22 August 2008.
I hope you’re all sitting down because I have some VERY big news……….
I’m getting married!
Can you believe it at the age of 31 there is someone out there who actually wants to marry me?
But more of that later.
I’m back in Laos, in the south, as I really enjoy this country and I decided that I wanted to see the whole country and not just the north.
The last thing I did before leaving Cambodia was to visit an old mining town, Kuau, which has been completely lost in time. It’s amazing, there are about 500 families mining for gold with spades and buckets and ancient equipment. Arriving there is like arriving on the set of a Clint Eastwood western mixed with a scene from “Deliverance.” There are pigs and dogs in the muddy streets, and you expect the saloon doors to swing open, two guys to barge through, and a gunfight top break out. I was attentively listening out for a banjo.
This place is really remote, far in the north eastern highlands and I had to hire a bike and a driver to take me the 68km’s from the town of Sen Monorem where I was based. The name of the company who hire the drivers is called “Eezy Riders” or Eezy Lidahs” when they answer the phone.
As its right in the middle of the rainy season the roads are…well there aren’t any, and it took us 6 hours to ride the 67km’s through forests, rivers and quarries on a road that compares to nothing more than a pathway. We never went faster than 20km’s an hour.
But it gets better. I was expecting to go on a BMW 800 Dakar or something similar, and in the morning of our departure you can only imagine my dismay when my driver “Moonie”, (don’t ask) arrives on a Honda 100cc “Dreamer,” semi automatic, 4 speed, moped. Once again on my travels I became deeply religious screaming out to all the gods whose names I could remember. Actually I can’t be that religious as I could only remember one. But I did repeat it a few times throughout the journey.
I was definitely one of the first “Falang” (Westerners) to visit this place, but I wasn’t concerned with all the staring as it was quite easy to “walk tough” as I’d just spent 6 hours on the back of a moped and I was sore. Walking with my legs together wasn’t going to happen and I think that they thought I was some long lost cowboy. I just wish we’d parked the moped out of site. I did however decide to shorten my stay when I woke up in the night only to notice 4 miners standing there staring at me. I was going to fake some Kung Fu moves, but I just wet myself instead. They seemed satisfied and left me alone after that.
We left the next day….early
Moonie is the most amazing bike rider I’ve ever met. We rode through a storm that turned the pathway into a gushing river, we rode through a forest and a jungle and we crossed a rapidly flowing river in a longboat ferry. The ride back took us 6 very long and very wet hours and we only fell off 38 times. Thankfully we were only going 4km’s per hour and the pathways were muddy when we did.
But I must say that if ever I decide to ride across China or Mongolia or along the N2 highway to the airport at night, I’m definitely going on a Honda 100cc “Dreamer,” semi automatic, 4 speed …moped. They’re the berries.
Spending 12 hours on the back of a moped with constantly clenched stomach and arse muscles to stay up straight and on, automatically qualifies me as a pilates instructor. Katya has sent me my certificate and promised me a job when I get back. I’ll send you my class roster. Ek’s tight Ne!
I arrived in Southern Lao, which is partly made up of “The 4000 islands” in the Mekong River. There are about 43 islands so it is totally obvious that they call it the 4000 islands. But hey, size does matter so I’ve been told….. (Not that it’s an issue with me.)
I hopped into a longboat, (sitting down gently) which is very thin and longish and set sail for the island of Don Dhet. All of the islands have names similar to an Italian mafia, male porn star:
Don Khong (lead actor), Don Long (self explanatory), Don Hi Nyai (likes getting stoned beforehand, during and after), Don Lek- Fai (women’s’ dream), Don Sadam (Wears a turban) and Don Koy (the shy one).
Quite a cast!
Previously I mentioned that while sailing up the Nam Ou river I felt like a French explorer (with a Jewish surname), but this time sailing to the islands and crossing the mighty Mekong while manoeuvring between tree trunks and smaller islands, I really felt like a cross between the Camel/Marlboro man and GI Joe. The boat has to run across the river which is very fast flowing and they are so thin that any movement makes it feel like it could capsize at any moment. Everybody on board was quite tense and very still. We’re about 10 minutes into the trip and I’m fantasizing about being the first “Falang” to ever reach the shores and I’m wondering how the restless natives will react upon spotting their first pale skin. I’m so deep in my thoughts on how to deal with the situation and what I can offer them as a token of peace that I don’t notice the boat slowing down and docking outside an internet cafe. Nuff said!
The islands are great, so very chilled. There is only electricity from 6-10pm so it’s early to bed. I spent 4 days in my hammock on the deck outside my hut just watching life on the river hazily float by, while wishing there was a “mister delivery” among the locals. I was meant to stay for 2 days but ended up being there for 4. I Finished 2 books and only fell out of my hammock when I had to go and eat. The one inconvenience is that the bathrooms aren’t in the bungalows, but for 17 SA Rond a night, I could deal with it. I did manage to meet a few of my male neighbours at about 3am in the morning while we were hanging freely over the balcony and making sure that the Mekong didn’t run dry. Oh how blessed am I to be a boy.
The one day I did manage to get out of my hammock, I hired a bicycle and cycled around the island and Don Khong, (My brethren) which is connected to Don Dhet by a bridge. There are fantastic waterfalls and rapids, and upon viewing them you can actually see why the Mekong is the 10 largest river, in volume, in the world. The power and noise of the flowing water is deafening and once again I realised that nature has to be treated with the utmost respect. Otherwise we’re screwed!
The villages are also easily accessible and are really unaffected by the trickle of tourist that visit the islands. While cycling the 3 hours, I passed many monks (on cell phones) and took photos of the many picture perfect rice paddies. If you want a more upmarket accommodation (inside toilet) then Don Khong is the better option.
After a few days I realised what was missing….., there weren’t any cars and no honking of horns on the island. I almost went insane and knew that I had to leave urgently. All this peace and quiet was just too much.
I headed north for 2 hours by bus to a town called Pakxe. Not much happening there but there is a lot to see in the area and it’s a good place to base yourself. Hiring a 4 speed moped you can see the ancient Khmer ruins, temples and elephant rehab and training centres.
I wander why elephants need rehab and if so what they get high on and how much they need?
I can just imagine at one of their meetings one standing there and saying, “Hi, I’m Eric and I’m a drug addict.” The good news is that I used to get hammered on 6 tonnes of Marula berries a day, and now I only get tipsy on 3 tonnes. I’m feeling great”
Laos is very well known for its hand silk weaving, so I decided to hire a scooter, yip you know what kind, and go visit one of the villages on the island of Don Kho (over circumcised porn star) and do a photo story.
Riding out of town, lost, I went through a red traffic light, which I seriously didn’t see. A cop pulls me over and says that I must pay him 50 000Kip (R 50, 00) for it all to go away. (These mafia are everywhere, I tell you) I try and explain that I’m a poor white South African and that bribing is still very new to me and that it’s only allowed if you’re a politician in my country. He just stares at me blankly and motions me to pay. Finally I agree to pay the fine but only if I he’ll write out a ticket so that I can claim expenses. ( I was working after all)While taking out the money I also take out my SAFREA card (South African Freelancers association) which has MEDIA written on it and I mention that I’m an almost award winning journalist writing for “Huisgenoot” magazine. On hearing Huisgenoot he totally flips out and tells me to get out of his sight. Which I do, quickly. Where did he learn those words from, and in such perfect english, I wonder to myself?
I reach the weaving village and find a family busy weaving.(Strange that) All the looms are underneath the houses that are on stilts and I thank my parents that I’m only 4 foot high otherwise it would have been a bit cramped. In this village the main source of income is rice farming and weaving. Whichever profession is chosen involves the whole family, granny included, and they’re amazing to watch as they go about their craft.
I’m quietly going about taking photos when the dad of the family mentions in a very broken english that he wants me to marry his daughter…………… !!!!???????
So in essence I was proposed to by an older guy who promised me a younger girl. Well that’s what I hope he was offering.
“Ok, I’m listening I tell him, what’s in it for me besides a weaving loom?”
We squat down around a pot of something and start negotiating which goes nowhere as we can’t understand each other.
I think I’m getting the daughter and all the silk sarongs I can wear.
After a while I decide I’ve had enough and got to go find a cop to bribe, but he grabs my arm and won’t let me go……
So guys, it looks like I’m getting married to an 18 year old Laos weaver. (She’s quite cute actually.)
I’m thinking of the wedding which you’ll all come to I’m sure? We can all sit around in our loin cloths or silk sarongs, getting hammered on Lao Lao whisky. (You only need two shots believe me.) We’ll have a couple of people on the boil with a vegetable or two, and we’ll have a wedding singer singing Abba and Celine Dion songs in Lao. Should be a blast. Can’t wait!
If any of you guys are looking for a wife, I’m sure it won’t be a problem to sort you out as she does have sisters. About 6 in fact.
The one thing that does concern me though is my future wife’s name. I don’t think HURIDASERTOMEPHOTI HIRSON will fit on her credit card.
Oh well, there’s hope for me yet.
Sabadee.. (Hello and goodbye!)