Who would have thought….in January, which is the dry season? We had planned the itinerary for our many guests down to a tee and checked the forecast daily. Experiencing no rain and beautiful temperatures since my arrival in November, I thought the coast was clear…until just 10 days before the first guest were to arrive…and the forecast kept getting worse! We were expecting the temperatures to drop significantly like they did last year (down to -1 at night last year) but the temperature did not drop….but heavy rain came and came heavy, nonstop in the areas we would be travelling to. It did let up in Luang Prabang and wasn’t as bad as the forecast but still, it made for major changes in our travel plans. We even rented 4 x 4’s but the road to the main village located in the highlands, was simply impassable, even by tractor…so through lots of discussion and planning behind the scenes with our coordinator Siphan, we came up with B, even after delaying the road trip by a day. The rain had stopped but it takes days for some of the roads to dry out so Thong Thuen was out of the question.
Our team consisted of some great Rotarians and friends from the Ladner, Delta, Vancouver area, 3 from Toronto and Richmnd Hill, Ontario and two from Italy. Several have been with us before. What amazing people!
We started the trip by heading to Ban Xienga to distribute 60 desks on behalf of one of our amazing donors, Global Change for Children. Our team was extremely generous in purchasing school supplies for every child in the primary school and we had a few things for the kindergarten children too, includng handmade buttons by grade 5 students in a primary school in Scarborough, Ontario. What a treat! Here are some highlites;
The school also held a baci ceremony for us, in honour of our visit.
From Ban Xiengda, we continued our journey to Nong Khiaw, a fairly famous tourist outpost on the Ou River to spend the evening. Siphan kept in touch with our utimate destination village of Thong Thuen meanwhile, hoping that the road would be dry enough to travel to. Meanwhile, plans were in the works for plan B. In the morning we headed up to Phou Luang to distribute water filters, feminine hygiene pads for the secondary school girls (our guys were not invited) and sports equipment to the boys so they wouldn’t feel left out. Mind you, the boys wanted condoms…lol. The culture is very different here and we would certainly not be welcome by promoting sex through their use. Most students do not have their first experience until after they graduate high school or university.
The road was fine until we got to the bottom of the village, but there was heavy rain overnight. Our vehicles couldn’t make it up the short but steep driveway because of the clay type mud…so we worked our way up the edges using the grass where we could find…one minor mishap though…one of our guests decided to see what the mud felt like on her butt. Fortunately she did not hurt herself.
Here are a few of the water filters distributed with our visitors;
Afterwards, we headed up to Meung Ngoi, the last tourist outpost in the province to spend the night. After breakfast we had time to head to the caves. Our guests wanted to try a tractor ride, after hearing about our experiences the year before…soooo…we got one.
After heading back to Nong Khiaw, we decided that Thong Thuen, the main feature, would not be possible. Instead, the next day we headed to Ban Phone to distribute gently used clothing and inspect the site for a possible project to build a Cultural Centre.
At least the weather was perfect.
It was quite a long drive and there were a couple of ruts in the road but nothing difficult. A couple of the guests were rather surprised at the big ruts so I am glad I didn’t actually take them to Thong Thuen afterall! That was nothing in comparison with what I usually see.
Sonia did her best to try to keep order but after a while, it was just impossible so the villagers basically helped themselves…what mass pandamonium but it turned out quite well I thought. There didn’t seem to be any other way to do it, or it would have taken us many hours to distribute. I think everyone enjoyed the experience and realized just how impoverished these villagers were. Sincere thanks to the Malay Group who managed to bring all of these clothes from their homes in Johore, Malaysia. Thank YOU!!!
From there we headed back to Luang Prabang, just in time to freshen up and head out for the Farewell Dinner on the Mekong. It turned out to be a beautiful night too. Eric, the owner even made special Lao Lao cocktails to welcome them…
It was bittersweet end to the trip. I will miss every one of them.