Wednesday, December 21, 2005
hello all and Merry Christmas. i have been really bad about writing lately, and will be again for the next few weeks. i apologize for the lack of updates. it has been a very busy past few weeks! i spent last weekend in Chiang Mai running around to schools, shopping, and climbing giant hills on a bike. it was an awesome weekend and i returned to Pattaya ready to finish the month and head back to the states. it is a place very unlike where i live, and i hope to get back there before i leave. the work was good, too. the two teachers i saw are doing very well, though one needs some help because she's teaching a tough subject. i'll have to get outside help for that one! the few days i have here are speeding by and i find myself thinking about what to pack and last minute gift ideas! this is an odd trip to pack for because i only have summer clothes with me, and it's the dead of winter where i'm going! talk about a logistical nightmare! anyways, i hope to spend more time working on getting photos up and posting all of the writing that i do, but then cannot be bothered to transfer it to get it online. sorry! i'll be better next year.

so i hope you all have excellent plans for Christmas and the New Year. this year for me it's all about family and all of the other people i want to see in the short time i have. plus a wedding and then some work to start off in January. that's all from me. the next time i write will be from a cafe in sunny, frozen, but oh so lovely Escanaba. :)
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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

This day trip began with a two hour incredibly bumpy and often jam-packed baht bus journey from Vientiane to Nam Lik (a river). The six of us tried to keep our cool as people clambered in and out as we adjusted and readjusted seating positions to facilitate maximum comfort on the behind. These buses are a pick up truck with two benches in the bed covered by an aluminum cap. Our baht bus had particularly hard benches. We arrive at the river and have to wait a few minutes for our next transport. Looking around, this country again seems far behind Thailand. Ladies with goods, anything from juice and milk boxes to boiled eggs still in their shells on a stick rush to any passing vehicle on hopes of selling one of their items. They scurry around quickly in their traditional straight Lao style skirt and sandals. As we pause for a short photo-op atop the bridge crossing the river our next transport arrives, a bigger baht bus with four kayaks strapped to the top and gear strewn on the bed of the truck. I see the ‘greendiscoverylaos’ sticker and wave to let them know we are the group of crazy kayakers. One of our guides speaks great English and beckons us into the back of the truck with a ‘please’. We drive, or perhaps more appropriately clamber down the hill to the river. This is a treacherous road, rutted by water drainage. At the river we see another group of adventurers’ tents pitched on a gravel bar mid river. ‘How fun it would be to do an overnight trip!’ glimmers through each of our minds. A few yards down stream a large flatbed truck and a motorbike are having baths in the river water as several kids play nearby.

Gear is passed around, life jackets and helmets, and we decide what shoes to wear and whose cameras to put in the dry bag. Somebody has neglected to bring the sunscreen, so we’re looking forward to red skin tomorrow. A short instruction of kayaking basics and river safety follows. We paddle through the air and are told to keep our feet out front if we happen to exit our boats. The guide’s English is great and he explains that if we ‘go for a swim’ and keep our feet out front that our butts will get bruised, but if we don’t keep our feet in front, we might go down and not come back up. It’s a dead serious point, but inspires giggling at the use of language to explain the situation.

Four boats are loaded and we set off. The guides in one boat head out front, followed by Sarah and myself, then the four boys. One of the boys kayaked when he was ten and the others have never been before. Simon and Stuart managed to keep their boat facing forward much of the time and did not dump themselves without purpose for the entire trip. The other boat, ruddered by Paul and powered by Chris was a nightmare. Periodically as my boat traveled straight down the river, I would pause and make a pirouette to catch sight of the boys. The nightmare boat was four times out of ten sideways, four time out of ten backwards, and twice out of ten upside down. We could hear yells of ‘right, left, right RIGHT, left LEFT’ with regularity. Steering and synchronized paddling were lost concepts on this boat. It was sure fun to watch and listen, and they did make is safely down the river even after a spill in a class 2 rapids.

The river is lined by giant boulders and rock faces. The stone has been sculpted by the rise and fall of water level and the currents of the river. The scenery behind is fantastic as rolling lushly green hills rise behind the boulders rising into the slightly cloudy but mostly pure blue sky. The lunch stop is on tiered rock shelves inhabited by Lao fishermen and charcoal remains from previous outings. Weary paddlers relax for a minute as the guides get lunch going. Beef, tomato, onion, and zucchini shish kebobs grilled between bamboo poles, accompanied by fried rice and toasted baguettes, and topped of with bananas and water. The lunch was delicious and incredibly simple. While the food was grilling, the English speaking guide took us to a cliff where those brave enough could jump into the river. To my surprise the entire group made the leap…twice. There were some yelps and screams and red underarms, but we all enjoyed the 12 meter free fall into the cool water. Following another rather humorous photo sessions we piled back into the boats to complete the voyage. Several spills and splash fights later we met the truck at the pick up point. We passed a few boats full of underwear clad boys on their way to the swimming hole and were met by numerous Lao who had come down to the river to complete various chores such as motorbike washing, clothes, washing, and bathing oneself. Interestingly we noticed an albino Lao boy wander into the rocky bottomed river completely naked and go for a bathe and swim. We dried off and changed in preparation for the two hour return ride to Vientiane.

Upon a final photo session, tipping the guides, and climbing into the baht bus we made our way up the eroded and exceedingly dusty winding gravel road back to route 13 that leads to the city. Along the way we picked up a variety of travelers, a woman on a bike, a couple on a year long jaunt around Asia, Australia, and South America, and a various collection of Lao on their way to the city for whatever reason. Back at the hotel we collapse nursing sunburned shins and feet.

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Tuesday, December 06, 2005
well, it was a fabulous weekend! Laos is incredible. i want to go back, and will go back before i'm finished here. i have great photos and a few stories written, but no time to sit while they upload right now. look for a real post tomorrow! i hope you all had weekends as awesome as mine. i'm off for kow neow ping and bed. until tomorrow...
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Friday, December 02, 2005
a quick hello before heading off for the weekend. this trip has finally come together! we even have hotel rooms. it's difficult to acclimate to the Thai style of doing things, which means late and in a rather unorganized fashion. at least we have bus tickets and american dollars for crossing the boarder. the trip begins tonight with a ten hour over night bus trip to Nongkhai, then cross the boarder and taxis to the hotel. saturday we'll hang out in Vientiane, have massages and eat cheese. Sunday is the kayaking day. i am so excited about this! we will be paddling and cliff diving, and will probably have a lunch served on banana leaves. the group going is smaller, too, and i'm glad about that. lots of people is fun, but this will give me a chance to get to know these five better! and they're fun! three boys from Liverpool, an girl from the states, and a welshman. what dynamic! monday we are relaxing in the morning and going to a Buddha park in the afternoon before catching the bus back to Bangkok. tuesday it's back to work with another busy week of observations. and right now it's e-mailing contacts at various schools near chicago and MSU!

have a great weekend, and enjoy that snow!
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