Vientiane has been unbearably hot since I arrived. Unseasonable is a better word, with the residents complaining that the rainy season is long overdue. The rice paddies are drying up, which is quite a problem in a country where, outside the cities, people subsist from the land allocated by the government.
I decided to head to the countryside myself, having seen a poster advertising an Eco Resort about 20km out of town. I looked up the website, which had clear instructions on how to get there. Firstly, a Tuktuk, which I got after a bit of bargaining, which took me to the bus station in town. From here it was a bus ride to a place called Sikai Market, a nondescript place just out of town. We set off on the bus, with the driver announcing 'Sikai.' With his accent, it sounded like a call to arms at a Nuremberg Rally. Here, I took the local transport, another large Tuktuk, and was dropped off at the side of the road in about 38 degrees. There was a very basic roadside cafe; a booth selling cold drinks and snacks. I had a cool drink and asked directions of the proprietor, a guy of about 14. He pointed to the nearby path.
For reasons which I can't explain, but which we'll just put down to stupidity, I forgot to buy a large bottle of water and started on my way up a moderate hill. 2.5km they said.
The path split every hundred metres and I couldn't see any signs. After about what I thought must be at least a km, I asked a guy who was sitting in a hut at the edge of a field. He pointed back and to the left. Fair enough, soon be there. That was the last contact I had with people for the next 45 minutes. I'd gone down paths which didn't seem to go anywhere, retraced my steps and by this time was starting to feel the effects of the fierce sun. There was hardly any shade.
After another 20 minutes, I started to get a little concerned. My legs were feeling weak and I was drenched in sweat.
I'd passed two guys sitting in a field with a tractor and plough. I left my stuff at the side of the path and headed back in their direction. Luckily, they were still there and better still had a huge container of iced water. I asked for some and gulped down a couple of beakers. At least I wasn't going to dehydrate any more. I then noticed that they also had a motorbike. Making the universally recognised gesture for cash, one of the guys said he'd take me there.
Problem was that he couldn't find it either. We rode about for about half an hour, with at least a bit of an air current from the stately 10km an hour over the rocks and sand. (For you in Sauve, think the centre of the Mer de Rochers).
Finally we found a gate with the correct name on it.
It was locked.
Turned up a smelly, bedraggled mess. Michelle and Mike the owners were very sympathetic and gave me a large pichet of iced water. I paid my guide and almost immediately fell asleep on one of the comfortable couches on their terrace in the forest.
In fairness to them, everyone else seemed to get there a little hot but nothing more. My sense of direction, or lack of it, proving in this case to have put me in one of the most dangerous situations I've been in for years.
That was three days ago. Since then I've done very little. The place is beautiful and the people coming and going all very friendly and interesting. The vast majority seem to be French. Mike the owner is Belgian, (Michelle is Australian), so that would make sense. All the French crowd speak excellent English. They're all years younger than me. A lot of them work in Vientiane. Of course when I got there, there was someone from Stevenage.
Relaxing on the terrace.
The food is excellent and there are bungalows in the woods, 14 hectares of them, with hundreds of butterflies, geckos frogs, toads, (there was one in a hole in the rock in the showers all the time I was there),strange insects, snakes and the cats.
Quite a big spider: about 6cm.
Mr Toad in the shower hole.
There are nine of them: a litter of young ones, about 3 or 4 months old and very entertaining, as they play on the terrace, with lots of bristling and running up the adjoining trees. The older cats, who are not that old themselves wander around regally and sometimes say hello.
A place a little like Les Espeches, Sauve, but due to the drought.......
I'm still limping, having been told by a couple of Canadian nurses that it would probably take a month to get back to normal, so this is the ideal place to rest my foot. Only problem is that the bungalows are pretty hidden in the forest. The only electricity is from a small solar panel, used to charge the phones so that the owners can arrange bookings.
The forest at night is great. It took me 20 minutes last night to find my place, despite it being only 50 metres from the main area. You go down paths with things making strange noises in the trees, armed with only a small torch. One of the most spectacular sounds is some kind of Owl. Geckos, even the tiny ones, can make a lot of noise. You get the impression that the bass geckos only get going at night. They sound like pterodactyls.
Whilst writing this, we've finally had some rain; not much, but enough to cool things down a bit.
Back to Vientiane tomorrow. I've already arranged transport back to the main road and will spend the rest of tomorrow deciding where to go next.
Dreamtime Eco Retreat,
020 77895721 / 020 7729 1510
You're probably wondering about the cats. For the sake of non cat lovers, there are loads of pictures on my Facebook page.