We stretched our legs, used the now clean(er) toilets – THAT must have been a fun job to do in pitch black the night before – and put the heavy walking boots back on.
Our guide was given a kitten to take back into town for his family, which we christened “Meow Meow” because apparently that is what the tribes call cats in their language. I hate to think what they call a toilet…
Breakfast was omelette & the omnipresent pumpkin, and off we set.
Today’s walk was clearly going to be an absolute killer, as the guide refused to even discuss it the night before because he knew that we found the first day quite hard, which was probably a wise move.
We did get it out of him that it would be 4 hours walk until lunch, then up a “very big hill” as part of the second 4 hour session.
“How big is the hill ?” we asked, “HAHAHAHAHA” was the response. Hmmm….
We started off by walking through the village, with various villagers shouting things at the guide. When we asked him what they were saying, he replied: “they said be careful because it’s very muddy”. Ever wish you hadn’t asked ?!
Sure enough, a minute later we encountered our first very steep and very muddy obstacle. The photo below doesn’t really do it justice, it was just really thick mud. It took us a while to get up the steep slope without sliding back down again !
On we pushed, through the forest, following the river for a few hours, and the terrain wasn’t that difficult, you just had to be careful not to slip in the mud and twist an ankle, otherwise God Only Knows how you’d get back to the village, let alone back into town ?!
We stopped for a break in a clearing, had a stilted translated conversation with an old dude who lived there with his animals, and then pushed on through some rice fields, which were really cool to walk through.
Apparently mountain rice is thicker than regular rice, it’s almost a wholegrain style, so the plants are a bit bigger and we all preferred the taste compared to regular white rice.
It was good to put Meow Meow down for a while as she was making a lot of noise the further we got from the village. The poor thing must have been terrified, so we gave her a bit of food and played with her for a while, and that seemed to do the trick.
Along the river we hiked, until finally reaching our lunch location at about 1pm, and we were starving.
For the first time on this trip we were actually approached by a tribe who were trying to sell us all manner of pretty awful handicrafts to be honest. We contemplated buying a bracelet but we didn’t really like any of them.
We politely declined and then made our way into the hut for lunch. Our guide explained that this tribe (the Karens) built their huts on the ground, not on stilts like the previous tribe, and they were of Chinese descent, rather than Indonesian.
They did look totally different, much leaner and taller. The women also plucked off all their eyebrows, so they looked a bit like ET… I don’t think he had any eyebrows ?!? (anyone remember ?)
Lunch was sticky rice, eggplant, beans with pork, chicken and cucumber. This cucumber was more like a marrow, it was massive ! And yellow ? They ate it in strips like you would a melon, weird. I LOVE melon, so when seeing its yellow skin and orange flesh I dived in and was extremely surprised when the flesh had absolutely no flavour, let alone sweetness.
Being pushy little creatures, the village womenfolk came back into the hut after lunch with the handicrafts again, so we relented and bought a ‘bookmark’ which was actually a bracelet (ooops) and we then made a donation to the village school, figuring this was the best way to contribute.
Oh, and we saw a MASSIVE spider in the hut, but I can’t post that photo or my Dad will jump through the roof and run screaming into the bedroom
After the tasty lunch we pushed further up the river before cutting abruptly up to follow one of the streams feeding into it.
We climbed mainly up the stream itself, which was great for washing off our muddy & potentially leach-infested boots, but also rather slippery, so you had to be careful. Katie was loving the stream and the waterfalls, and being able to take such unworn paths through the raw jungle.
After climbing to the top of the stream, which was hard work, we were pretty knackered.
“Have we passed the big hill yet ?” we asked the guide, who gave us this Dr Evil smile and said “No, we are at the bottom of it.”
We looked back from whence we’d come, and then further up ahead and our jaws fell open. As Mr McEnroe put it so succinctly, YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS !
He gave us a 10 minute rest, and we were out of water (3 litres each was nothing in the heat & 3 hours of hiking), so we had to use our sterilisation tablets with stream water to fill up our bottles. The tablets took 30 minutes to work, so we agreed to share the last half bottle between the 5 of us, and up the hill we started…
It was an absolute SHOCKER.
It was still very muddy so every footstep was dangerous. Slip and not only would you fall down the steep hill and hurt yourself, you would also wipe out everyone behind you. Walk too slowly and it took forever; walk too quickly and you wouldn’t have the energy to finish the short but very steep climb.
We stopped a few times for breathers, I thought at one point my heart was going to explode, but thankfully I had a second wind, or more accurately a thirty-second wind, and we made it to the top.
At the very top of this mountain our guide pointed out a CRAB sitting in the leaves ! We were so tired, but still very shocked to see this creature of the sea so high up in the rolling green mountains of Laos.
He said that the local tribes cooked the crab, and he didn’t seem to understand why we were so surprised to see it there. I was so tired I couldn’t even open the camera bag to capture the photo before it scuttled off, but we did see a HUGE centipede a few steps later; it was like a snake ! Not sure if you can get a sense of scale here ?
Our next big move was DOWNWARDS, which ordinarily would have been cause for celebration, but the mud made descending very difficult. We really had to be careful, but Katie and I managed to get away with only a few slips & slides.
On the narrow and winding hill passes we were approached by some villagers from the village where we had lunch (3 hours trekking ago !), some were as young as about 12, all loaded up with supplies from the main town that we were heading for.
It was absolutely INCREDIBLE to see these people carry such heavy loads up the same paths that we were struggling to come down with hiking boots, sticks and small backpacks. They didn’t have any of our kit, but were carrying very heavy loads. It really put our efforts into perspective…
An hour later we were “close” (quote unquote !) to the village, but by this point the guide might as well have told us that Elvis Presley was his Father because his estimates on timing & distances were about as accurate as my bet that Emile Heskey would score 10 goals for Wigan last year !!!
He was a great guide, but absolutely USELESS at time and distance. How long left ? Oh very close maybe 30 minutes… 30 minutes later: how close now ? Oh long time, maybe 2 hours… 2 hours later: etc etc repeat to fade !
Anyway, it didn’t really matter, so a short while later we came off the trail and out into another very hilly ricefield, and everywhere around us was so green and so lush, it was just beautiful.
Laos is such an attractive country, so under-developed but so charming. It is just so GREEN.
Finally we could hear the village in front of us, just as it started to rain lightly, which was sooooo refreshing.
The sun came through the clouds and suddenly it was so beautiful to look across the mountains, with the light shining so brightly above them.
We had done it, after over 8 hours treking for the day and some horendous terrain & nasty conditions we had reached the final village, which was near the main road and so substantially bigger than any of the other tribal villages that we’d seen so far.
We found the village tap, stripped off as much as we could without offending anyone, and all we really wanted to do was get home and have a hot shower to relax.
However, what we didn’t know was that the villagers had just finished building a new hut to sell handicrafts to (“mainly Japanese”) tourists, so they were celebrating by throwing a big party, for which WE were the guests of honour !
So much as we would have loved to get the hell out of there, we were asked to take a sit with the rather sozzled villagers and “enjoy the party”.
It was a rather weird experience, the drinking hut was without doubt the messiest place I have ever seen in my life ! There were various animal skeletons, rice and vegetables all over the tables, beer Lao bottles everywhere, food all over the floor, pretty much everything everywhere.
It was pretty disgusting, but we had to stay for a few drinks, and OH JOY, some more Lao whiskey !!
This time it was served in a huge pottery jug, flavoured with honey, and it was drunk through a thin bamboo straw, and it actually tasted ok. All I can say is that good Lord we must have been thirsty !!
Of course the male villagers loved Katie with her good looks and blonde hair, but as we weren’t exactly full of energy and probably smelled like a pig sty we eventually made our excuses and headed back into town and to the guest house.
We went straight to bed, as we had to get up early again to catch the bus south to Nong Khiaw.
God this travelling malarky is hard work sometimes !