#10 from SE Asia, up the Nam Ou River without a paddle…

February 1st, 2010

En route

So, what are the ‘bad’ things that happen with travel like this? People ask me about this. I am sure that some of you simply would not enjoy this kind of travel as much as I do, if at all.

So here goes:
1. Communication. You cannot speak with them or read their language. And hand gestures can only go so far.

2. Price misunderstandings that lead to disputes. Try to get the price on EVERYTHING beforehand. And if it is a big-ticket item, have them write the price down.

3. There just may not be a room where you arrive

4. ‘Flexible’ schedules. The bus or boat leaves when it is full, and does not leave until it leaves. We cyclists do not have to deal with much of this.

5. Potential sickness. I have been sick once on this trip. It was for one day. This seems to be a part of international travel.

6. The money hustle. Depending upon the area, the locals can really work you hard for money. You must be ready for this, with a firm ‘no; when necessary.

7. A little bit of lurking anxiety about the unpredictable. I am traveling alone, without backup. I have to look out a bit better for myself.

My original route included going west to Oudaum Xai. Other travelers had told me it was not an interesting city. The elevation maps also showed some very steep climbs. So I decided to modify the direction of my trip. I packed up my bike and rode 50 km NE to Nong Khiew. This is a pleasant town on the upper Nam Ou River. Mountains rising straight out of the side of river. It is not overwhelmed with tourists yet. I spent a relaxing evening dining and chatting with a number of older French travelers. From here, I bought a ticket on a motorboat up the river and rapids to Muong Khua. 

Here I applied the one advantage that a folding bicycle has. It folds. I folded it and it easily fit onto the boat. The fact that this bike folds up has generated many questions and conversations with the locals. They find this to be fascinating.

The Nam Ou was a pleasant 5 hour river run. There were some questionable rapids with some great scenery. For the whole trip we saw no real development. There were a number of small villages along the way where people fished, tended to their water buffaloes, grew food, and gathered a fresh water algae that they sold to the city dwellers. (They fry it like chips with sesame seeds and soy sauce. It beats any chips I have ever eaten) At each village there are a number of children, either helping their parents with chores, or splashing and swimming naked in the river. An idylic scene. There is talk of damming the Nam Ou river. If so, all of this will go, and these people will become refugees.

The boat pulled into Muang Khua near sunset. This is a crossing town, with no reason to stay other than to begin traveling the next day. This town only had electricity from 7 to 10 pm. I got a shoddy room for 30,000 kip, about $3.75 US. I had gotten reports that the road to the Viet Nam border was a construction project, and not a road. So I bedded down to get a very early start the next day.

Just before I turned my headlight off, I heard a sound from the other side of the room. I scanned the room with my flashlight. And there, on the wall, was the second largest spider that I have ever seen. (the largest was the bird-eating spider of the upper Amazon) I walked up to it slowly. Its leg span was slightly smaller than my open hand. What to do? I did not want to go to sleep with the thought of it being in my room. But I didn’t necessarily want to smash it against the wall. What a mess it would make. Now, lizards on the wall don’t bother me at all. They eat insects and, in South America, lizards are considered a good luck sign. But this spider could literally eat a small lizard. What to do? First, I took a picture of it. It came out well, but there is nothing in the picture to show the relative size of the spider. So I knocked on my neighbor’s door. He was Lao, so surely he had seen this before. After a bunch of hand-gesturing, he came into my room. I pointed out the spider to him. He motioned quickly with his two fingers striking his other hand that this one bites. Then he quickly grabbed the book I was reading, GOVERNING THE COMMONS, and approached the spider. I definitely did NOT want spider guts and poison smeared all over the book for the last 200 pages, so I waved him off. I grabbed my Krok sandal and took a swing. It jumped. I missed. Two more swings later and it ran under MY bed and disappeared. The guy left, looking bored with it all. I think he was sort of treating me like a guy would treat a woman when she sees a mouse and screams and gets on a chair.

I searched under my bed, but it was gone. Tonight I would be using the mosquito netting over my bed. I awoke several times during the evening and checked the room out, but I did not see the spider. Strange dreams that night too.

Next: Going to Viet Nam.

2 Responses to #10 from SE Asia, up the Nam Ou River without a paddle…

  1. Dwight, while I read posts #9-10, the Hoosiers are leading #7 in the nation Purdue 47-43 at halftime! Will report final score after game.

  2. that was the muang khua weenie eating spider!

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Dwight Worker is an American professor, activist, adventurer, and fugitive. He escaped from the Mexican penitentiary Palacio de Lecumberri in 1975 along with the book and movie Escape about the story

Throughout his life he participated in civil rights, anti-war, and environmental movements. In 1991, Dwight volunteered to serve in the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

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