Thanks folks. New boots you say? Phil has offered to have them repaired for me... he reckons there's a mob in Chiang Mai that can sort them out. I have my doubts.
I did have a bit of fun with that right boot on the way to the second village. I hit some marble-like gravel hidden in the bulldust and had to stab the right boot in. The tape just stretched, of course, and the feeling was a bit like stabbing a foot down while wearing flip-flops - zero ankle support, but all was OK. I went sideways at the same spot on the way back too... but a bit slower, so no foot stab needed.
Funny thing though... I just dislocated a little toe on Christmas Eve, stepping around the missus' crutch that was blocking the way in the kitchen (get yer minds above yer waist... her crutch is a metal thing... something to do with her hip replacement) - slammed my toe into an architrave and there it was... sticking out at 45 degrees. It went back in OK but, stuff me, its sore and bruised.
The second village, Ban Huay Xong, is on the banks of the Mekong River and we'd been told it was water access only, so we headed to the river. There were no boats available at the pickup point, but we discovered that the Laos government had just finished, sort of, a road out to the village. They built it themselves, as the various aid funding agencies said that it was a waste of time building it, as it wouldn't survive the wet season.... and it won't. We got held up with roadworks at a couple of places
As soon as that was done, we were off through some wet cement... to the next holdup
I walked that plank to see if it'd hold me.. and decided it wouldn't. It was too short for the gap and my weight would've collapsed it for sure. It didn't take the road crew long to fill it all in.
They'd carved straight through a teak plantation here... and it was a bit greasy
The views over the river were stunning. I took this shot from that road while heading back... just before sunset. Lovely area.
It was obvious that not many cars / 4WDs were using this road
I probably shouldn't have taken this photo.... I was riding one-handed, of course, as I was taking the photo, while sliding down this very steep slope towards the creek with a bit much speed up... with the rear brake locked on and off and unable to stop... not that I wanted to stop.
I got to the village, said G'day
... and was heading back to the utes to tell them that the 2WD ute wouldn't make it. This was the view from the village, back down to the new road. There's a couple of micro hydro power setups down in the creek. Awful little things that have incredibly variable output, as I recall from watching the meter attached to one back in the Nu Pho refugee camp. Still... its the only power that gets to the village, albeit only a few hundred watts
About 600 metres back up the road, I met the utes. Phil, in the 2WD Vito was stuck.
Auke winched him out and Phil's family hoofed it to the village. The other two utes made it in low range 4WD.
Here's a panorama I shot from the village school the next day (more on that later). That's the Mekong on the left. There's an old logging track up on the right by the look of it. It would have washed away in places years ago.
It was lovely wandering around meeting the people. This lady was by far the oldest person in the village
I'll post some more photos of her later.
Here's something the locals put on for us when we were dropping the blankets and clothes off. Lao Hai... which means jar alcohol and is drunk communaly through bamboo straws from an earthenware jar. Its made from fermented sticky rice and this one tasted quite fruity
There's no truth in the rumour that its an aphrodisiac...
By the time we got to the second village it was already getting late. We'd unloaded the blankets and bags of clothes and some of the group had already headed back to go to the third village. I'd taken a few photos of this lady
Like many of the older women in the village, she suffers from what I think is goitre. The old lady also has it
That's from an iodine deficiency apparently.
So, Monica was taking another photo of the first lady and glanced down and saw this
Yeah, no shoes... she was walking around like that, with an open sore that went deep... very deep.
Only Monica, Auke and I were left and we had a chat and decided that we had to take her to hospital. Her husband wasn't there, however, and she wouldn't leave without talking to him, so we told them we'd come back the next day and take her to hospital. We were quite concerned that she'd not survive. There's animals and crap everywhere in these villages. I was worried about the black area... but I'm no medical expert.
Auke and I stayed on in Hongsa while the others headed back to Thailand and we came back the next day after showing the photo above to a doctor at the hospital. "Bring her in" he said as soon as he saw the photo.
Meanwhile, the others delivered the rest of the blankets and clothes to a third village... and we all met up back in Hongsa.
I stopped for a few photos on the way back in. The bulldust is readily apparent here on the roadside vegetation
At times on the way out, I'd been totally blinded in the dust... and the road is littered with rocks like this
Hit one and it'd hurt.... so on the way back, I cleared the road at maybe 10 spots. The rocks are where people have had to change a flat tyre or have broken down.... they chock the wheels and then invariably drive off and leave them there. No-one clears them it seems.
... and for something totally different, I took Monica around to the bar on the other corner of her block. She hadn't realised there was some additional services on offer there, and we were interested to see what the story was. Its just an open bar
Its a dog barbecue restaurant though... and there were dogs yelping in a cage. We were tempted to see if we could get to the cage and open it.... but it didn't happen.
Nor did this... but we had a good chat about life and her work, getting down to discussing prices and why locals get cheaper prices, etc. Her office is a mattress on the floor out back. Bear in mind folks, sex between foreigners and Lao women is illegal outside of marriage.
Its a boom town now, with a lot of construction on and around the power station that's being built there. Bright lights, lots of money.... She seemed happy enough though, although its hard to understand whether its just for show.
Come morning, we grabbed another interpreter (Monica and Auke speak some Lao, but we needed better language skills than they had) and we headed back to the village. I went in the 4WD this time.... happy to avoid the dust for once.
The drive out demonstrated why the power station is going to be a problem here. Here's the new smokestack in the valley.
I'll post a couple more shots of that old lady....
I never saw her leave her house or its verandah.
When we got to the village, the lady with the injury wasn't there... she was working "in the fields" so someone was sent to get her, which took several hours, but we kept busy
They aren't tall in the second village either
The blankets and clothes we'd left hadn't been distributed... they were tarped up in the communal building. Our suspicious minds got to work and we wondered if the village headman had other plans for them... Its a funny setup with these villages. The headman is appointed by the government... and isn't a local. Communism at work. Anyhow.. we decided that while we waited, we'd do the distribution... just in case.
It started off slowly
and hotted up as more got involved
Some just looked on
I think I'd seen him the afternoon before
There weren't too many men around... most were out hunting. I think Monica took this shot, maybe Auke
But it was all good fun when everyone loosened up
She's a bit of fun, that one, but I think she's discovered the secret of birth control....
Not sure I'd like to slip the tongue in there...
The youngsters were taking it all in while the clothes were handed out
The single girls tended to take it in from a distance.
No.... not hers... her brother at a guess. She's 8
The headman still hadn't brought the blankets out.... so we did and handed them out
We noticed that they were ending up back on the tarp. We got the interpreter to find out what was happening and it turned out... after some digging, that the headman was worried that some people weren't there and would miss out, so....
We solved it by getting him to record who got a blanket. Sheesh. I reckon next time, given the government has been happy to send someone along, there's some pre-work that can be done. Get the Headman in each village to prepare a list of family names beforehand... then he can just check the names off.
To be fair, some were still coming in from the fields.
Our lady of concern, who we eventually discovered is called Mon, finally turned up and got showered. Showering here is done in the open. There's two water points in this village... and there's a degree of modesty involved... although I have ridden past some rather less modest folks... I took a few photos of this young lady taking a shower while I waited for Mon
While I think of it, this is the school. Three rooms
Quite well um, air conditioned.
That's some sort of animal poop all over the floor... Note the seats and desks... single planks.
Mon finished her shower and I noticed that she's got, shall we say, a shorter sarong and isn't at all bashful
This is Mon heading into her house to get dressed
Still barefoot... she can't afford shoes or even some flipflops
From four in the ute on the way out, we suddenly had seven heading back. Mon got to ride inside, but her daughter, trying to get in here, had to ride up back with the interpreter and the male family member who accompanied them to hospital. Her daughter looks like she does it tough too.
It wasn't too bad... except it rained on them going back in to town...
I reckon what these nurses did then and there in the hospital would have been an operating theatre effort in Oz.
They cut away the dead flesh on both sides of her foot, cleansed it and dressed it and set her up on IV antibiotics
Mon ended up being in hospital for 11 days, on IV antibiotics, etc.
She was tested for leprosy (and found to be negative), fortunately. I'd run across leprosy in PNG 20 years ago, when walking down a track in the highlands and a woman shook my hand. Ughh... I washed my hands in the first puddle I could find after that one.
Monica fed her and her family members (not part of the deal with hospitals there) and bought Mon some shoes and clothes and got them all back to the village. She'll keep an eye on her.
That was a month ago - and I reckon that Mon wouldn't have seen Christmas if Monica hadn't spotted that injury. Mon would have worked until she dropped.... and with zero medicine in the village to treat an infection, that'd probably have been the end of her.