
So we stayed up a wee bit longer to finish off our beers before retiring to our abode. I was going to say that it was time for ‘bed’ but the word bed was stretching it a bit to describe what we had been given to sleep on, I think slightly comfy floorboards is a more accurate description but in SE Asia who knows! Whatever it was called it certainly made sleep very difficulty to come by and when it finally arrived it did not stick around nearly long enough!