We wanted to support one of the many eco-tourism companies dotted around in Luang Prabang. Trekking, Cycling and a rural home-stay was what we had in mind. Somehow Green Discovery made the best impression on us. Our gut feeling was right.
It turned out to be an unforgettable experience, very off-the-beaten-track, somewhere in a rural village in Laos.
After the initial introductions to all members of the group, we collected our individually sized bikes just minutes away from our departure point: we were going to cross the river in Luang Prabang to start our morning of cycling. We cycled a good 2 hours until we reached our lunch spot. After only about fifteen minutes, I was suffering. The heat was getting to me. I could not handle it very well. Quite surprising as I had lived in Namibia for three years – I was used to the heat.
Somehow, the Lao sun was a whole lot stronger.
The bike excursion did not end without having its toll on a few of us – including me. I misjudged the path and must have used the wrong break, when all of a sudden my bike slided away and I fell onto my side bruising my elbow and my right leg. War injury Nr. 1 as my fellow adventurers called it. The adrenaline was pumping though and I was surprised at how little pain I felt.
Until a disinfectant solution was poured over the wounds which burnt like hell.
Anna, the dutch girl, had pushed herself too hard right from the start – always being one of the people who cycled ahead of us – she nearly had a heat stroke – her blood pressure dropped and she struggled to get it back to a normal level. Her Partner and her discussed over lunch time whether they should cut the adventure short. Continuing in this heat could have a detrimental effect to her health.
They wisely decided to end the adventure and return to Luang Prabang.
The afternoon hike was indeed a very painful affair. It was hot. There was barely any shade to protect us. We had to carry our own water bottles – needless to say: our backpacks were heavy. I had done trekking in Nepal before. Hell, I’ve done a 15-day trek. And yet, the heat made it so much harder. At least, back in Nepal, it was mild – and on the days leading up to the Thorong La Pass, it was cool and sometimes cold. This was on a whole other level. I was hoping for the hiking to end as soon as possible.
I was not handling this very well.
After Anna and her boyfriend left the group – it was just Daniel & Daniela, a Swiss-Danish couple, Chrystelle and me. We instantly fell in love with this charming couple. I was happy to be able to speak Swiss again. I also noticed how much I missed being around Swiss people – a revelation that really surprised me. I had never really felt at home – even in my own hometown.
Being half-Portuguese and half-Austrian always made me feel like I did not belong. And yet, speaking to Daniela unveiled my Swiss-ness. I could relate to so many things. To the way she saw life – to the way she spoke about things – to her quiet unassuming authentic nature. What you see is what you get – and somehow I forgot to appreciate this about the Swiss. They are generally not bothered about painting an untrue image about themselves. They are quite blunt and honest.
A quality that I appreciate a lot.
Daniel was equally fascinating to speak to. He had decided, in his thirties, to study and obtain a degree. As Daniela says: ‘It is never too late’. And it’s true. I admire this stance and I admire people who love to learn and who strive to progress – no matter how hard it is. I love their ‘never give up mentality’.
Daniel had just proposed to Daniela – she said ‘yes’ of course. Have you ever met couples where it just makes total sense why they are together? Who are just perfect for each other? There is this intrinsic symbiosis and, just after meeting them, it becomes clear why they belong with each other? That’s the impression they made on me.
They were this easy-going couple that you could not not like.
We finally arrived at the village – all sweaty and dying to have a shower.
Nope ain’t going to happen. We were in a rural village in the middle of nowhere – there are no showers. And nudeness is not permitted either. So, we stood around the villagers near a small pond and cleaned ourselves with a bit of water and soap. This will have to do.
We all individually wander around the village and observe, take photos (after discussing it with the guide in detail and asking for permission first) and lots of thoughts go through my mind. This would be considered ‘poor’. It is a very rural basic village, like our forefathers would have lived in hundreds and hundreds of years ago. It is a different world. Most people here would not know what an Internet connection is. But no one cares about these things. All they care about, is their routine of getting up with the sun and going to bed with the sun and keep themselves alive by maintaining their livestock and vegetable gardens. To raise the next generation is all that matters. And I wonder, if they even see themselves as poor. In more than one way, they seem much richer than we.
Somehow they seem to understand the meaning of life better than we do.
Back at our humble abode, we were touched about the villagers carrying big water canisters into our ‘hut’ to make sure we had enough water for the night and the next day. Even small children were helping to carry the heavy load – they were instructed to do this for us. It felt wrong. I didn’t feel comfortable being served in this manner. Of course some of the proceeds of what we paid for this adventure would go to their village – and yet, I felt uncomfortable that this is being done just for us.
Later that evening, our guide cooked a delicious meal for us and we sat together by candle light, chatting and listening to his stories about Lao life and his own experiences. We repeatedly joked at him staring at his phone – his girlfriend who lives miles away was constantly in contact with him. He was, however, not sure about marrying her. He was allowed to chose his future wive – Lao laws have changed drastically over the last few years; thankfully Lao can marry out of love and women are no longer forced to marry who is chosen for them, substantially reducing the suicide rate in the country. He still had time to decide whether she was the right one.
And yet, later that night when we asked him whether he loved her, he did not hesitate to blurt out a powerful ‘YES!’.
I had brought one children’s book and was tempted to just keep it in my backpack. One book was never going to be enough for all these children. I should have been better prepared and bought a bunch. Then all of a sudden this young girl appears outside of our door. She is mute. ‘Should I give her the book?’ I asked the guide. ‘Yes, go ahead’. We all sat outside on a nearby boulder, big enough to offer enough space for the 5 of us. As she flicks through the book, she points at the ugly duckling on every page as the story unfolds. In between, she giggles in such an infectious way that we all laugh at the same time.
I could sense that everyone was deeply touched by this girl’s emotions and happiness.
Daniel imitates Donald Duck and other animals and we laugh as the girl grins and flicks through the pages. Until the book comes to an end and she hands it back to me. I gesticulate with my hands ‘No no, this is for you’. She looks down at the book in her hands, and points with one of her fingers to her heart, raising her eyebrow as if she asked ‘for me?’ with big eyes like I had never seen it before. ‘Yes this is for you’, I say and smile at her. All of a sudden she folds her hands in front of her and lowers her head repeatedly – her way of thanking us. I swear I can see tears of joy in her eyes and at that moment my tears just run down my cheek.
When last have I seen such a grateful child? A kid that thinks the world of a 2 – Dollar book?
That night, we all sleep next to each other in our sleeping bags, which we have been given for the night. Like school children, we giggle as we talk about our memories in school camps and laugh at Daniel’s jokes. It’s way too hot to sleep, but somehow the exhaustion of the day makes us fall asleep pretty quickly. I wake up in the middle of the night to head out to the toilet with a headtorch. I’m nervous as Daniela & Daniel spoke about big massive spiders hanging in the corner of the little toilet huts. Luckily, I can’t see any.
The next day we trek for a good four hours before making our way to our lunch spot – we spend the hours speaking about all sorts of topics: from child education, to philosophy, to politics and businesses. All in all, we seem to be on the same wavelength – each and everyone of us feeling comfortable with each other as we walk in a steady pace towards our end destination. ‘A big dark Lao is awaiting us at the end of this’ – and the thought of an ice-cold refreshing beer is what keeps us going, in the nearly 40 C of heat on that particular day in March.
In between breakfast and a boat ride back to Luang Prabang, I slip on a narrow path covered in leaves. As I almost slide down on the side of the hill, Daniela tries to grab me, falling down herself. ‘Not again’, I think as I just inflict war wound Nr.2 on the side of the same leg I injured the day before. Luckily Daniela holds on to me and Daniel & the guide pull me back up on the path – this could have been so much worse than a mere cut to the flesh. The adrenaline is pumping and I feel exhausted.
My legs are shaky and I feel I don’t have much energy left to walk without two bamboo sticks, one each in hand.
One boat ride away to the other side and we are all happy at the prospect of a shower immediately after our get-together. Daniel & Daniela invite us back to their hotel so we can have a quick shower before Chrystelle and I head off to our long bus ride to Luang Namtha. Another adventure is awaiting us. Our third one on this trip. More encounters to be had and wonderful memories to be formed.
What was your favourite adventure in Laos? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.