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Luang Prabang

Written on: Tuesday January 22nd, 2008

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

A new camera and pair of sunglasses purchased, my travelling compadre departed. That's right ladies and gentleman, after 107 days of travelling Dave and I have decided to seperate. We sat down one night here in Louang Prabang to talk it over, and I told Dave 'It's not you, it's me' and 'I think we need to see other people before we settle down'. Dave accusingly asked me if I'd been seeing someone else. 'What! Of course not, I just don't feel the same anymore'. I went in to the toilet to dry my eyes and returned to find my IPOD smashed to bits, my journal ripped to shreds and my clothes tattered and ragged. On the wall in deep dark crimson lip-stick read 'I NEVA REALLY LUVED U NEWAY + YOUR GOING BALD'. Being the teacher I am I wrote underneath in bold black markerpen, '"YOUR" needs an apostrophe and an "E" at the end'.

Bringing myself away from the Barbara Taylor Bradford writings, in all truth we just decided to go our own ways for a bit, nothing more spectacular than that. Dave has chosen to push on to Chaing Mai in Thailand, while I'm choosing to head back in to deepest Laos to take a peek at the Plain of Jars, then do the Gibbon Experience, which I really don't want to miss out on. It's funny though, the first day I spend travelling on my lonesome I end up in the local hospital!

Again nothing too drastic, that is as long as my foot doesn't decide to fall off in the near future. The cut or burn should I say, that was a result of me swinging by my feet from one of the ropeswings in Vang Viang had had enough of me drapsing it through pools of stagnant water and come the morning Dave left was oozing a slimy gooy orangy pus, that resembled mango chutney. I certainly wouldn't have dipped my poppadom in it. As the day went on and my little toe on the same foot became more and more afflicted with pins and needles I thought I should head on down to the local clinic.

I think I might have actually missed my calling to become a doctor, as God knows I've spent more time in hospitals around the world than anybody I know save those of course that are already doctors or nurses or of some other associated ilk. This particular institution was in a word, grimy. The dirt festooned up the walls, seemingly trying to claw it's way up to get at the delicious tasting ceiling. The wardroom itself had ill people scattered everywhere and even for 6:30 in the evening was stifflingly hot. There was no air-conditioning, and the fans ceased to be active. Patients spluttered and relatives waved handkerchiefs and scarves to try to circumvent the air in an attempt to keep their loved ones cool. I contemplated leaving.

At that moment as I sat in the waiting room a motorbike came bolting in through the main entrance, took a hard 90 degree turn and came to a halt between me and the other vacant chairs as clinicly as one could in a clinic. A stout, middle-aged Lao lady gracefully alighted and stood intimidatingly in front of me. I pulled myself together as quickly as I could and came to the conclusion that she must hold some sort of position here at the hospital. Not knowing the Lao for 'I burnt my foor on some rope while hanging upside down over a river on a trapeze in Vang Viang' I simply and humbly pointed at my foot, revealing what felt like gangrene setting in. She grimaced then smiled and asked me 'Parle vous ou Francaise'. I tried to explain in French that it was maybe slightly better than my Lao. She grinned further then trollied off rapidly as if on wheels down the corridor commanding me to 'Attend!'

'Attend' was what I did, until after about 15 minutes every single member of staff including the jolly, officious, motorbike driving, smiling matron beckoned me their way. Her collegues joining us were what seemed to be the chief doctor, 2 nurses and a male orderly who was definately overwhelmed by his female workmates. Never have I seen such contrast in people to their surroundings. Coaxing me in to a side ward room the group huddled round me under the constant gaze of the matron, leaving the chief to clean up my hideous wound and apply the iodine while the nurses tag-teamed to bandage me up. For 3 pounds 50 pence I got taken care off, given a bunch of bandages and iodine to redress the wound myself and a perscription for some paracetamol and some more anti-biotics. American statesmen get yourselves over here and sort out your healthcare system.

All this hospital needed was a good soapy sudding and a healthy paint job. The staff truly did make me leave the place with a spring in my step (or was that a limp). I wasn't the only one. A guy in what must have been his 70's and looking pretty ill, barely able to put one foot in front of the other left the hospital just before I did with what I'm assuming were two young female members of his family at either side. As he approached me he offered me the deepest smile and greeted me with a 'Sabai De', then casually jumped on to the back of a motorbike with one of his female attendants. Harrah for one of the friendliest and happiest groups of people on this earth.

Other than this little escapade there's not much to tell of. Dave and I took an excursion to Kouang Si waterfall on one day. A beautiful little spot, a short tuk-tuk drive away from Louang Prabang, where we climbed up the 60 metres to it's summit and boldly strood across where its waters tumble down to its plunge pools. The other attraction here is a group of young bears and a tiger who are being looked after in captivity here, obviously not in the same cage. Both sets of carnivores have had their families taken off them by poachers and are here probably receiving the best life they can. The bears playfully wrestled with one another, while the tiger in his enclosure showed off his presence, strutting up and down, marking his territory.

Unlike Vang Viang, Louang Prabang endorses it's national curfew of 11:30pm, that is all except the bowling alley, where it seems everybody heads to after the bars in this very European feeling city, with it's French colonial buidings and poncy art galleries, shut down. So that was where Dave and I headed to round off this first chapter of our travels, where I scored an incredible career-high 161, on a crooked lane, and where we enjoyed the most delicious popcorn in the whole wide world. The next time I'm at the Vue cinema in Staines I'm coming here to get my popcorn first!