Monday, January 25, 2010

The Mekong

I'm hanging out at the Organic Mulberry farm near Vang Vieng now! It's a bit expensive at 75 000 kip per night but I guess for a week or so it's Ok. If I learn some good stuff about farming then it's well worth it I suppose. But that's not what I want to post about. I want to post about my journey here!

On the way here I took a slow boat down the Mekong River. It was a memorable journey travelling down this mighty river for two days. The currents are strong and the underlying geology is fierce. Most of my pictures here show beach but much of it is not so gentle. A lot of the river has aggressively jutting rocks. The river was fairly low when we went through it so a lot of these beasts were visible. The water churned and formed whirpools to show showed that these formations exist underneath as well. No doubt some of them are close enough to the surface to sink a boat. Actually one of the boats we were travelling with did get stuck on a rock but it didn't seem to do them any harm. Our boat helped them get unstuck. I'm sure it could be a less happy situation if a rock met with one of the spindly little speedboats that race up and down at twice the speed we were going.

After the first day's travel we got dropped off at a little "guest house town". The town seemed to consist of little more than guest houses, restaurants and stores selling bottled water and sandwiches to tourists. We stayed in a cheap, sewage-smelling guest house and got up at 6:30 the next day to get comfortable seats on the boat (The old car seats rather than the wooden benches). 6:30 was three hours before the boat left but we all agreed it was worth it. The eight hour journey was rough enough on an old car seat. The photo to the left is my new friend Sully in front of all the boats. Sully is a nurse who specializes in working with indigenous communities. The Huay Xai-Luang Prabang journey had the service of two of these long boats.

Along the way there were lots of little villages, the houses made of bamboo and grass. Some of the villages were literally about 5 houses. I think they are occupied by one of the many indigenous groups in the area. They have this way of "unrolling" the bamboo and weaving it into panels to form house walls.

I was surprised to find that the beaches are used for agriculture, to grow soy beans and corn. Most of the area we passed was very hilly so was probably difficult to use for agriculture. That being said, blank patches in the hills announced that the area was being used for slash and burn agriculture. None of the forest was very old and I wonder if it's because it was logged or if it is just because of the slash and burn agriculture.

Along the way the captain stopped at random places to give us a chance to use the toilet and buy drinks. On one stop it was pretty funny when a little boy came up to us to sell "very cold" Beerlao (the national beverage, along with whisky Lao). It was obviously lukewarm but his imagination insisted otherwise :-). Pepsico seems to have a bit of a grip on the area as Lays, Pringles, Ovaltines, and Oreos were ubiquitous on our stops.

One town we stopped at had a neat little microhyro project going on. They had a series of these generators. The main export of Laos is actually hydro power.

Traveling the whole way by boat allowed us to see the geology change which was pretty cool. We passed by this stunning cliffy area. By the end things were a lot more gentle. More sandstone type stuff.

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