Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Bolaven Is For Lovers

This was the perfect place to visit during the beginning of the rainy season. Unlike my other bike treks, I was able to stay on sealed roads the whole time.

This also carried with it a fair bit of frustration because I know that Laos, the real Laos, the vanishing Laos – can only be accessed off dirt roads. Sadly, most of the dirt roads I saw were already hopelessly flooded or in a state of muddiness.

And so I was condemned to have an easy time of it.

Having said that, my reaction to the Plateau is to return in the dry season when I can discover the little parts of it, the people parts of it. The main axe is a Vietnamese colony. Not in the sense that the Vietnamese rule the roost, but rather that everybody is Vietnamese: the barber, the repairman, the waiter… And so I will return in the dry season, hopefully with Marie-Do.

Bolaven is for lovers. In everyplace I chose to stop, save one, I was able to sleep in a resort, on a waterfall, and slumber away my aches in clean, ironed sheets. I was able to enjoy excellent foods and that ultimate luxury: bacon and eggs for breakfast, real coffee and toast and English speaking staff.

The climate on the Plateau during this season was Southern European in August, although it did rain every day. Just a little bit, never too much. At the beginning of the drizzle, a simple raincoat would keep me dry and gliding along deserted asphalt road. Listening to the light rain hitting the flat rice fields or the leaf large forest trees was refreshing, a pleasure. Heavier rains could only be dealt with by seeking shelter.

The landscape is very reminiscent of Europe, as well. Gentle hills and valleys, cows grazing in pasture. A soft green sweet land…

One dry morning I took a dirt road and what I discovered was a troop of several hundred workers planting coffee trees on what looked like newly cleared land. They stood or shovelled, made holes in the wet red earth; the eternal stances of working men and women of all time. Some smoked a cigarette, babies were carried on hips; and on the other side of the road the new plantation stretched over hills.

Surely there is more to this story than I can see with my naked eye. Like many other pleasant destinations, the soil of Bolaven is surely soaked with all kinds of mischief.

BTW, my new camera really sucks. I cannot get the thing to take pictures without some incorrect date stuck in the corner, and I haven’t got the patience to figure it out.

The Lao take one day at a time, you know, to such an extent that many of them have already forgotten about last year. The monsoon comes every year and so I wonder why I see so many hamlets that are already flooded out. Satellite dishes they have, but raising the road to keep it dry no one has thought of.

Smithy shops line the road.  It doesn’t take a huge leap of the historic imagination to remember a time when such things were common in Europe and the Americas.  Everybody here is making the same object: a machete which is perfect for most basic agricultural jobs, such as cutting down fruit. We can also remember a time when waste water was just thrown in the streets in Europe, so there is hope that one day the Lao will stop burning their garbage.  Most of the time, it must be said, living in a time machine is a unique privilege.

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