Monday, February 3, 2014

8. Pakse, Laos - Voeung Kam, Laos/Dom Kralor, Cambodia

Irrawaddy Sweet-water River Dolphins

175 km

I am slowly saying "Good Bye" to Laos, one of the poorest, yet most beautiful countries on Earth. The shy and conservative populace has an average income of  below U.S. $100/month/per capita. However it was exactly here where I met a bunch of really nice Laotian bike riders, enjoying their Italian-made hybrid Enduro bikes and Harley's; we made plans to meet again when I return in December. One of them already "placed an order" with me when he asked me to bring items from the U.S. upon my return. 

Despite the poverty among the population I found Laos to be the most expensive country on my trip; especially in Luang Prabang, the northern tourist center, it appears that businesses are trying to squeeze as many dollars out of the visitors as possible, in the shortest time available. The night I arrived after a long, strenuous ride across the mountains, and I first stopped at a hotel facing the river, I found myself "shocked and awed", when the receptionist quoted a price of U.S. $ 250 per night. I asked twice, but he was serious.Unreasonable and unjustified. 

When I was in Luang Prabang and saw the special type of tourist having dinner in the up-and-coming restaurants of that town I had the feeling that they didn't even realize how expensive it was. They all looked like the "artsy-crowd" who flew in from New York or San Francisco, after chit-chatting at one of their favored art gallery openings and sipping the free white wine two days before. Now they are sampling the "authentic" Lao feel before moving on to Siem Reap to check off Angkor.

When I left Pakse, I was contemplating to inquire about a visiting teaching position at the "Champasak District Ecole des Beaux Arts". However I soon found out that the curriculum is divided equally between horse- and elephant sculpture modeling and soccer, and that the Director is an English teacher. I had to give it a pass (This is a joke).

Ecole des Beaux Arts, Chapmassak District, Pakse, Laos.

Ecole des Beaux Arts, Chapmassak District, Pakse, Laos.

Horse sculpture modeling is big at the Ecole des Beaux Arts.
Soccer field in center.

Riding on the one and only major artery from north to south in Laos is very enjoyable. Highway 13S going south to the border is a narrow, two-lane road, although it is in good condition. The further south one travels, the lighter the traffic becomes. Fuel is available plentiful, however not in the grade the BMW usually requires (95 RON/ROZ). There are nationwide only two types of fuel available in Laos: Diesel and regular gas. However the motorcycle doesn't act up, the engine doesn't knock, it is equally happy with the low-grade fuel. When I am in Cambodia though, I have to find a fuel injector cleaner somewhere, as "compensation" for the bad fuel in Laos. It should be fine.

The destination today was planned to be the so-called  "4000-Island"-region of the Mekhong river near the border with Cambodia. Here, the incredibly wide Mekhong opens up to a vast series of islands, from big to tiny, which are now, in the dry season, all exposed. During the rainy season it is probably more like "2000 islands".

Besides the natural beauty of the island region I had high hopes to see at least one of the rarest species on Earth, a Mekhong sweet-water dolphin. The Irrawaddy dolphins are protected by law, both in Cambodia and Laos, after they were almost eradicated. It is said that they have a mutual relationship with the local fishing population, helping them to drive swarms of fish into the nets of the fisher. On the other hand, the nets seem to be also one of the main reasons that they get killed. They entangle themselves in them and drown to death.

During the last 50 kilometers going south there wasn't any traffic anymore, really, and with the help of the GPS I made it on a dirt road through lite forests to the banks of the Mekhong where the path ended.

The end of the road.

People hanging out at a side-arm of the Mekhong.

The male population is checking out the motorcycle.

The river was where it is supposed to be, I was there, presumably the dolphins were in the water, boats and people were at the hang-out place, but nothing came together. There was a complete break-down in communication. No matter what I tried to do, no matter how "Grammy-award" winning my performance of a dolphin was, people were smiling shyly and were polite, but I couldn't get anybody to take me in a boat to see the river dolphins.

Disappointed I gave up after a while; maybe there is a video of Irradwaddy dolphins on Youtube somewhere, I am sure, I, for my part, was unable to see any of them live.

I continued the few miles further to the border with Cambodia.

1 comment:

  1. if not able to google find a picture or image of a dolphin, then draw one!