Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Way down south... just across the border, I said way down south...

Southern Laos' incredibly green and incredibly beautiful landscape
Our work at Rights-LINK focused primarily on villages in southern Lao, so when an opportunity to head south presented itself, we took it. Paxse and the Laongham District lie about 700 kilometers south of Vientiane and were to reach it by overnight bus. As we are apt to do before any overnight, overland journey we had a delicious dinner (pork noodle soup, oh how I long for you) and loaded up on snacks. And then it was off to the bus station.
Does she look like a professional, overland, overnight bus traveller?
I think so.
We had our fair share of overnight bus rides, from delightful full-flat beds with champagne and wine service on Flecha Bus to miserable rides through Egypt’s Sinai desert, so we when we got on the bus and found that there were not seats - not that we didn’t have a spot on the bus, we did - but that the bus was configured with "beds" instead of  seats it was a shock even to us.  The bus had two decks of “double” beds, well, double if you are a tiny Laos person. Calling these doubles would even make a tent-maker take a second look. But, hey, at least we were sharing the bed between ourselves, single travelers were simply doubled up with a total stranger!
Barley enough for our backpacks to both fit.
How were the two of us supposed to?
What can I say?
We are good spooners.
We squeezed in, settled down, snuggled into our sleep sacks and threw some TV on Paddy. And next thing we knew we had arrived in Paxse, switched buses and continued for 3 more hours to the Laongham District where we would be picked up by a Rights-LINK coordinator and taken to the offices down there. So, what did we do while we waited for our pickup? Why, pork noodle soup! Yum! And a some strong but sweet Lao coffee (dark, sweet, and strong).
Hello delicious friend.
There really is no better way to start your day.
Including incredibly strong, dark sludge coffee.
A full inch of sweetened condensed milk did nothing to improve the brew.
Jesse, Viseth, and I enjoying fighting down our morning coffee
Once in the Rights-LINK office we were treated to a performance by some young volunteers who travel to the villages and perform songs and dances to convey messages about improving farming practices, the legal rights of land-holders, and balanced diets (they even had an (inverted) food pyramid on display!).  The messages weren't always clear to us, but we were assured the villagers got the point.
We toured Rights-LINK’s grounds where they demonstrate best practices in fishing, farming, and animal husbandry. In time, people from the entire region will be able to visit and learn how to increase production and efficiency.
Rights-LINK agricultural training center.
Picturesque as it may be the people in the region face incredible hardships.

Poverty, in connection with a lack of infrastructure, education, and  social services, makes for hard lives in the region.
Here, a woman is collecting river weed to sell at the market (and fried with garlic, its  actually delicious).
Note to the marketing department, we gotta rename river weed.
Hand-picked mushrooms ready to be sold.
Peanuts. Right from the ground. Where they grow.
Who knew!?!
Yup, you can just grab 'em, and eat 'em.
But, better to roast 'em and salt 'em first.
Much better.
Returning to the office we had a few hours to kill, and dispite our having a bed and half to share on our bus we were both exhausted. Jesse took a nap on a desk, whereas I caught some z’s on the bench in the back of a pick-up truck (sadly, there is no photo).  Viseth came to wake us up for a trip to the local market. It was interesting. I wish we had not seen it before dinner….
Beef for sale.
Flies included.
Dinner, however, was another adventure altogether. Having taken a room in a nearby guestouse our dinner options were limited to those places within walking distance. With only one road in town, our only decision was whether to walk left or right. And walk and walk and walk we did. And while there were mechanics, hair dressers, and packaged goods stores, there were no restaurants!  We know that there were no restaurants because we poked our head into every open door and made eating gestures.  Each time, they slowly shook their head and pointed further down the road.  Finally, we found a place that looked open, and what did they serve? Beef noodle soup! Phew (though it was just OK).
Beef noodle soup?
You know what that look, and that knife, say?
"I don't take questions about food safety."
Having walked for nearly a half hour, and then eaten, our walk home would be in the pitch black. And while there was no way to get lost (there was just one road) we were not looking forward to it. But then, out of the blue a crazy motorbike with sidecar taxi pulls up just outside our restaurant! Without even negotiating (I know, crazy!) we hopped in and directed him to go, well, to just drive! With the wind in our hair, and rough-hewn wood planks under our feet – it wasn’t the most sophisticated, or safest, sidecar – we were spirited back in a just under a minute. When I paid him 10,000 Kip ($1.25 USD) the man was overjoyed. And so were we.
A sweet ride.

Wind in our hair, beef noodle/fly soup in our bellies, we were happy campers

Tomorrow we head to the villages who actually receive the benefits of the Rights-LINK work.

Stay tuned.

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