May 27, 2010

a Laos history lesson

Laos is a country blessed with life sustaining rivers, rich jungle and mountains.  Laos is also a country to which the world has not been kind.  floating down the Mekong for two days gave me the opportunity to read up on the history.  various kings ruled for years but usually paid tribute to the more powerful rulers of Thailand.  then the French colonized Laos so they had to fight them.  after the French were gone the Americans came to save them from the threat of communism which wasn't successful and led to the collapse in the economy and severe inflation.  the communists killed the royal family and continue to hold power today although they have tried to align with Thailand which led to another round of severe inflation during the 1990s.  now it's China's turn.  they are pouring money into the country and in return they are allowed to rape the forests which is causing flooding during the rainy season which they will eventually use as an excuse to dam the Mekong just north of Laos.

for now at least the people can still fish the Mekong .  the Mekong flows and changes and seeing the life it sustains from a slowboat is like watching a movie.  first we stop to pick up some bags of rice.  then we ride some rapids.  there are stops to pick up villagers when they flag down the pilot.  there is some type of alligator we see the villagers bring down to the river at a couple of villages and eventually one about three feet long is stuffed into a old rice bag, brought on board and stored in the toilet.  children from the villages play in the water.  women was clothes.  one girl is holding two rodents dangling by their tails.  i think they are rats and glad they are not brought on board.  most of the villages along the river don't have electricity and navigating this part of the Mekong without light would be crazy so we stop for the night in Pak Beng.

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