Embarking on the journey from Luang Prabang to Phonsavan is not for the ill hearted or motion sick traveller. Caution, states the sign, "sharp curve ahead" an understatement for the six hour drive on the scarred serpentine trail winding endlessly through the undulating peaks and valleys of Laos topography. Beautiful vistas fogged in black plumes of exhaust billowing from the diesel bus five meters ahead. Confident, choking on the same soot filled air as the myself and the other nine passengers, the driver's first attempt to overtake the lumbering mechanical giant is thwarted by a large oncoming truck. We tuck quickly behind the bus, tight on its tail and attempt the same manoeuvre again. Success! To no avail the road ceaselessly winds and turns as the van grinds and churns around countless mountain outcroppings. Luckily for me I am the sole rider in the front passenger seat and witness to the many obstacles to cross and quickly dart out of our path. No school zones or speed limits exist here for the safety of the inhabitants as we gain speed through every village. Beep beep, beware! A quick honk of the horn notifies the children at play that we are not going to slow down nor stop. Please do not cross our path I chant as a silent mantra in my mind with jaw clenched and four limbs bracing against the perpetual thrashing of the vehicle.
Strange enough I close my eyes, better not to see what I cannot control, and slip with a tense comfort into half sleep. Aware of my bracing limbs and bobbling head, like the black and white stallions pasted to the front dash, I rock deeper into an acute mode of hibernation that has developed after many years of travel and road trips. The light is on but offly dim, to paraphrase Uncle Steve whose use of the saying is completely derogatory in nature. Safely, a loose sense of the word, we arrive in Phonsavan. The character of the town is reminiscent of Medicine Hat, Alberta. Only, there are no large dinosaurs peaking over buildings or hiding in sculpted stasis. Instead, we find MAG (Mines Advisory Group) and tour through the centre where we learn about the ongoing efforts of this humanitarian group to disarm or destroy the UXO's (unexploded ordinance) that continue to plague Laos since the "Secret War" that was waged by the US from 1964 - 1973. During this period more than two million tons of ordinance was dropped on the country making Laos the most heavily bombed country in the whole world. Of this indiscriminate bombing, it is estimated that at least thirty percent of the bombs did not detonate and continue to kill villagers, including many children who find and play with the materials. Unfortunately the people of Laos are unable to further cultivate land, out of fear from injury or death, and most cannot produce enough food for their families and villages and are held captive in poverty due to a war that was wagged in secrecy over thirty-five years ago. http://www.maginternational.org/laopdr.
Tomorrow we are visiting a few sites unique to this area including the Plains of Jars, a bombed-out cave, and to finish the day off a dip in local hot springs. Hooray!