Muang Khoa river town

16 Feb
Muang Khoa of all places - besides the river nothing much there

Muang Khoa of all places - besides the river nothing much there

After a bone braking trip in the Songthew, we arrived in Muang Khoa, that is, on the other side of the Nam Ou river, which we had to cross by long tail boat because no bridge available. I just crashed in the first guesthouse I found, overlooking the river and ‘port’ (read ‘improvised cemented boat landing’), with fever. I decided to be my own doctor and wrote me a sick-cert for a few days: no strenuous activities allowed.

Anyway, in the little town, there was not much to do, besides walking up and down the main road (that was being rebuilt – a heaven sent gift – but for the moment it was still a path of rumble) and cross the river over the shaky cable suspension bridge to practice my Lao language skills (limited to Sabaidee at the moment = hello) with the school kids of the village down the other side…

My room - back to basics and mosquito nets...

My room - back to basics and mosquito nets...

Most of the time I just spent shivering in my bed, under the mosquito net and a double musty blanket (despite sunny weather), listening to the Lao music blaring from the ghetto blaster on batteries (special service of the guesthouse for the guests). I only got up every once so often to order and gulp down a hot lemon juice or ginger tea, enhanced with a respectable dose of paracetamol. Thank Buddha that they were already more used to get foreigners in Muang Khoa, as they had some English on the menu, so at least I could order what I needed in my hour of need.

The Nam Ou Guesthouse (named after the Nam Ou river that it was overlooking) was a family run affair, stuck up on the slope descending towards the river bank. The rooms were made of bamboo and wood (including wood worms whom you could hear gnawing their way through the walls and ceiling). So you better get along with your neighbours, because bamboo definitely ain’t gonna block them noises out (just read an American novel- forgive me the slang). Shower and squat toilets were shared, and you had to walk through the family’s living room to go and do your business. Between 6 and 10 in the evening (when electricity comes on), you can even have light in the loo, and pseudo hot water squirting timidly from the shower.

Electricity from 6-10 - charging all my stuff...

Electricity from 6-10 - charging all my stuff...

I reverted in Laos from looking for hotels with wifi to enquiring whether the guesthouses have light and electricity plugs in the room – and what time the electricity comes on. It’s crazy how priorities change, and how you start planning your schedule in function of the commodities (electricity in this case). When electricity is about to come on, I get anxious to get back home to plug in all the electronics I brought: charging my mobile phone (actually my watch and alarm clock, since there’s no coverage anyway), the battery of my digital camera (which slowly seems to be dieing after the hundreds of pics I already forced through her), putting some extra juice in my mp3 player, enjoying a hot shower and most important (really? Maybe ;-) plugging in my netbook so I can write another few hours… (e.g. blog, emails, etc) Even though it might still be a few weeks before I’ll be anywhere near an internet connection to actually upload or send all my texts…

The nice thing is that the rest of the day I am then just forced to relax, read, go for a coffee, for a walk, etc. Am not complaining ;-)

I did go to the bank and the pharmacy though, as the guidebook said that Muang Khoa was THE place in the area with a bank and at least some supply of medicine. Bank is maybe a big word for the living room, divided in two by a wood & glass improvised structure, that is meant to keep the customers abreast the money; but the door connecting the customer and the staff side stood wide open… I don’t think robbing a bank in Lao ever crossed anybody’s mind – first of all because crime is low here (and punishments severe) and there’s heaps of social control (you can’t go anywhere unnoticed)– and lack of quick escape routes (only dirt tracks or slow boats).

My Nam Ou guesthouse, tucked away

My Nam Ou guesthouse, tucked away

The pharmacy was another experience all together. It was actually a guesthouse that had one of those glass show-case counters, which were stuffed with different jars and boxes. When I asked her if she had Aspirine, she took the blanket off the glass cupboard to look around. And she did find a big jar. I thought that’s gonna be far too much – but next thing I knew is that she takes out a spoon and one of those zip-loc sealable plastic bags, and gives me two spoonfuls of Aspirine… When I ask for something for my throat, she pulls out some cough sweets imitation (like Strepsils) and asks me how many I want, opening the package and getting her scissors ready to cut the requested number of cough drops. Super: my mind is feeling better already, now only the body…

I saw lots of children, from my guesthouse window, swimming in the river, floating on the stream in a truck tire (that’s probably where the ‘tubing’ idea came from – floating down a river in an inner tube). So at the height of my fever, I decided I needed to cool down my temperature and stumbled down to the river to launch myself into the fresh water. Not sure if it helped my flue, but it definitely cooled me off, as I was shaking like a bamboo leaf in the wind soon after. And back to bed…

WHO bird flue posters everywhere - time to evacuate... again

WHO bird flue posters everywhere - time to evacuate... again

My flue was not really getting any better, and then what do I see down the village? The World Health Organisation people shuttle into Muang Khoa with heavy duty equipment: announcing something from loudspeakers mounted on the 4WD trucks that only foreign aid organizations can afford. Next, men in nuclear white full cover overalls and mouth masks start spraying the roads. It’s only afterwards that I had a look at the posters that they were putting up on every house: pictures of chicken in cages… Yep, so the bird flue had arrived to Laos as well

So that’s when I decided to slowly but surely move on, towards places with something that would look and function like a hospital – just in case…

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