Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mr. Pon on Khong Island

After an overnight bus and a night in Pakse, southern Laos, Caroline and Carrie and I have now reached the Cambodian border of Laos, in the Khone Falls region and Siphandone (means 4,000 islands) in the Mekong River. This picture is our sleeper bus, where we were given the 4-person back of the bus to spread out on, it was hilarious but probably the worst night so far in my traveling because I never stopped rolling around.

It is brutally hot and the sun is strong! From the island we slept on last night, Don Khong, and I took the motorbike to Don Det via Don Som which was a 3 hour ride. To take the bike I ride it on a plank onto a tiny wooden boat, and then ride off and onto some dirt trails onto the next "ferry crossing." It turned out to be pretty treacherous because it rained about 50 liters per square meter last night. I was basically legs out on either side of the bike and walking it through mud so I wouldn't get stuck. My legs were caked with mud and villagers through the rice paddies were laughing at me because I obviously couldn't do it as smoothly as they could. There were no road on Don Som, but there were electicity lines. The islands have just gotten a few hours of electricity a day from a source on the Bolaven Plateau on the mainland. I am still not really sure how they have it.

While on Don Khong, the first and biggest island, I spoke with the famous Mr. Pon, who is the guest house tycoon of the island and the only English speaker. I asked him about the Don Sahong dam. He said that Cambodia's mad and wants 20 to 30% of the electricity from the dam. He said he doesn't think the dam will affect Laotians because the dam will be in the Hou Sahong channel, only 10 meters wide, while the Mekong is about 14 km wide in this area. He said it won't affect his tourism either because the falls will still be there. He said fish will still be able to migrate up through the other channels. In Laos, people want electricity and they need something to export since they ar landlocked and have nothing. This could be electricity, explained Pon.

These comments do not match up with the information I have from Ian Baird and the MRC, etc. What I know is that the Hou Sahong channel is the only channel that the big fish can migrate up in the low water season, and also the rapids in the other channels are too dangerous for them. The Lao government has even recognized the importance of this channel and banned fishing on it various different times in the 60s 70s and 80s.

When I sit out on the edge of the Mekong now, there isn't much going on. There are few fisherman with nets catching tiny cyprinids. The water is too high right now as the wet season just ended and the fish are all in the Tonle Lake area in Cambodia spawning. Come dry season months, the fish will begin their migration north into Laos and Thailand to feed. The fisherman are just idly waiting here in the Khone falls area, catching tiny fish in rice paddies and subsisting off mostly rice.

I am excited to get into the field now. I have met a Belgian who owns a guest house here who has taken an interest in the subject now himself and he is going to take me to the actual site of the dam and take me to different village chiefs so I can get interviews, if all goes according to plan. Everyone moves around by small wooden boat here and some places are dangerous to maneuver because the rapids get so big. Matthew is going to have to do some planning for us and we might have to take a few different boats to get down to Don Sahong which is 3 islands south of here.

*Gumboot sighting - woman in rice paddy sloshing round in gumboots and kindly gave me a long sleeved white button shirt when she saw my skin burning today.

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