Friday, April 22, 2011

Nothingness on Don Det

If there is anything I have learned on this journey it is this, roosters are huge assholes, and I have way more than I need to be happy and despite what I have told myself for years, I just may be one of the “lucky ones”.

Our time in Laos is rapidly coming to an end. Our last destination is the 4000 Islands in the south. But before we could get there we had to get from Ba Nah Hin to some kind of bus station in some place we’d never heard of! Our friendly guesthouse matriarch told us that a tuk tuk would arrive at 9:30 to take us to the bus. Low and behold at 7:45 the next morning she was tapping on our window telling us the tuk tuk was actually arriving at 8:30. A fact that she was afraid to inform the Spanish couple of and so she begged me to do it for her. I’m happy they were so nice because not everyone would be happy to hear they only had 15 minutes to pack, dress and get out of their room.  We jumped awkwardly into our packed transportation and headed towards some unknown location. In the end we easily survived our 3-hour tuk tuk ride with a large group of lovely small town Laotians, who marveled at our height and the whiteness of our skin while a small boy covered himself in the Canada stickers I had given him as a consolation for having to sit beside the scary falang (foreigner).

*side note*(You’ll be sitting in a tuk tuk with locals who stare and at times rub your “white” skin in amazement while trying to express that their skin is different, sometimes I get the feeling that they are trying to rub the paleness off me and onto them. Go right ahead my friend you’re more than welcome to take the colouring of a corpse that I have been “blessed” with. You’ll probably be happy to learn that this skin does not brown like yours it remains the perfect camouflage for a blizzard! I’ll leave out the part about having to wear spf 75 in order to keep from turning into one big scorch mark because that’s what any good sales pitch would leave out!)

So after our tuk tuk ride we arrived at the bus station in Thakeat and purchased our tickets to Pakse, the jewel of Laos. No no I’m totally kidding, Pakse is merely a layover kind of city like Minneapolis or Baltimore before heading somewhere better. For the record I have nothing against Baltimore, I hear the crab is quite delicious there and I love crab. Minneapolis… well there isn’t enough space on the whole of the internet for me to go into why I included it… but I’m sure it’s not as bad as its airport!

Our bus to Pakse cost us a whopping $6.50 (7.5hrs) and it offered luke warm air con, seats that went all the way back by just sneezing at them and an interior that had obviously been the training ground for drug dogs before it was shipped from Korea. Still we weren’t complaining we got 2 seats each, which makes everything tolerable! Oh and to boot a mix CD of Thai, Khmer and Korean pop songs! It is times like these where you look down at your iPod and think, thank-you for being invented!

I don’t have much to say about Pakse… there are some large hotels, several ATM’s, some restaurants and guesthouses… people live there, drive there, work there and probably eat there too. We arrived late and left early and stuck to the same route both ways. At 8am a van arrived to take us down to the 4000 Islands. It was a pretty comfortable ride. There was great air con and I was able to sit back, listen to some music and read Tina Fey’s book Bossypants (Perhaps the funniest book I’ve ever read, if you read it and don’t laugh out loud at least 50 times you clearly have the sense of humour of a deflated inner tube!) So there I was enjoying my time, happily being entertained audibly and literarily when I looked up just in time to see a dog crossing the street and then BAM…BUMPH… BUMPH and GASP/AAAHHH. All I could do was stare ahead with my hand clasped over my mouth; my body replaying the feeling of the wheel beneath me as it hopefully quickly ended a life. Every passenger sat slightly traumatized as the driver continued forward at the same pace before pulling over to fix the front bumper that was now rubbing against the right wheel. Still I sat in a bit of shock, thinking “OMG our driver is clearly a psychopath, get out of the van, get out now.” A little while later we came across some cows lazily crossing the street and what did our driver do… well he honked. In the half an hour between the man had committed 2nd degree dog slaughter and the cow crossing the genius powering our 2 ton vehicle had managed to find the horn.

When we arrived at the “port” we got our “ferry” ticket and headed down to a beach that resembled a landfill and climbed into a teetering boat that would take us across the Mekong to Don Det. When our boat nudged its way onto shore we hopped out to collect our bags and I promptly sliced my hand open on the edge of the boats rusty aluminum roof. Bravo me! If you’re looking for something pointy, sharp and crawling with disease I’m the girl to find it for you! No worries though I sprang into action with some antiseptic wipes, iodine stuff and a band aid and I’m happy to report that each side of the cut agreed to a reconciliation and has since called off the separation! Who needs a doctor when you’ve got yourself a mom knows best first aid kit! (I do not condone performing a major procedure on your self with or without a mom knows best first aid kit)(The kit I was using was not in fact called Mom Knows Best so please don’t get upset if you can’t find it at your local Walmart or Canadian Tire.)

We managed to find ourselves a pretty sweet bungalow perched on the river with a nice deck equipped with hammocks and a cozy cat and dog infested cafĂ©. One of the cats chilled out with us for our entire first visit and after removing several fleas (yeah I’m one of those people) from his body I named him Marty McFlea. So Ally, Marty McFlea and I sat and enjoyed each other’s company while lunching on delicious tuna and egg salad sandwiches. We threw our crumbs into the Mekong and watched as fish of all sizes… ok not all sizes like 3 sizes, tiny, small and small-medium, fought over them. Just a small side note, the fish do not like tomatoes or lettuce but seem somewhat fascinated by onions. And also monkeys may in fact prefer coconuts to bananas.

The bungalow itself cost us 30,000, 15,000k each that’s like… $1.78! It has a mosquito net, a fan and a great view. To say this place is luxurious would be stretching the truth well past its breaking point but describing it as rustic and the embodiment of easy living would be adequate.
Don Det, despite its “party island” description makes the rest of Laos look a bit hectic! It is the Laos equivalent of Ontario cottage country… before the rich got wind that cottaging was a good time and turned it into one big country club! During the dry season there is a sharp contrast between the lush green banks of Don Det that gently slope into the Mekong and the islands parched brown interior.  It presents itself as a good place to relax but there is something scary about a place with not a lot to do! I have really begun to notice more of my mother in me especially when it comes to downtime. I’ve always been really good at doing nothing when there is a lot to do but when there isn’t much to do I don’t know how to do nothing!

We have ample time to explore Don Det and some of the surrounding islands and we are desperately hoping to see the elusive and critically endangered Irrawaddy Dolphin. For now it’s island walking, island sleeping, island biking, island writing, island reading and sunning ourselves on a tube as we participate in island gazing while we float lazily down the mighty Mekong!

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