Coping with Unexploded Ordinance, Part 1: The Bad.

First a little history lesson….

Most people don’t know much about Laos. Most people couldn’t point it out on a map, or even tell you which continent it’s on.

 Well, let me tell you a little bit about it.

Laos is a small country in South East Asia. It borders China, Myanmar (Burma), Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. And over the last thousand years, it has been invaded by each and every one of those countries, and other countries from the other side of the world.

The most recent of these wars that Laos has been involved in was the Vietnam war. Which doesn’t even make much sense when you think about it. How was Laos involved in the war between North and South Vietnam forces? During the Vietnam war Vietnamese troops made a series of routes called the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam to carry munitions to the troops around the country.

When the Americans found out about the Ho Chi Minh trail they instigated “the secret war”. The secret war was in the late 60’s and early 70’s when American bomber planes and fighter planes attacked areas of Laos that they believed were involved in helping the Vietnamese carry arms.

Here are some facts about the Secret War:

·         *On average a plane-load of bombs was dropped on Laos every 8 minutes from 1964 to 1973. That’s nine whole years.
·        * The quantity of unexploded ordinance (UXO) dropped over Laos during this time exceeds 2,000,000  metric tonnes.
·      *   The American government orchestrated over 584,000 missions to deliver this ordinance.
·         *The number of cluster munitions (bombies) dropped over Laos exceeds 260,000,000
·       *  The estimated failure rate per cluster bomb is roughly 30%
·       *  The estimated number of cluster bombs (bombies) contaminating Laos today is 78,000,000
·         *The number of people killed by UXOs annually exceeds 300. The number of people injured or maimed is in the thousands.
·       *  Laos remains the most bombed country per capita in the world

As you can clearly see from the facts, there is still a massive problem with the unexploded bombs dropped by American planes almost 50 years ago. The reality is that more people die in Laos (a country about the size of Ireland) from bombs dropped by Americans 50 years ago, than have died of ‘terrorism’ any year except 2001.

Here is a map of where some of the recorded bombing missions (of rice farming villages) in Laos occurred:

Talia and I have traveled all over this country. There are people in every village affected by the remains of the American Secret War on Laos. Every couple of days you see a person without hands, missing a leg or with a badly damaged face, due to farming for sustenance in an area that hasn’t been cleared of bombs dropped half a century ago.

Here are some accounts written by children in the refugee camps during the years of the bombings:

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Cluster Bombs are designed to be dropped from a certain height, open in the air and drop a cache of apple or plum sized ‘bombies’ over a large area, each bombie giving around the same explosive force as a hand grenade.
A hanging model of "bombies."

The UXO situation wouldn’t be such a large problem if Laos were America or Ireland, where the economy allows for funds to be allocated to clearing land quickly to allow people to farm. And most people in Laos make such a meager living that sometimes farming alone doesn’t make enough income so the people of Laos have to find other sources of income.

Because of this a lot of Laotians turn to the scrap metal trade. A lot of adults and children go out into the countryside with spades and sticks to see if they can fish some of the casings from exploded bombs out of the ground, and sell the metal on the local markets. The people in Laos search fields, knowing there are unexploded bombs ready to explode, so they can have enough to feed their families,  or just to have some minor luxuries such as pots or pans.

One of the biggest problems with cluster bombs is that though many countries have outlawed the use of cluster bombs, many countries still use them. Even today.

Even today the United States use cluster bombs in areas of the middle east and as awful as it is to destroy a family’s livelihood (or even massacre entire villages with bombs dropped from drones controlled from hundreds of miles away) the land that cluster bombs are dropped on can remain unusable for decades, as we can see in Laos.

Check out part 2 of our article on cluster bombs when I tell you how people in Laos are living and COPEing with UXOs.

Around the world in 7 moustaches!

It’s Movember at 2feet! Around the world in 7 moustaches!

Well Talia and I are busy with the old volunteering again! It took me several weeks to grow sufficient facial hair to shave this many times but in just over a month I managed to produce the world’s 7 most epic moustaches in awareness of Testicular cancer!

7. “The Depp”

6. “The mutton Chopper”

5.  “The Douche Canoe”

4. “The WHAM!”

3. “The Creeper”

2. “The Chap-tler”

1. “The Father-in-law”

Hope you liked our list! More volunteer work soon!!

New Stuff Just for You!

I mentioned in the last post that we are back in Laos. We've also mentioned before that we have a store. Laos has some pretty cool stuff that we would like to share with you. Thing is, as we are traveling, we can't buy a ton of this cool stuff and wait for orders.

Fortunately, we will be in Vientiane for about a week more, which is plenty of time for you to tell us what you want.

Let me give you an idea of the possibilities.

This stuff.
Coffee. Lao coffee is apparently pretty great. It is grown on the Bolaven Plateau near Pakse. In fact, on one of our motorbike drives, we passed a massive field (orchard? farm?) of coffee plants and saw coffee cherries drying in the sun at one small village. For the true Lao experience, sweeten with sweetened condensed milk! (We can get whole bean, ground, or instant)

Silver. Silver is abundant here, and beautiful jewelry and other lovely handcrafted things can be found.

Traditional Lao dress: Skirt (or sinh) with matching shoulder sash.
Clothing. Not just any clothing, though we can get that too. We can get you "fisherman pants," which are unisex, one size fits all, and tie to close. There are also what I call "hippie pants" but I guess they're close to harem pants. They usually have an elastic waist (or cute ruched ones for the ladies) and elastic ankles, so you can leave them down, or pull them up to your knees to make shorts. The fabric is very light and airy, and they are extremely comfortable.

Another option for clothes are traditional Lao skirts for the ladies. They are gorgeous and come in different colors and patterns. They usually come to mid-calf, and pair nicely with high heels and a nice shirt, or with a tank and flip-flops.

So think about it. If you are a coffee drinker, let us know and we can hook you up. Need a gift for your lady-friend? Silver earrings!

Let us know what you are interested in, and we will send you pictures and prices. Seriously, don't miss out on this cool stuff. Comment here, or email us, or tweet us, or whatever else you want to do to get a hold of us. We're all ears!

Something Familiar, Something Foreign: 5 Months on the Road

A lot has happened in the past week.

One of the things that Ricky and I decided is a must for the trip is a motorbike tour of Vietnam. (We have Top Gear to thank for that.) We were in Chiang Mai for a little over a week and decided that Vietnam was our next stop. But how to get there? Flying seemed to be far too expensive, and we really wanted to do the trip without flying at all.

Then it hit us. Laos. We knew there was a bus from Vientiane to Hanoi, where we wanted to start the tour, and going by bus would be cheaper than flying.

So after a 14 hour mini-bus (like a 12 person van) ride, we are here in Vientiane. Yesterday, we decided that our first item of business would be to get our Vietnam visa. As we walked to the embassy, it struck me how much I liked Laos, and this city in particular. We walked the streets that were familiar to us, yet everything was also so foreign.

We had traveled the same roads before, knew where the too-large shopping mall was, and that the green walking man never showed his face signaling the time to cross the street on foot.

We still don't speak the language, though, or recognize a lot of places. It's still possible for us to get turned around on the side streets.

And that is great!

When you're at home, you sleep in the same bed every night, eat at the table that is always in the same place, leave your keys in the same little dish. Traveling, though, everything is different. Your bed changes often (sometimes more often than your underwear), and you hardly ever have time to have any favorites in a town.

So when we returned to Vientiane, where we stayed for a week two months ago, it was amazing to have the two sensations at once. We are staying in the same hostel we stayed at before, but in a different room with different people. We've eaten at a couple of the same places as before, and found some new ones too. It's a lot easier to branch out this time and try some new things, because we're not so wary. We feel confident in this town.

The same can be said for traveling in general. I was just telling Ricky how I felt like such a noob when we first started in China, and everyone we met had been traveling for a while. Now, though, it's different.

Today is our 5 month mark for the trip. We feel pretty experienced as travelers and are confident in the way we do things. We've made a ton of mistakes, but we've learned from them. Every new country or city we visit throws something new at us, but we are learning to handle them better after having messed up in similar situations before.

We are excited to go to Vietnam, excited for the challenges, the new experiences. We know that there will be things that are very different from what we've experienced so far, but we are confident that we will be able to handle them.

Subsidizing travel, Making your travel last longer

Hey guys, Ricky here, sorry for the Hiatus but I am back! I want to talk to you about how to subsidize your travel, making you travel for longer and experience more of a place before you leave.

There are a million ways for a person with absolutely no qualifications or prospects to make their pennies stretch further on a trip. And when there hasn’t been a return flight booked, what’s the rush?! So far Talia and I have met many people along the way and we have discovered some very interesting ways to stay travelling, for longer.

We met one young French guy (19 if I remember correctly) in Laos who we didn’t particularly see eye to eye with on any topic. But in particular one thing we were truly opposed to was how he funded his travel. This guy decided to buy large quantities of marijuana in Vietnam and carry it (in his underwear) around Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia and sell it. Needless to say I would NOT advise this and I can’t see this guy going very far with the way he boasted about it within twenty minutes of meeting him.

 FYI the punishment for drug-dealing in many Asian countries is Death.
If you're lucky this'll be the worst of your troubles!

Just recently we met a guy from Turkey (he’s actually asleep in the dorm bed across from me) who is a photographer. He decided, and I thought this was an amazing idea, to take photos of the town he is in, get the photos printed onto postcards etc. and sell them to the local shops. Personally I reckon this is one of the most genius ideas on how to make a little on the side!

It can be quite interesting when we see a foreigner who is quite obviously not an expat selling wares in the streets or working behind bars.

A couple of weeks ago we were on Otress beach on the southern coast of Cambodia and on the same day that we arrived two South Africans started working behind the bar of the place we were staying at. As it turned out they simply walked up to the bar, asked for work and got it right there on the spot! Needless to say they weren’t paid but given free accommodation and food which is pretty much the only costs a person will have. The South-Africans’ names were Danny and Gaby and we ended up being good friends with them, and they brought a GREAT vibe to the bar!
Us with Danny and Gaby at the Sunhine Cafe.
 As it turns out Bar work, Rep work and public relations are VERY common ways to lengthen your stay. So far we have met several people who simply walked up to a bamboo hut on a beach, asked for work and got it there and then!

Last week when we were in Bangkok we stayed with a new friend. He told us he made a little extra by buying premium antiques such as opium weights in countries like Nepal or Myanmar and selling them on Ebay. Though, admittedy, he knows a hell of a lot about antiques which would certainly give him an edge on the market.
This is an opium weight...
I haven't a clue what it does.
Teaching English (or French/German/Spanish/Mandarin etc.) has become a very pleasant and breezy way to travel longer. Sometimes the experience can be so amazing and life changing that people stay in teaching jobs for years afterwards just because they love it so much. I have to mention that finding short term teaching jobs can be very difficult so consider getting qualified and getting long term work if you find yourself interested.
Me volunteer-teaching in Luang Prabang
While we were in Laos we bumped into one young guy who we helped out with trips to the embassy while he was renewing his Vietnam visa. This guy had travelled from England, around Europe, all over South America and landed in Vietnam with low funds. So one day, while on a tour he asked to tour guide if there was any work and within a week he was employed.

The reality is that if you enjoy travel and don’t mind staying on a beach for a few months sipping on a free martini with a lovely little umbrella in it, you don’t have to stop and go home any time soon. A person can very easily come to Asia and do well enough to enjoy life and experience the world without a massive bank account.

Do you have any interesting travel subsidy stories? Leave a comment, a mail or send us a tweet and let us know!

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