The Plain of Jars was just not as cool as I had envisioned, and after five minutes, I was over it. They are big jars and they are impressive and the mystery surrounding their use and origin is exciting...when you read about it
. When you pay $8 for a half day trip and your guide just quotes the Lonely Planet or makes things up about the jars to sound more knowledgable, the romance of the mystery sort of disappears. I started thinking about the real meals and nice night's accomodation I could have used that $8 for instead. The most interesting, and depressing, part of the day was seeing the craters from the bombs the US had dropped all over the countryside. Laos is supposedly the most bombed country in the world, and most of it was done by the Americans. Being a communist country so close to North Vietnam, and eventually allied with them, the US "secretly" bombed the hell out of the border areas. Today there are still mines everywhere, especially in the forested mountainous areas of the north and along the Ho Chi Minh trail of the south. While visiting the jars we were told only to walk along the path as there is still a chance of unexploded underground bombs in the area. When visiting the caves of Vieng Xai, where the communist leaders lived for six years during the war, the harsh reality of the bombs became even more evident. After the difficult journey to the remote caves you can really see why that spot was selected as a safe haven. It's absolutely gorgeous up there in the mountains, and cooler than most parts of the country, but there is still danger everywhere. During the war, the US knew that the Lao leaders were living in the mountains, so the bombing of the area was intense. There are craters everywhere and the forests are filled with mines too difficult to detect and remove
. Hundreds of people in the Vieng Xai area alone still die every year from bomb explosions. I was ashamed to know that it was my country who did this to such a kind people, all of whom are still very friendly towards me when they find out I'm American. Visiting the six caves newly open to visitors, and thinking how we forced the heroes of the Lao people to live without electricity in these cave houses for SIX YEARS I sure wouldn't blame them if they were resentful. Once again, it sickens me that we learn nothing in school of the destruction we caused, and continue to cause, in Laos. As much as I love my country and the ideals it once respresented, it is getting continuously hard to defend it in the face of attacks by other travellers. I try to seperate the policies of the government from the beliefs and attitudes of the people. I compare our history of destruction to that of other world powers, mostly European, in an attempt to show that we're not the only bad guy, just the current one. I try to be a good embassador for the US, proving that we're not all ignorant gun-wielding war mongers, but then people tell me that I'm not the "typical American". It's difficult to travel as an American, especially now and especially here. I do not try to justify the pain that the US has inflicted on most of the SE Asian countries, I try to understand and explain how it could have happened. After all, you can't hate or give up on your country because, like it or not, it will always be a part of you.
The past couple of intense travel days necessary in getting to the caves at Vieng Xai, with the stop at Phonsavon, have really exhausted me. I've found myself just travelling for travelling's sake, in sort of a slump and unimpressed by things. It's a horrible way to go, especially through such beautiful country. I've met a couple of people who are on the same path as I am on, but they are much older than me and it's more out of convenience that we find ourselves travelling together. I miss the real companions, like Betty and Angelique and Steve, who were fun to share experiences with. I feel like I've lost a bit of my spark, but maybe this is just the six month slump.