Laos River Tales – Into the Heart of Darkness

Along the riverside, dead skeleton trees are rotting in the water – white and ghost-like. They are drowning courtesy of the Chinese dam a few miles down the river, left to wither in the flood.
On we ride on our small fisherman’s boat towards the Unknown. Lines from Heart of Darkness come to mind as we emerge deeper into the jungle, the thick vegetation around. Against the dark green backdrop of the underbrush, the forest gives a menacing appearance. Up the hills that enclose the river, century-old trees are roaming wild, nobody cutting them on their steep resting ground.

The spirits and ghosts of the native people are awakening

Without aim or destination, we had named the only village nearby, expecting a thirty-minute journey. But thirty minutes had long passed and no village was in sight. As the sun was setting, I felt like we were entering the real wilderness, a kind of savagery. Surely all kinds of exciting animals were hiding in the thicket. In my fantasy, I saw monkeys hurtling themselves from tree to tree, deer peering through the forrest with alert minds or even a tiger glaring through the bushes with fiery eyes.

They remained in the shadows of my mind. Only lonely fishermen appeared here and there, with their colorful boats vaguely distinguishable from the emerald green backdrop.

Finally, after the next bend, a village appeared in the near distance. Over two hours had passed and the sun had set, leaving only a dim light. But we rejoiced at the sight of it. The village came closer, little huts visible in the remains of the day. Then we were beside it, a minute later we had left it behind – a wave of disappointment rushing over us.

The Horror!

The next bend revealed a very different view, and my eyes grew wide with astonishment. The river and trees gave way to a clearing, yet there was no grass, no animals rushing by. Only sand and dust on a devastated ground. Striking and disturbing, the real savagery revealed itself. Before our eyes, huge mechanical beasts stood erect, surrounded by broken rock, engulfed by Chinese symbols. The jungle had turned to yet another construction site to sustain China’s immense need for power supply. Officially foreigners were not allowed to purchase land for profit-oriented reasons – another obscure deal between the global power and poverty-stricken Laos?

Here, in one of the countries‘ last Bio-Diversity areas, lay the 21st centuries‘ heart of darkness and the display modern colonialism. And it was as ugly as Mr. Kurtz‘ heads on stakes. The Horror.