Laos-The little things

While it may seem that we are having adventure after adventure there is a whole lot of in betweens. Travel days are usually a wipe out, complications, delays, gate changes (we almost missed a flight), layovers, no A/C or toilet paper and cramped buses on really bad roads.

Not having a set itinerary grants us freedom but invites a few restless nights. At the end of January we had nothing in place except 2 months of imagination. We have since spent considerable time “puzzling” what we want to do and where, literally and figuratively. Booking things often involves lots of circular miscommunication, dead ends and correcting assumptions. Credit/debit cards don’t automatically mean you can pay a bill or use an ATM. I am useless and cranky after 11 pm. Steve may still have his phone on researching and emailing. There have been frustrating moments. We can’t always agree. Hopefully the pieces fall into place. So far we’ve been fortunate.

There are little mechanical things like plumbing anarchy that occurs in every lodging. Like a “bum gun” so powerful it could ream a new orifice or a trendy sink that doesn’t drain or has no room for your face. Then there is the shower-toilet combo; two functions sharing the same space. After you’ve taken your shower the floor is wet and if it drains poorly or not at all then you are sluicing through water every time you use the commode. Gross and slippery.

Another not quite small thing is steps and stairways. Every country, city, village brings different edges, ledges, walkways, and rules of the road. I thought steps were generally standard but in SE Asia they are often at different heights and pitches within the same staircase. When “steps” are carved into trails, down embankments, or ancient ruins foot placement becomes a conscious consideration.Hiking a good section of viewpoint trail, Nong Khiaw

Steep and deep. The steps up Wat Phou, a sacred site from 9th Century

My hiking sandals have worn out their soles so I slip and slide a fair amount. The locals fly down the mountain. One day we hear lots of laughter and movement above us on a particularly narrow, steep section. We quickly jump aside as 70 Lao teenagers come into view, descending posthaste in their flip flops.They stop to practice their English. They are bubbly full of questions. We chuckle when they all ask, “How old are you?”. We tell them and think this is unusual, a bit forward and obvious; Steve has white hair. We find out later that it was a real question of respect; greetings in Lao differ according to age. A little big thing.

What stands out is the genuine kindness and generosity of the people. Not just towards us as foreigners, but with their village, families, friends, elders and each other. A really nice big thing.Pheang and Phe, Sopjam

There have been countless spontaneous connections with wonderful people. Helpful, enjoyable, informative, funny. At some local swimming spot a Cambodian man says hello and offers some of his sugar cane. His English is welcome and we keep talking and he pulls out more of his lunch for us to try. Our drivers, guides, hotel staff have gone out of their way numerous times to arrange things and intervene as interpreters even while not officially at work. Keo took us to his home village on his day off. When I was sick in Battambang, Robert and Morrison, the proprietors of Bric a Brac hotel, personally made me tea with a home remedy and literally held my hand while we commiserated about getting sick in Southeast Asia. It helped. When I thought a manicure at a nearby salon would up my mood one of the male staff volunteered to accompany me. He had never been and he did his best to describe a French manicure. While his awkwardness was obvious, he told me that this experience might make him a better husband someday and he thanked me.

The best of the little things are the children. All ages. There is so much laughter, giggling and playful engagement. Even when they are not smiling, or tussling, or have snotty noses and dirty clothes they have captured my heart.Ban Hin Sio village

Tad Lo waterfall
Houy Hoi Village
Kuang Si Village

Our pilot on the Mekong River

Today our 31 year old guide, Phet, took us to his family home. We biked 9 km away to an island village in southern Lao. It was a first for him to bring foreigners home, too. When we arrived, sticky and hot, he brought us palm sugar juice (an acquired taste) and a glass to an aged neighbor. He introduced us to his mother. She and I had a laugh as we recognized we were the same age, smiled knowingly and we clasped hands in pleasure.

Then his nephew boated all of us across the river to his sister and brother in law’s beach place to go swimming and hang out. People generally swim in their clothes. I did too and it brought a sweet revelation. I transitioned from labeling myself “tourist” to “foreigner”. The veil between local and foreign became more transparent, less separating somehow. It may always require working through a language difference but the humanity part is the same. My philosophizing for today.

The platforms are built for January -May. The water in dry season is 2-3 feet deep here.
This is PhetCoconut water, breeze and shade

Phet ‘s family fed us and when it was time to go, they insisted on a family photo with siblings, grandchildren, cousins, baby, mom and us. What a delight. It is the little things…

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