Vang Vieng

Unexpectedness

I have been waking up earlier than usual on all our stops.  When I don’t think I am going to be up on my own, I ask to be woken up at least 1 hour before the rest of the group.  The group is woken up 1½ before any departure.  I wake up 2½ hours before.  I unpack everything when I arrive to the hotel room, even when we are somewhere for just one night. The extra time allows me to pack calmly and a lot of times enjoy a sunrise with a cup of coffee in my hand.  Tonight is different.  I’m too exhausted to unpack and since we are leaving at 7:00 am, wake-up call is at 5:30; I ask for a 4:30 am call –or a 4:30 am knock on the door since the hotel is quite basic and has no phone.

I plunk onto bed almost hurting myself ‘cause it’s so hard.  Regardless, I fall asleep immediately.

And I wake up just as suddenly, earlier -way earlier- than my wake-up call and at an hour that is quite indecent to be awake.   My eyes shoot open so violently they almost hurt my upper lid.  My stomach is in knots.  My head feels like it’s burning –I touch my forehead and it is- and feels like it is going to burst open at any moment.  My legs are shaky and I am sweating.  Then I feel a dry heave. Now I know I am very ill.  I don’t throw up, ever.  If I even feel like doing so, it means I am violently, horribly sick.  Fortunately I am organized and fumble towards the Azitrhomycin/ Loperamide combination the Healthy Traveler’s Clinic gave me.  I’m going to take it even if I don’t have, you know, diarrhea… yet. The instructions are blurry and move side to side defying me to grasp them, but I decipher them and with the pills in my hand I crawl to the bathroom where usually a bottle of drinking water has awaited.  Not now, not in this hotel, and not when I need it the most.  I drag myself to the open-air restaurant (fortunately next to my room) where I intend to raid the refrigerator.  There it is.  I plaster myself against it searching for the handle so as to open it but find around it a big old lock preventing me from doing so. I go back to my room, actually bathroom, where the next 3 hours are spent being grateful that I wrote my will while alternately bent over and on the toilet.  Hoping I won’t inconvenience the tour.  Don’t think I have ever thrown up for that many hours.  I hear noises out in the restaurant.  It’s 5:00 am and they haven’t come to my door.  I ask for water, feeling like I’m in the desert and after traveling hours under a midday sun, encounter a nomadic tribe that will give me some life liquid.  I take my pills, open my door, close my suitcase, look outside and see it is light.  I have missed the sunrise and my morning coffee, but I am alive and am as relieved as I am surprised.

The group passes by my front door.  I rise (it really feels like from the dead) and join them.  The doctors say I look very pale.  I tell them I’m sick, though I can safely be away from the bathroom from now on.  The prospect of many hours on the bus, on the death road, bopping up and down, is almost making me sick all over again though.  Another one in the group is also sick.  Misery likes company they say.  I just want to recover.

We are headed to Vientiane, Laos.  It is the capital and largest city in Laos though as of 2012 its population is still less than a million. On the way we will stop at Tham Jang Cave then continue to an organic farm where the group will have lunch.

The group is concerned about my wellbeing and check on me periodically.  I feel cared for and well-liked.  When they stop at the cave they ask if I can make it.  There is a suspension bridge leading to it.  Am feeling better but extremely weak so don’t want to chance it.  Our trip leader, Otto, and others in the group offer to take photos for me.  I hand Otto the camera and this is what I didn’t want you to miss, though I did:

Beautiful!

I think he took this photo just to make me feel less bummed about not having gotten off the bus.  

  Wouldn’t have made it up these steps.

Or down this tunnel.    

I’m bummed anyway.  They seem beautiful.  

They are back, so onward we go to Vang Vieng Organic Farm.  

I am still weak so will not join the group with the owner of the farm, Mr. Tim, on the walk around the farm.    I ensconce myself under a thatched roof, able to enjoy the slight breeze by slathering myself in bug repellent. I still seem to be a magnet for mosquitoes.   

Up from a snooze I feel well enough to slowly walk around.

The farm is really involved with the community.   

Found a jack fruit tree.  Strangest fruit.  The taste is really sweet.  Orange in color.  Texture sort of like an oyster.   I can relate this not from tasting it then, but on another day.      

The only thing I am tasting today is my mulberry tea. 

And a little bite from this fried leaf which actually was tasty.  However, the oiliness prevented me from having more than a tiny bite.  

I take a photo of the group and they all cheer as they say: “Lidia is feeling better; she is taking photos, wonderful!!”  Their reaction made me feel even better.

I did not have dinner, however, when we got to Vientiane.  Needed to get more rest.

The city surprised me.  Will tell you why on the next post.

PS:  As you may have surmised, I am behind in my posts.  Just didn’t want you guys to worry about my health so rest assured… I am fully recovered!

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Categories: Laos, Ramblings, Vang Vieng | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

P.D.R.

I do not want to leave Luang Prabang and am seriously considering letting my inner child take over and let her stomp her feet, throw herself on the floor, little fists in a ball, face streaked with tears and yelling: “I don’t want to gooooo!”  But the adult in me knows that it won’t go well with the rest of the group and primarily, that it will do me no good.  So my bag is packed and out the door.  I delight myself in some local flora and pretend I’m here to stay.  

Laos P.D.R. is the full name of the country.   P.D.R. stands for People’s Democratic Republic though it is also an acronym for the country’s way of life:  “Please Don’t Rush”  I don’t want to rush in its discovery.

But then comes a tuk tuk ride to the bus.  A daylong bus ride to Vang Vieng is ahead of us.  We are warned that most of it will be on a windy, bumpy road.  We are going to stop for bathroom breaks and to visit hill tribes along the way.  Noon will find us at a “pretty for pictures” mountain-high restaurant.  I mistakenly wrote I was on the “death road” yesterday.  Well my mind got things mixed up and it was today.   It is going to take us –on a good day- between 6 to 8 hours to get to our destination.

At the beginning, the road offers the usual scenery.  Fields along the way, houses, sky, mountains in the distance.  Then I doze off and awake to this…     

Suddenly the words “bumpy”, “windy”, “hill”, and “mountain-high”, connect!  I add “death-road”, “vertigo”, “ouch”, “Can I get off now?”  Later I would read that the road was “not recommended for nervous persons”.  There are few to no barriers separating the bus from a vast ravine.  Someone asks if I had fallen asleep because I was too quiet.  No, I say.  I’m just too queasy to talk!

No wonder my head hurts.  It’s been bouncing against the window.  Sort of like the head of those dogs they use for good fortune (the ones that their head bobs on any movement.) Fortunately, my palpitations will be reduced by a walk in the hill tribe village we stop at. 

We are the local entertainment.   

A protective older sister wraps her arm around her sibling and as I press my shutter gives me a look of  “don’t you mess with my sister”. 

We are invited by a local to visit his home.  In all the villages and homes we have visited there is a television and satellite alongside abject poverty.  But these people do not live in misery for they are content with who and where they are.

Kitchen at entrance.    

Our host lives in this home with his wife and 11 children.  He answers all our questions and I see in his eyes wonderment and disbelief in some of the things we are curious about.

There is a strange flickering noise in back of me that is a bit unsettling (Is something alive there?) but I don’t want to be rude, turn and potentially run out screaming if I find a strange animal resides in that corner.   

Other kids join us or come in.   

And we leave.  We are still the entertainment.     

Can you tell who will be the gang leader from this photo?  

After a few hours –many more than I like- we arrive at the restaurant for lunch.  Mr. Peng laughs as he sees my expression of horror as he parks the bus head first, facing the precipice.  Lucky me is in the front row.  Okay, you are close enough, please stop the bus, stop please, STOP, NOW!!!  

We go to “happy place” (local speak for bathroom) first.    

Then a little walk uphill towards the restaurant.  To my left a view of the road. 

To my right, a scene that could be labeled many ways.  My whole being quiets and settles.  

A view of where we came from.  We are at approximately 5,000 ft.  

Reaching the restaurant, a little figure, advertising god-knows-what, seems so out of place that we all gawk at it and name it “little happy laughing girl Buddha”.     

We eat.  Wash our hands.  Explore the surroundings a little more.  and back to the bus for another couple of hours till we stop at a mountain food market.  You aren’t tired already, are you?

We are instructed not to point our cameras at any of the dead animals that are offered (head and all).  Seems that these vendors are fully aware of Facebook and that a photo may go up that will force authorities to come in and fine or confiscate.  They sell some animals that are not supposed to be sold.  Fortunately I see none with a face to it.

There are a lot of “normal” selections of fruit and vegetables. 

Bamboo shoots.  

Banana blossom. 

Taro.  I would later have taro soup and then taro ice cream. 

And something that is nowhere near common or normal in my book.  Our guide points out what looks like a stalk of something and says that it is a delicacy in his country.  I am leery.  Delicacy = very odd, strange, gross, inedible, retching-induced!

Our vendor starts the process.

She peels.  

Almost done.  

And out comes the yuckiest of worms.  It has been cooked in the stalk but that doesn’t make it any more appetizing.   Our guide repeats it’s a delicacy and proceeds to eat it.  Amazingly, so did one of our group who told everyone it tasted like chicken.

Ohhh, the Americans ate the worm!  

Back on a bus that, at this point, nobody wants to be in.   Another hour and another stop at another happy place where, believe it or not, they sell Kit Kats and Snickers. I buy them and eat them both in a nano second!  I don’t even like chocolate but somehow it was appropriate and satisfying to do so. It didn’t stop me from trying the local taro ice cream, either.

A million years more of a bus ride (or so it seemed) and my sore bottom and me arrive in Vang Vieng.  The bus is too big for the city streets so we shall walk to the hotel.  Vang Vieng has the reputation of being a backpacker’s paradise and it lives up to the fame with advertising for tubing, zip-lining, trekking, parties, etc.  I get a kick out of one that is none of those.

Are you over seacall?  Busticker anyone?  

Sign with all the familiar breakfast (at least for the Brits) 

We had seen an ad for a balloon ride in the plane and wanted to do it but once we saw the balloon and how incredibly close he got to that building we change our minds.   

The ever-present temple along the way.  

As I look towards a street vendor, I capture her expression right before she gives me the thumbs up signal.  

Graffiti in Laos? 

Then a road that becomes indicative of the type of resort we are staying at. 

Though it hardly matters where we sleep for this is the view before us.       

We eat well.

Pumpkin soup.  

Remnant of my tilapia.   

After which I dive, literally dive onto my not so soft bed.  Lots of excitement to be had tomorrow!

Categories: BLT+ (Burma) Myanmar, Laos, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

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