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A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson: After ‘Life after Life‘ another great book from Kate Atkinson. The author calls it a companion book to ”Life after Life’, I also read somewhere that it is a sequel. I find it could be a stand-alone, only for the ending to understand you might need the knowledge from the first book. Anyway, I loved it. Very interesting to read Ted’s story and his life as a bomber pilot in WWII. I was always fascinated by this subject, ever since I read a Reader’s Digest novel in boarding school called ‘Last days of summer’ or something similar (I can’t really remember the title and I never found it online although I did extensive research).
Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff: There was a lot more to Cleopatra than her being the mistress of the two greatest men of her time. An astute leader of her people for 22 years she had few peers in her time. To reduce her to a beauty and a seductress wouldn’t do her justice at all as I learned in the book. She bested the men and managed her country with her intelligence but to acknowledge that wouldn’t look good for Octavian. So much easier to blame it on her beguiling abilities.
Amsterdam by Ian McEwan: Once you betray a friendship all hell can break loose even if it is in a very quiet way. The two friends Vernon and Clive united in their hatred of the husband of their former lover Molly make a pact that has eventually unforeseen consequences. Great read with interesting characters and food for thoughts.
Ach, wär ich nur zu Hause geblieben by Kerstin Gier: Short stories about traveling that were mediocre. Good to read on short metro rides but not enough to keep your mind occupied.
After our more than interesting journey up north to Vang Vieng, we were glad to find our guesthouse easily. Champa Lao The Villa was an amazing placee, a little bit outside of the bustle of the village and definitely not in the middle of the backpacker party zone. When I told my brother that I was heading there I had to hear that last year 22 people died due to the rapids of the Mekong (and probably heavy inhibitions of LaoLao). But since I am not 20 anymore but a responsible adult, I didn’t foresee any problems.
After checking in we went first for lunch to get some energy and then I convinced Dudley to book a tour for the next day.
Since we had made such good experiences with Green Discovery Laos I wanted to book with them and they offered us a three caves visiting tour with kayaking in the afternoon. After finalizing our plans for the next day Dudley went back to get some rest while I sat down to write some postcards and to get a pedicure (so not worth it).
The next morning we had breakfast at the guesthouse where they served an amazing soup.
Right on time our pickup arrived with two girls from South Korea already in it. Minnie and Jinnie were way better prepared for the rainy weather than us. With rain coats and shoes which could get wet they were perfectly adjusted for the day. I of course didn’t bring neither but was at least wearing my bikini underneath.
We had a 14km drive ahead and when we finally arrived near the first cave it was raining even harder. I decided to remove my T-Shirt and just walk around in my bikini top. Really no point in getting everything wet.
From the Elephant Cave we trekked for a while through the rain. The first couple of hundred meters I still tried to save my shoes but eventually I gave up and waded through the pools of mud. There was just no other way through.
By the time we reached our lunch place I looked like a drowned rat. Since we would visit two caves before eating I put my T-Shirt on again, no need to get cold in the caves.
We left all our things at the table and started with the snail cave (Tham Hoi cave). After the caving experience in Vietnam the caves in Laos were of course disappointing. Nonetheless we walked through the first one for about 45 minutes and the second one maybe 10 minutes. The formations were better in the first one but still insignificant. In the second one was a large Buddha at the cave entrance though. Once we finished with the second cave we went back to the rain shelter and had our lunch. Now this was a tasty affair, Laotian BBQ at its best.
It was still drizzling when we left for next cave. After a short trek we arrived at Tham Nam (water cave) where I shed my T-shirt again because as the name implied this cave could only be accessed swimmingly or as in our case with tubes. Thus we explored the last cave for the day. As with the others there was not much to see but it was fun tubing inside, using a rope to not get dragged along by the current. When we exited the cave the sun was out and all of a sudden it was hot again. We had another trek ahead of us to visit a Hmong village passing through some rice fields. When we finally crossed the bridge we were all hot and sweaty and ready for the last leg of our tour. The tuk-tuk truck was waiting for us and with the canoes we made our way to the Mekong. We had a good two hours of kayaking ahead of us and we all wanted to get into the water. Why Dudley was mostly taking pictures of me when I was not rowing, I really don’t understand. But at least we didn’t capsize due to my unwavering support. Eventually we all made it to the last bar along the river before the village. Here we stopped for some sustenance in form of chips and beer. That “happy water” was served along the beer we didn’t know before but it had the desired effect. We stayed a while longer and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere with our guides and Minnie and Jinnie. What difference a little “happy water” could make, suddenly we were not strangers anymore.
After so much exercise we were really hungry that evening and Dudley managed to eat the biggest burger available in Vang Vieng. Yours, Pollybert
We made it back to Pakse after the zip lining without a hotel to go to. In the end we booked something online and went with the Phi Dao Hotel.
Dudley needed a day to relax after the more than challenging zip lining tour. Dinner the first evening was at the hotel which was negligible. I was in bed a short time later totally exhausted from all excitement of the day.
I started the next day with an intensive shoe cleaning and later went for a soup for breakfast. I haven’t had one since my last day of Saigon and it was quite good. Different from the Vietnamese ones but good nonetheless.
The next morning we left by plane for Vientiane again. This was the easiest and fastest way to get up north. I had booked a night at the Be Na Cam Guesthouse which was located right downtown.
For the afternoon I had planned a visit to the COPE Visitors Centre which helps the victims of land mines. Laos had been bombed during the ‘Secret War‘ more times than Vietnam and the legacy of these bombing missions was still visible.
Even though I had this huge caramel French toast in the late afternoon that evening we went for dinner at an Italian place right around the corner from our guesthouse. Here I had my first glass of wine since ages and was more than disappointed. Maybe it’s the climate?
The next day we left for Vang Vieng a city about 4 hours from Vientiane. After the experience with the minibus from Ban Nakasang we had booked tickets on the VIP bus so that Dudley could stretch his legs. But buying tickets and getting a seat are two different pairs of shoes.
There was not one place available on either the minibus nor the VIP bus and since I was not ready to wait for the one that was supposedly leaving unscheduled 2 hours later, I insisted that they find a place for us. Which they did, just differently from what we expected. Dudley ended up sitting on the stairs while I sat next to the driver.
I offered my seat because I am a nice person (at least sometimes) but Dudley wouldn’t budge. We had one stop in between were I tried roasted bananas filled with shredded coconut.
That the trip in the end did take around 6 hours made matters slightly worse for Dudley. In the end we made it though to Vang Vieng and even managed to walk to our guesthouse without major problems (thank God it was such a small village where everything was within walking distance). Yours, Pollybert
The next morning started bright and early. Maybe not so bright since it was raining again or still raining. Who could tell with the constant rain?
I got picked up by Sinsay shortly after 7am. He felt bad since the treehouse I got had not been properly prepared. He had only realized shortly before the evening ended that Dudley and I were not a couple. So he came to my treehouse first to check if everything was alright. Which it was since my bed got only a bit wet.
The waterfall in the morning was almost invisible behind the fog and mist.
We also had to cross some interesting bridges to get back to the tree house station. I was glad that Dudley waited for me to finish crossing first before he went on. It was already shaky without an extra person on it and a challenge to get across. Suzanne was not ready to do it on her own and got a ‘lift’ from one of the guides.
We had lunch back at the treehouse station and after that our biggest challenge waited for us. Since we had been zip lining down the day before we needed to get back up again and the only way to do that was through the via ferrata. I hadn’t really been sure what it was but after 90 minutes of trekking uphill we were standing before it.
It’s probably not really visible on the pictures but we had to go up a couple of steps and then horizontal for a while around an overhanging rock and up again to a small ledge where we had a short break to wait for the others.
After the first two steps up on the wall I felt my legs shaking so hard that I had to take a deep breath and tell my brain to shut up. There was just no room for panic on this wall. It was better after that I was extremely focused. When I got around the overhanging rock I noticed that I had forgotten to change the carabiners to the new line. I had to go back around the bend and was so grateful that Sinsay was right there and helped me. When I finally pulled myself up on the ledge which was halfway through the via ferrata I was exhilarated and happy. A couple minutes later Dudley also made it to the halfway point.
After a short break we started on the second half which was a lot better since it didn’t involve any horizontal climbing. My problem was though that Suzanne with the guides were right behind me and her front guide grabbed my foot to let me know that I had to hurry. Suzanne was getting more and more hysterical and they needed me out of the way. This of course put pressure on me which I hated on the vertical climb. Eventually I made it to the top and couldn’t have been prouder of myself. I did it on my own, unbelievable!
More trekking waited on top of the wall for us and after another two hours we arrived at the point where we had started the day before.
We had a short rest to take off all the gear and to just breathe evenly again. Our two day adventure had come to an end and we were all more than happy to have survived it. I had never felt more alive than at the top of this wall. Not sure though if I will ever go on a via ferrata again. Yours, Pollybert
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