Laos chapter 3

Expedition day 1

Written by Jesper Alkestrup

As the bus came to a halt and the driver signaled us that he would now head into his house and sleep – we decided that this was probably a good place from which to start our journey! After all, what other options did we have? Nam Ou should be running nearby and so we started walking along the road looking for a way to cross the fields of crops while sweating with out our 30kg+ of gear.

According to the map, Nam Ou would run along the road for a good while, eventually passing by a larger town a day or two’s paddle south. This would allow us to estimate the speed at which we could progress, how our gear worked out in the real setting and whether we had forgot anything crucial. This was an important part of our preparation before we were to head out on longer and isolated stretches of Nam Ou that would lead us through vast areas of inaccessible and unexplored jungle.

For now, the whole expedition didn’t seem very adventurous though.

We looked at each other, not sure whether to laugh or cry. In front of us was Nam Ou, the mythical river that we had planned our journey around for months, and now traveled for more than three consecutive days to reach. In reality, it was a flat, static, muddy stream. Inevitably this is the risk of planning trips to places, to which no blogs or pictures can be found online – you have no idea what to expect. Truth be told this was a serious anticlimax, but with a hope of the river and the surroundings changing to the better we regained confidence in our expedition and started unpacking our rafts.

As the afternoon was passing by we only paddled for about an hour before finding a small river bank onto which we could unpack our gear and look for a place to set up our hammocks for the night. We were still in the middle of civilization with the sound of human activities ever present and the view of cultivated crop fields all around us.

In reality, it was a flat, static, muddy stream.

As this was our first adventure with our hammocks and packrafts, setting up the camp took surprisingly long time.

We had decided to bring hammocks due to our expectancy of dense and steep jungle terrain further downstream, that would make it impossible to pitch a tent. Even by the first night the hammocks proved worthwhile despite their extra weight as setting up a tent on the muddy soil would have been a mess.

As this was our first adventure with our hammocks and packrafts, setting up the camp took surprisingly long time. With the knowledge that snakes and other poisonous animals might situate in the tall grass and bamboo, the speed at which one sets up a campground likewise seemed to decrease… Luckily we only encountered a few funky larva, small spiders and the expected leeches.

Darkness comes early near equator, and before we had managed to pack up our gear for the night the sun disappeared. Knowing that there may roam small animal critters in the area, it was necessary to elevate our backpacks (containing food) by hanging these via a rope onto the top of a tree. Although this is usually not a very difficult thing to do, it wasn’t exactly easy with 100 insects swarming in our heads due to the headlamps, while sliding around the slippery and muddy forest floor. Lesson number 1 learned: make sure to camp timely enough to make it into the hammocks before darkness falls…

Our first day on Nam Ou was about to come to an end, Tobias and I both lying in our hammocks tired and ready to sleep started scribbling a few thoughts into our diaries. Very optimistically I noted the following in my book, “I’ve just traveled thousands of kilometers to float down a dirty, small river, battling with 100s of insects in my face. Right now I’m lying in my hammock hungry after having eaten a small portion of noodles for dinner. Who came up with this idea?”. Well, I guess I only had myself to blame.