Monday, March 7, 2011

Part 2 - Eden

There is nothing like being woken by songbirds and roosters at daybreak and it seems to happen more often in third world countries than in the more developed countries...I wonder why? The bliss quickly disappeared when my eyes focused on the images about our room and the recall of our plan we made over dinner the night before. We slipped from our sleep condoms, rinsed in the all in one water room,  packed our bags, staged them on the bed, and slipped out the door to check out Plan A. That plan was to switch boats to a luxury boat we had caught a glimpse of through our portal the day before. This boat had many empty seats, relaxed appearing passengers and white gloved assistants serving cocktails. At this bend in the river, money was no object but that plan was soon dashed because these boats don't really stop at Pakbang or at least the day we needed them. This meant we default to Plan B, so we returned to our room, swung our bags onto our backs and trekked the quarter mile down to the landing to get in line early to score better seats providing us a view on our  seven hour last leg to Luang Prabang leaving at 9AM.

Breakfast shopping before shoving off
At 7:15 we hiked the steep decline to the boat and I spied a few passengers already boarding. I confirmed the destination with the captain and he motioned us to come aboard. Having our pick of any seats, I began to feel tears of joy well up as we chose a pair of great seats signifying a change in our luck. The plan worked...shortly after the crowds came and the lingering late comers were forced into our previous days position. I had no remorse...I served my time and now Sharon and I were to enjoy the ride into our destination in style.

While waiting for 9:AM to arrive I first went back up the very steep incline and road to the beginning of the village to score food for our journey. I returned with a large sandwich, bananas, two green iced teas and Oreo cookies. Just as I returned Sharon noticed the girls in front of us had coffee in to go cups. Back up the incline and up the steep road I hiked to find the coffee. Knowing I didn't want to make the trek again, not only did I return with coffee but also lovely buttery, real french croissants. That little extra allowed me to board the boat, the lines cast off and we were on our way to Luang Prabang.

Laos village above the Mekong River
Navigating through the rocks and rapids on the Mekong River
The ride was incredibly beautiful, quiet (unless we ventured back to the bathroom next to the engine room), peaceful which satisfied our souls. The tropical countryside was populated with thick forested mountain tops and terraced lush garden aprons at the base of villages dotted in the safety of the high banks along the Mekong. Midday the long sleek slender fishing boats were moored in the eddies behind the large outcropping of rocks our captain maneuvered around with solemn confidence. Once in while this maze of large rocks would incorporate level three rapids but our captain throttled back the engine and worked the wheel with aplomb. Periodically, our boat would drift spin and power back up to a stop point where locals would embark or depart. This was a lively time when information was passed, goods distributed, and farewells offered from the families of villagers precariously jumping from the boat to the floating makeshift dock or just hopping to the shoreline.
Waiting for bags at the port of Luang Prabang

We were all grins until the sun began to touch the horizon and I saw the port or should I say the bank of the Mekong with a few buildings perched at the top of a steep embankment. I was expecting something more substantial for a large-ish city especially at the port, again no dock. Our bow touched land, the lines secured, the engine killed and now the wait for our bags stowed deep into hull of the boat, we waited on the near vertical bank looking for the yellow and red bags to appear. Within a half hour our bags appeared and I climbed down to the bow where they were staged. The first bag I swung onto my back but the second caught me off balance a bit and the captain gave a reassuring shove to upright me and we both had a bit of a laugh. I thanked him for the help and for being such a great captain. We shook hands while we both flashed each other friendly grins and I scrambled up the embankment to the steep road to meet Sharon waiting with our other smaller daypacks. Together we slowly made our way up to Luang Prabang as the sun began to set. Reaching the first main paved street I went to the corner restaurant and asked the sweet young waitress for her recommendation for a guesthouse. Within one block she introduced us to the manager of the small Villa Luang Prabang and fortunately they had an airconditioned room with one bed, breakfast included,for $40.00 US (that's 320,000 kip, to give you an idea of the local currency, perhaps they should drop a few zeros) per night. PERFECT.

Checked in, cleaned up, and ready for dinner we first walked our sidestreet up to the main boulevard to the night market. On the way we walked by a beautiful restaurant called "The Blue Lagoon" and thought it was a good possibility to give us a special treat from our ordeal of the last three days. But we weren't going to make a snap we walked through the market to view all the beautiful handicrafts. This market went on for many blocks and my stomach was now overriding my vision so I asked Sharon if we could direct our energy back to The Blue Lagoon.
Celebratory dinner at the Blue Lagoon, Luang Prabang

The young Laos waiters lead us to the rear outdoor eating area next to a small water feature. The restaurant was beautifully lit and constructed with excessive use of teak hardwood. The efficient and attentive wait staff promptly brought menus,  wine list, water, and wonderful french bread with herbed butter, a good sign. We treated ourselves to a bottle of Chilean red and ordered local dishes. The food was remarkably presented and served. This is very very rare in our trip so far. The concept of serving both people simultaneously has not quite caught on yet. Half way through dinner a large German gentleman came by our table to ask if everything was to our liking and we couldn't rave enough about the food and service which brought about a very friendly grin. He introduced himself as Peter, the restaurant owner and thanked us for our patronage.

We returned to our air conditioned lovely room knowing we had just reached Eden.

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