I knew exactly what I did not want to do. I did not want to shove kayaking, cycling and trekking all into one ridiculously rushed trip. I did not want to carry everything I needed for three days on my back. The sleeping bag. The mosquito net. The water. The food. In addition to my clothes, camera and toothbrush. I'll admit it… I wanted a "wussy" backpacking trip. So I drilled the tour guide in the office about this three day "homestay trek." I asked about the sleeping bags and the mosquito net and who would be carrying the water and how good our guides English would be. I was specific about spelling out that I had no interest in spending all day rushing up the hill, desperately trying to get to the top before the sunset. I wanted to hike for a couple hours, arrive in the homestay village with plenty of light, and therefore time to interact with the people in a respectful way. I wanted to stay with a family, not in a special "guest house" that was nothing like their accommodations. I didn't want to jump up and rush to the next town in the morning. I wanted a relaxing, journey, not a hurried destination of a trip.
I'll give you three guesses as to what happened. Kayaking? No. Cycling. No. Frenzied trekking up a mountain with everything on my back? Yep!
Our four-person trek turned into a three person trek the morning of. Therefore they took one of our tour guides away. Apparently the one that carried the sleeping bags, water and rations. So in the office, after a semi-heated debate about what we signed up for verses what we were getting, we accepted our pack sleeping bags and shoved them into our previously sparsely packed bags. My two English soon-to-be-new-best friends and I looked at each other like "what are we getting ourselves into?" and faithfully followed our 24 year old guide (that looked more like 14) out the door. Our day started off with a half-hour ride up the Mekong to the other side of the river. Upon disembarking, we picked up some more supplies in the village and our tiny guide, aptly named Me (we nicknamed him 'mini-me"), handed us our three liters of water for the next three days. I tried not to think about how that wasn't enough water for three days of even mild exertion, since I could barely fit what I had been given into my backpack.
We began our accent innocently enough, with two hours winding up a small hill, so as to enjoy lunch in a small village. The children were most interested in us, or perhaps more accurately our food, with the adults largely ignoring us and our attempts at interaction. After lunch the real work began. Imagine if you will, attempting to follow a 14 year old boy through the thick underbrush, that is only cleared to his height. Imagine also that you're carrying everything on your back, crouched over, headed uphill, trying to expand your lungs enough to get some air into them. This went on for the next four hours as we struggled up the mountain. The best part was that the further up you went, the less brush there was, but the steeper it got. So any gains in morale made in a clearer, wider path were lost as the grade percentage went up.