Laos weather has been fairly rainy, hot and humid, typically reaching 38C with 98% humidity. I don’t really do well in the heat.
We left our rustic bungalow for an even more rustic Organic Farm that Barb had found, where we could see how they were trying to grow produce and livestock responsibly and naturally. Our accommodation consisted of a hut made out of mud. Yes, you read that correctly – mud. Yes, the base was stone and the frame was wood but then they packed mud in between the frame for walls. It really was interesting because they used empty beer and whiskey bottles as “bricks” here and there to allow the natural light to get to the inside. The beds all had mosquito netting tucked around them, not just for mosquitoes but also to protect against beetles, chameleons, spiders, and other creepy crawlies that might want to climb across you as you slept. Fortunately, there was a hammock strung up on the balcony so the boys were pretty happy about that – Connor, in particular.
I was hanging up a wet towel one evening (I don’t know why – nothing ever dried in that humidity) and glanced off the balcony and my gaze fell directly onto our next door neighbour. I couldn’t help but look at her for a shocked moment or two and then got my camera, but didn’t say anything to the rest of the family. Here’s a shot of her…
It’s hard to tell these days with massive zoom lenses but I am not exaggerating at all when I say that she was larger than a standard side plate (maybe 6” in diameter). She was only 6 or 7 feet away and her web was firmly anchored to the balcony on which I was standing. I managed to look up ‘spiders in Laos’ and found that very few are poisonous and fewer still are deadly. I couldn’t tell which one this was but I managed to keep a wary eye out in case she decided to wander over for a visit. I double checked the mosquito netting that night, let me tell you!
We had been working on the boys lessons, and with the constant heat we decided to take a break and take a tuk tuk up to the Kaeng Nyui Waterfall for a swim. Our guide lead us through overgrown jungle paths and rickety bridges to bring us to the falls where we able to enjoy a refreshing dip in the cool mountain water.
On another day we visited a local school to see what the education system was like. The classrooms were quite spartan in terms of resources and the boys saw quite a difference between their school, and this one. We learned that the students were given one uniform in order to go to school but had to provide their own notebooks and pencils. Barb had brought a number of Canada stamped pencils but we didn’t have enough for each student. In the end we donated some money that helped to provide these kinds of learning materials to the local schools. The students were all lovely and didn’t seem to mind four foreigners wandering about their school.
We were booking a bus to get to Luang Prabang and this young Australian couple overheard us and suggested we take the minivan option as it was less “swerve-y” than the VIP bus so we took their advice – but NEVER again! Both boys got motion sickness weaving through the mountains and this minivan was designed to hold 15 passengers. They crammed all 15 of us in there and threw our big bags on the top (while we put smaller backpacks between the seats) and off we went. About 5km down the road we stopped and picked up another person. A little later we stopped again and picked up two other elderly farmers sitting with their produce at the side of the road. There were no seats left so they kind of sat on the floor. Caleb was a little uncomfortable as this little old lady, seated on her sack of rice, leaned against the edge of his seat and then fell asleep, eventually slumping against his arm as she dozed. When she awoke she started sniffing smelling salts (probably in an attempt to fend off motion sickness) which gave us all a headache. And this was our 8 hour bus trip! Barb switched spots with him after a washroom break but we then discovered as it began to pour rain that the van had a leak – right where Barb was sitting! The poor little old lady ended up getting quite sick and her husband looked quite uncomfortable wedged in between the front passenger seat of the bus and the seat behind it. In the end, we survived and we did a +, -, = activity that night. This is where we state the pluses, minuses, and what we’ve learned through the experience.
Needless to say, we were all famished when we got to Luang Prabang and our guesthouse host, Andy (who’s from Boston but married and lives local) suggested we try the inexpensive and nearby “night food alley”. Once again, into a grotty alley we go! There are several kiosks that offer a buffet of food where you can fill up your plate or bowl with as much food as you can carry for 15,000kip (about $2.50 Cnd). They are also barbecuing chicken, fish, and pork over charcoal in a lengthwise cut oil drum. There are tarps overhead in case of rain and crude tables and benches have been setup for prospective customers. Cats, dogs, and chickens seem to be wandering at will but nobody seems to mind. Despite the oppressive heat and smoke from the multiple BBQs going the atmosphere is casual and relaxed. There also seemed to be an equal number of locals and tourists so we didn’t seem to stick out any more than anyone else.