Sunday, July 12, 2009

Gooood adventure!

Still writing from Luang Prabang- sweating buckets in an internet cafe.

The last two days were something else! What a great adventure we had on our trek to the village. Both Ashley and I started out feeling much less than 100%, and wondered if we should be going ahead with the weekend plan...6 hours trekking, 2 hours kayaking, 40 kilometers of biking. And a whole lot of Laos sunshine/sizzling heat! The tour group, Green Adventure Laos, suggested we shorten our trek to 3 hours so we decided to give it a go. We were joined by another Canadian teacher and our excellent guide, Sittha.

The trek up the mountain was awesome, but very very tiring by the time we were on the steep climb up, right under the sun. We waded through streams up to our knees, and the most memorable part was spending time with the farmers in the rice paddies. We waded in and helped out with a few bushels. It was one of the many moments I've had on this trip where a reality hit home...the life of a farmer in Asia. My feet slithered into the hot, hot muddy water and it felt unimaginable that this was their everyday life. Makes a very comfortable Canadian wonder (there would be more wondering on this day). On the way up, we also saw a young dad, mom and baby feasting? on rat. They love to eat rat in the village...sorry, I didn't have the chance. :)

After tackling the mountain (this felt like no small feat!) we were very pleased to arrive in our village. I had suspicions that it would be some fake village set up for tourists. Ha! This was definitely the real deal. It was such an interesting spot to hang out in for the day. The village was bustling with tons of kids, which made it an instant hit in my books...especially for taking pictures! Most of the little kids didn't wear clothes, and neither did the Grandmas. I had a National Geographic/am I dreaming? moment when a shirtless and saggy-boobed elderly woman came up to me and grabbed the flubber on my arms...measuring it like she had one of those fancy fat calipers. She laughed and laughed. She had those long ears because of her drooping, heavy earrings. Where the heck am I?! There was no electricity in the village. Most of the men cared for the children, strapped to their backs. The entire village was also an animal farm, and I had almost written an entire script for the next Disney movie- that was fun.

As mentioned in the previous post, Southeast Asia loves to describe things and places as "same, same...but different". While gawking at the different-ness of this village, I also smiled many times over at the same-ness of this village and life as I know it. Some examples? Little boys making farting noises with their arms stuck in their armpits. Kids using the international decision-making strategy: rock, paper, scissors. Crying babies up late into the night. Kids creating forts. Men making opium and smoking it and then offering it to the tourists...oh wait, maybe not so same-same!!!! (And NO, we didn't say yes to that offer, though apparently many other backpackers are eager to try it out)

We slept in something like a storage space you might see on a farm. It was fine, though we didn't sleep all that well (our place at the refugee camp was actually more comfortable). Between the crying baby next door, the roosters, and a heavy storm, it didn't make for a great night. Anyway, we woke up, ate some breakfast and started our day. Trekking down the mountain first- took about an hour and a half. I forgot to mention how BEAUTIFUL this place was! Green mountains spotted with trees, rice paddies, all resting in the clouds. We trekked down and then kayaked along the chocolatey river for another hour and a half. We ate some lunch, and then finished our adventure with a 40 kilometer bike ride back to town. HOOFTA! This was a great experience for me- I have never biked that far before, especially not in the plus 35 degree temperatures. It was a really good challenge and I will definitely sleep well tonight!!!

So, that was our adventure! It's time for bed, and then tomorrow is a traveling day- saying goodbye to Laos and hello to Cambodia!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Live from Laos...

Hello friends. It's been awhile since I've posted on my blog. The last six weeks has been a blur. June was a month of goodbyes- lots of fun memories with plenty of laughs, and then a definite share of sad, teary farewells. However- no time to catch up on June now! July is here and with it, a load of experiences to blog about...but no time (or motivation??) to write! I'd better get started...
I'm in Luang Prabang, Laos. I am on a two-week adventure with my friend Ashley. This is the second chapter of our trip- the first could take awhile to tell you about because we saw, heard, experienced and learned a lot. We spent four days experiencing life in the Mae La refugee camp, located near the border of Thai and Burma. It was fun, overwhelming, filled with opportunity and memory-filled, hands-on, courage-giving and like nothing I've experienced before. We made good friends and listened to many stories- many of which I hope to tell in one way or another. I took a lot of video while I was there, so at some point a video will be compiled and shared...with hopes of communicating the stories, struggles, and strength of our Burmese friends. That's all on Mae La for now...more to come (I'm in the midst of catching up on my journaling- to give you an idea- I'm on page 9 and I haven't even arrived at camp yet :).
Back to Laos!! I love it!! Here are some reasons why...
-It's soooo laidback. I think of Hong Kong and other cities I've traveled- Hanoi, Bangkok, Kolkata...and I laugh. As soon as we drove into the city, I felt someone turn down the volume of life. And that is a good thing!! If people are stressed in Laos, they sure hide it well..
-It's soooo cheap!!! Daily (or maybe twice daily) banana-pineapple shakes? 1 dollar. Fresh baguette sandwiches off the street? 1 dollar. Our quiet, clean and well-cared for guesthouse? 3 dollars each/night. Our two-way one-hour ride to the waterfall today? 3 dollars. Hour-long foot massage? 4 dollars. YES!
-It's beautiful! As they say in this part of the world, "same-same but different" from its neighbors. Gorgeous blue skies, plenty of palm trees, waterfalls, and green green green. Luang Prabang is spotted with temples and orange and yellow clad monks wandering the streets.
-It has very impressive initiatives towards sustainable tourism, better than any place I've seen yet. One particular group, sponsored by World Bank, has outlined and published many, many ways that tourists can be responsible as they enjoy the country. You can check it out here- it's called Stay Another Day...very well done!!
I guess that's enough for today! We are off to do a bit of shopping in the market and then it will be a time for a foot-massage (essential, right?!). Tomorrow we are going on a two-day trip which involves trekking, kayaking, biking and staying with a Laos homestay family. On Monday, I will fly to Cambodia for a final three days before heading back to HK for a last weekend before my one-way ticket to...CANADA!