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Tuesday, December 3: Day 225 – Apocalypse Now

We were supposed to leave this morning on a boat along the Nam Ou. Nam means river. China has built a dam in Laos, and several days ago they shut the dam to test it. Here is a picture of the “river” today.

The Lao government has allowed China to build here to give them much needed electricity.

The rivers are the lifeblood of this mountainous country. Where will they fish? Will there be any fish? How will they get from town to town?

There are seven dams under construction and 56 dams are planned….to date.

Communities are being displaced. We drove by a flooded Buddhist temple.

Today we felt as helpless as the Lao people. Saylom asked our boat driver who no longer could take us up river to drive us in his four wheel drive on the road ALONG the river. I guess that you could say that his job is transportation by river or by land.

We were scheduled to have lunch up the river in Muang Ngoi at the Ning Ning, the restaurant named for the owner’s daughter. We wanted to honor our commitment especially in light of the dam closing.

What will eventually happen to the restaurant? How will the tourists get here? This dirt road is not used during the rainy season since it is impassable due to the mud. Watch a short video of our “dancing road”.

Some industrious fisherman have taken advantage of the bountiful fish harvest and are catching some very big ones as the water recedes. See the fishing boat in the background of this photo.

We met face-masked tourists riding in cattle trucks who had been drydocked up river and were now returning the only way possible.

Along the way, we stopped to visit a small village. Here is a traditional home with woven bamboo walls.

This man makes bamboo rice baskets. It takes him all day and he sells it for $4. I plan to buy one once I get home, but I would have liked to buy one of his masterpieces.

This man has caught a fat bamboo rat and is washing it for cooking.

Next stop was the Tham Kang Cave. It served as a bomb shelter during the American War. It was huge and housed one thousand people. They would leave at night to work their farms. Here I am standing at the entrance.

To be honest, the only thing that I knew about any fighting in Laos is that bomb payloads were dropped here when they didn’t find the target in Vietnam and airplanes couldn’t return with the bombs, and the bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail which was a supply line for the communist armies.

Apparently, there was a secret war in Laos with the CIA being heavily involved. (I guess that is why most Americans didn’t/don’t know about it.)

I want to read some books. The first one that I found was Shooting at the Moon: The Story of America’s Clandestine War in Laos by Roger Warner. Shadow War might be another. Be sure to read reviews as some of those who were there have given detailed reviews about accuracy.

The Mekong River is almost 3,000 miles long and over 1,100 miles are in Laos. Below is a map of the Mekong River and the countries that it transverses.

Laos has a total of 17 rivers. In five years Laos will have big changes in their land. They are already seeing negative changes from dams and railways.

Below is a hand-drawn map of the dams in the local area.

The French made the Mekong River the border as it was easier to control and make money through opium trade, mining, and taxes. Seventeen Lao provinces were put in Thailand. This displaced millions of Lao people into Thailand. The famous city of Chang Mai used to be a Lao city.

After a LONG day on the “dancing road”, we wanted to climb up to the Pha Daeng viewpoint in Nong Khiaw for some nice pictures of the sunset.

Here is the sign that greeted us: “Please don’t move from the trail for your safety otherwise you might step in to American bomb or poisonous animal. Enjoy your walk.” I looked at Rob and in his best Steve Irwin voice he exclaimed, “We’re goin’ in.”

The sign also said it takes locals 40 minutes to get to the viewpoint and tourists one hour. Well, for the first five minutes, I was determined to be a local, but I soon pooped out. There was a rest area that even had swings to break the monotony. We reached the apex in one hour and fifteen minutes.

After catching our breath and eating some celebratory Pringles, Saylom suggested that we start back down.

“What? And miss the sunset?”

“Well, once the sun has set, the trail will be dark.”

I am not the fastest hiker in a decline. My knees get weak on the descent.

So it was decided that Saylom and I would start down and Rob would stay with thirty of his fellow hikers that are waiting for the big event.

Rob knew how slow I go and thought that he might catch up with us before we reach the bottom!!

On my first step downward, I fell into a bush. I started laughing and looked at Saylom. He face said,” Yep, it’s going to take a long time to get down.” Rob did catch up with us and I fell into a bush in the last step…but I stuck the landing.

What takes another traveler 45 minutes to descend took us one hour and ten minutes to accomplishe – five minutes faster than our ascent.

Here is Rob’s amazing sunset photo!

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