Posted by: da76 | February 26, 2012

Ciao from Laos

Yes I know its been months since our last post but we did warn you!

This post is somewhat different as its being written by me in Laos while Fiona is back in the Philippines.

Why are we in different countries you ask? Well more of that later but before we do the update below I relate a recent ‘adventure’ here in Laos….Hope you enjoy!

Ciao from Laos

Note to self 1 – Next time you read an expression of interest from Australian Business Volunteers that reads “must be fit and willing to trek into remote communities” consider the fact that yes, you should be fit and yes, you will certainly be trekking into remote communities. I raise this point somewhat self analytically after surviving a two day trek visiting a number of villages including Long Lao, home to the Khmer and Mong people, just one of the many trekking destinations promoted from Luang Prabang in the wonderful country of Laos.

So what brings a 51 year old ‘in denial ‘ overweight tourism consultant to Laos? And more importantly trekking up ridiculously steep trails? What else but another opportunity to work with the wonderful people of ABV and of course a bit of self-delusion.

You would think that our previous assignments, living on a deserted (haunted) island in Vanuatu for three months, eating mostly tinned tuna and rice and working on a major government funded tourism project in the Philippines that mysteriously didn’t have any funding, should have ensured that our eyes were well and truly “wide open” but alas self-delusion came to the fore.

My assignment in this instance was to work with the Luang Prabang Tourism Department and assist in the development of Community Based Tourism Programs.

After a very slow start to the project due to the department being merged, restructured and otherwise turned on its head, things started to get underway three weeks after my start. And get underway it certainly did with my colleague informing me that the next day we were going trekking to visit a number of villages.



Note to self 2 – When you see an EOI from ABV that clearly reads “must be fit and willing to trek into remote communities” you may want to look at a topographic map of the area before applying!

At first it didn’t seem all that traumatic.

After a leisurely pillion ride on a motor scooter (shhh! don’t tell ABV management) we reached our starting point thirty kilometers or so outside of Luang Prabang. We set off on a well defined yet rugged dirt road, ‘not to bad’ I thought to myself and it even got better! Along came a truck with a load of sand and my colleague quickly waved it down –  “important government business, give us a lift” – well I assumed that’s what he said because my Laos is not real good.

So into the cab jumped I and onto the back jumped my two associates. After an hour or so of bumpy roads we were dropped off at a cross track and off we went again. This time the track was much smaller with no chance of us being picked up by anything powered by an internal combustion engine, maybe a pony?

After another hour of  (not overly difficult) walking we came to our first village and my first opportunity to see the CBT methodology being employed by the Department. Half an hour later the meeting with the village chief was completed (the methodology obviously has room for improvement) and we headed off again. That’s when the nightmare really started.

Up, up and away without the benefit of being superman. The track seemed endless and at amazingly steep gradients.  Of course my two associates (and volunteer guide) scooted up with little in the way of groaning or puffing.

Me? After an hour I was praying for one of the few remaining endangered tigers in the area to jump out of the bushes and feast on me. Oh please let me do my bit to help these poor endangered animals….EAT ME!

Alas nothing, my thoughts drifted to accidentally on purpose twisting my ankle  so I could forlornly hobble back down the mountain or even better whisked away by emergency helicopter.  Or then again could I make two puncture wounds in my leg and start frothing at the mouth faking a snake bite but are there really poisonous snakes in Laos?

My mind conjured up multiple scenarios all of which my male deranged ego dismissed. “I can do this” I wheezed. What added insult to injury was the fact that when I did catch up with the team, there they sat…..puffing on cigarettes! ‘Should I take up smoking?’ I recalled the people of the Andes chewed coca leaves maybe this was the Laos equivalent….but alas all the quit smoking advertisements flashed through my addled brain.

Note to self 3 – When you read an EOI from ABV stating VERY CLEARLY “must be fit and willing to trek into remote communities” you may want to start some sort of exercise regime that doesn’t include seeing how many restaurants you can eat out at in one week.

So back to the trek. I struggled between the “it’s all in the mind” psychobabble that told me not to look up at the trail just concentrate on putting on foot in front of the other with the other delusional approach whispering in my mind “I can see more sky up the trail. That must mean we are getting to the top!”

Well enough of this self-flagellation. Obviously I did survive and things got even more interesting our first evening with our meal consisting of congealed duck’s blood, fresh water weed salad, chili, broiled duck and other assorted (and unidentifiable) delicacies. That evening also showed me that the methodology was somewhat more comprehensive than I had earlier seen with a village meeting called and discussion (completely indecipherable on my part) taking place well into the night.

Every experience we have had with ABV has been wonderful and this adventure is another one that we will treasure.

Note to self 4 – When your associate says he has scheduled six more treks over the next few months………..

Dear reader…..What would you do?


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