Back in China

We crossed back into the relative civilization that is China yesterday, after a grueling two days of grinding along the "roads" of Laos. The roads in Laos are truly awful, almost indescribably bad, a collection of narrow pot-holed mud and dirt tracks with brief stretches of gravel and old pavement. Vehicles slog along at the speed of horse-drawn carts, and a journey of that would take an hour or two on a decent road can take a whole day.

But the shitty roads are one of the reason why Laos is so charming, in that it makes it tough to get around, difficult to actually get to places. It keeps the tour buses away, and helps to keep places remote. Of course this is my priveleged white tourist opinion: ask the locals if they would prefer an improved infrastucture, and they will reply with a resounding 'yes,' I'm sure. Whole villages are left without supplies after washouts and rockslides that take days or weeks to repair, and if someone has the misfortune to be really injured or sick and needs proper medical care, the day or two ride to the nearest decent hospital could undoubtably kill them.

Laos was wonderful, absolutely vivid green in this rainy season. After Luang Prabang we headed up the Nam Ou to the tiny town of Nong Kiaw, where we waited out a couple of days of misty rain, revelling in the remoteness of the place. It's nestled between steep limestone mountains where a bridge crosses the big brown river, and is home to a handful of Chinese merchants and guesthouses composed of stilted bungalows on the river bank.

Later we headed further up the river to Meung Ngoi, a village located in stunningly beautiful country, accessible only by boat. It was amazing to stay in a place with no cars or motorcyles, just hordes of chickens, turkeys, dogs, and very ugly black ducks. It too is surrounded by stunning limestone monoliths and mountains (called "Karsts", I believe). The weather finally cleared and we spent a whole day hiking to an isolated waterfall and then a cave, inside of which was a pure spring-fed river. We had both places entirely to ourselves and soaked it up appropriately. I also drank nearly a whole bottle of Lao Lao over dinner one night, which is the local hooch made from rice, which also doubles as tractor fuel. It seems that I am the only one of the group who actually can stomach the poor man's booze in these parts. My travel companions are a load of girls' blouses.

These two villages on the Nam Ou marked the end of our expansion; after that we were to retrace our steps back to The Special K. We were forced to spend another night in the shitty trader-vortex that is Uodomxai, and then made it back here to Jinhong, China, where I immediately high-tailed it to a hospital to get some sort of medicine for the frightenly-aggressive jungle heat rash that has attacked much of my body for the last week. Zero English was spoken by the hospital staff, but they put me on some sort of anti-rash IV and gave me a bottle of some sort of rash-killing tincture which seems to be doing the trick. I also just had my laundry done, which was close to rotting in the bag, so it looks like I'm on the road to recovery, thank Buddha.

Tonight Steve and I fly to Kunming, to meet up with our other two companions who elected to save some scratch and take the bus. Tomorrow morning it's off to Shanghai for two days to meet up with The Caf and put a punctuation mark on this thing. Then it's back to Busan, back to my cats, back to my girl, back to my job...

I gotta teach on Monday morning.