This is the fourth chapter of our Laos adventure. We can only recommend that you start at the beginning with chapter 1: White spots. Enjoy!
As we left the only guesthouse in town and headed for the river the feeling of adventure started emerging; not knowing what awaits around the next river bend provides a constant motivation and excitement for what one might discover! We filled our water jugs half (6 litres each) and hiked through the small town of Utai.
The town’s only, but very comfortable, guesthouse in the background
Glad the water jugs aren’t fully filled yet…
With half of the towns’ children following us at a safe distance we inflated our packrafts, threw a few high-fives to the boys floating down the river and waved goodbye before continuing our journey on Nam Ou.
The landscape slowly changed into more pristine forest as the trees grew into giant monoliths along the river and the sound of human noise faded. The northern district of Laos is famous for its large diversity of butterflies and we found ourselves paddling to the forest floor several times to glance at gatherings of colorful individuals dancing closely with each other in the rays of sunlight passing through the dense carpet of leaves.
Nam Ou had widened up and grown deeper compared to yesterday, and although sections of the river provided fun and wavy waters, the river didn’t provide any anxious provoking rapids or sharp bends that required going to land and scouting ahead. The calm waters of the river provided easy access to the forest and undisturbed fishing spots, which these three local guys seemed to take advantage of.
Our water budget included the idea of supplementing our water jugs with rain water. According to the weather forecasts for this time of the year in Laos, there should be daily rain showers in the afternoons and during the night. We had brought rain-collectors to be mounted on the corners of our tarp with the hope of gathering water during our night sleep – but so far, we hadn’t seen any serious rain. During this day we did get our first tiny shower, but this type of brief and light rain wouldn’t be able to fill any of our water containers the slightest.
A cozy afternoon in the jungle
Six hours after we departed Utai, we decided to set camp while there was still plenty of light. This would allow us to set up the camp in less of a rush than our first night, and hopefully get a bit time to enjoy the jungle before darkness fell. On a larger riverbank we pulled up our rafts and started clearing branches on the hillside to make room for our hammocks. The temperatures drop dramatically once the sun set, and in the hope of being able to sit out a little longer before creeping into our hammocks we tried starting a fire– but after a few failed attempts to get the humid wood to catch fire, we abandoned the project. Perhaps we should indeed practice this discipline a little more for our next trip…
Biologist looking at butterflies
Along with our soviet war map we identified our current position using the build-in GPS coordinates from my Nikon 1AW camera. This proved very useful in terms of determining our position in an area with essentially no landmarks coupled with a 60-year-old map. I would never head out to an expedition like this without a device that locate one’s position. In case we would get lost or have to trek through the jungle to evacuate from the river, knowing our position will be a life saver.
Our dinner menu of dried fish, rice and mango was altered last minute, as I discovered that the dried fish we had purchased three days earlier were now full of living maggots. Perhaps cooking these would have been an option but we didn’t really feel like venturing down this path just yet. We had hoped that bringing dried fish from the local market would be a way of preserving a level of protein intake, but now this option didn’t seem very viable… Instead we cooked an energizing meal of rice, mango and a few nuts on our Trangia using the diesel fuel we had purchased in Phongsali.
As darkness fell the sounds of the jungle became even more noticeable and the shrieks from one bird predominated the next. Sitting in such a remote location, surrounded by darkness, a glittering sky and the vast unknown of the jungle is an experience unlike anything else. The realization that out here you could get lost and no one would notice your disappearance is both fascinating and frightening at the same time.
To me it provokes a certain type of reflection upon my life. In a packed everyday schedule, I typically have a strong sense of importance to the tasks I’m carrying out – in my own little bubble I manage to convince myself that my contribution is important. But it’s not. Out here, you realize how small we all are, and how the world would go on without noticing the slightest if the latest project on work didn’t finish in time or if I missed the Monday meeting with my boss. In all fairness, most people have close relations to other humans, family or friends, to whom one’s existence matter deeply on a personal level, but in moments like this I get affirmed that although these relationships are fundamental to a good life, they are in themselves not enough to ensure meaning to my life. Personal relationships offer happiness, safety and love, but when I at an age of 40 ask myself “why am I on this planet?”, I need to be able to answer this question with more than a reference to my wife, children and a fancy title at a company as employee number 473. And what is “more”? Well… I’m trying to figure that out. Currently I’m rather certain that it involves doing a significant contribution to solving what I categorize as real problems; something I won´t spend time defining in this travel blog post…
In all fairness, these reflections are likely of no interest to my reader but seeking the circumstances that allow you to question and over time define your goals in life, is something we should all strive to do. In a world where many of us are privileged enough to have a constant flow of different possibilities to pursue, it is essential to understand what really matters to you: If you don’t, you’ll end up drifting from one place to another controlled by coincidences and other people’s agendas.
Enough jungle-pocket-philosophy for this post. After an amazing day on the river we crawled up and into our hammocks, slid into our sleeping bags and fell asleep to the jungle hymn.