I didn't actually play ball and I'm pretty sure I've used this line before in the past.
Nevertheless it was time to head back to site and it was a pretty busy week there. I was scheduled to be there on Wednesday and Thursday but events conspired against me to force me to stay until Friday. The main cause of this was a visit by the Lao Prime Minister to the site on Wednesday. (I can say that now as it has been on the news.) I guess when one enterprise represents a measurable chunk of your GDP then you can expect the government to take a pretty strong interest in the place. I arrived on the first flight in on Wednesday morning and was greeted by the usual guy with a breathalyser (0.00% BAC is a requirement for being allowed on site) as well as a couple of young men in green uniforms with AK-47s. There were quite a few armed guys throughout the place as I went about my day. In trying to return to our office around lunch time we were held at bay while the group inspected the copper production facility. Bugger it. We might as well wait it out in the mess.
I was supposed to head out on Thursday arvo and was planning on catching up with some of Vientiane's twitteratti, but weather had seen a lot of flights cancelled over the previous day and there was a large entourage who had accompanied the PM yesterday looking to get out. He had no such problems, leaving via his own helicopter. So I got bumped to Friday's flight plans.
I awoke on Friday morning to a still and misty morning and knew that there was zero chance I was flying out today. My luck had finally run out and that meant THE BUS. Forced to travel the width of the country from Sepon to Savannakhet like a filthy backpacker. It was journey that was both amazing and horrific. I'm glad I got to do it, but in no hurry to do it again. The bus itself was a fairly well appointed mini-bus so it was clean and comfortable with good air conditioning. I was extremely thankful for all of that by the end of the day.
The first part of the journey is down route 28A and it passes through some tiny villages. One room huts on top of stilts with pigs, cows, goats and dogs wandering around. It doesn't seem to stop them having satellite TV though. Plenty of dishes set up connected to a house that makes the tin shed I keep my lawnmower in at home look like a McMansion. I also noticed a difference in the people between these rural dwellers and comparatively cosmopolitan people of Vientiane. The rural population seemed skewed towards the very old and the very young. I suspect that those in the middle are seeking their respective opportunities in the larger cities.
The road itself was appalling. Every kilometre or so we had to stop to a crawl to negotiate a road that was essentially washed away. It was the same when we got onto the more developed route 9, which is the main arterial from Vietnam to Thailand. Again we had to deal with roads that were just.. gone. I noticed a few surveying teams on the road and have since been told that the Japanese government will be funding a redo of 50-100km of this route. It certainly needs it. It turned the whole trip into a core workout as you tried to ride the bumps as best you could, but I still would have preferred a mouthguard for the trip to avoid the feeling that my teeth were going to rattle out of my head or that I might bite my tongue or something. I tried reading for about 5 mins but the swaying and bumping had me feeling carsick in a big hurry to the kindle went back in the bag and the headphones came out so I ended up catching up on a big pile of podcasts.
As the only expat on the bus, the lunch stop was hard for me. We just stopped at this place about 10km out of Savannakhet where the road splits off to Pakse. There were about 15-20 food stalls there, all of them selling the exact same stuff. Grilled chickens and eggs on a stick. You see these everywhere but to have so many of them in one place and all selling the same stuff seemed odd to me. To be honest I hate the grilled chickens. They are universally overcooked and so dry I nearly gag when I eat them. They are rarely flavourful and need a lot of help to become anything I would enjoy eating. I decided to wait till Savannakhet airport to eat.
Which was only about 20 mins so I'm not sure why the guys chose to stop there. Oh well. I got an iced coffee and a cake for lunch at the airport and knew that a sandwich and some fruit would be provided on the plane so I could manage that. We arrived at 1:30 after leaving at about 8:00. We travelled about 230km in that time. It was a looong day.
That didn't end there. Flight to Vientiane was due at 3:30 so we chilled in the airport for a while and one of the girls from the Community Development Unit shared with me the joy of a mango in a bag. It was slightly under ripe so a little bit firm and tart, but pre-sliced with the wedges held off with chunks of sugar cane. My girls will love these I think. 3:15 came and there was no aircraft for us to board. 3:30 - still nothing. 3:45 - the roar of the ATR32 as it lands and a weary group of mine personnel thank their lucky stars that they will be making it home for Friday night. The plane eventually left about 4:30 and so I finally got home just before half time in the footy. I watched another win by the Mighty Cats (although we shan't discuss the third quarter) did my washing and ducked out to Noy's for a cheeseburger and a fruit shake. Early to bed so I can be up early Saturday morning for my first golf game in Laos. Huzzah.