loo with a view

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.

Just in time for sunset we arrived our our little Hmong village. 34 families, and we were lucky enough to stay in the guest house! Our guide turned to cook and prepared us a delectable dinner, away from everyone else in the village. By the time dinner was over prepared and eaten it was 8:30. Since we had only one candle left at that point, we got our mosquito net set up (to protect us from all types of insects, including the spider I saw after dinner with a leg span of about 8 inches), rolled out our sleeping bags, took a last pee behind a tree and tucked in just as the candle burned out.
My first sight upon stretching and rolling over in the morning were three little heads at the edge of our sleeping platform, staring intently back at me. I smiled and started laughing. Our audience persisted as we got up, changed and ate breakfast. We decided to wait to use the "toilet" until we out of town a bit and without an audience. By the time we ventured out of the guest house in the morning, most of the village had already gone down to the garden, so the opportunities for interaction were with small children and the handful of grandparents in town. After taking a few exploitative pictures and playing with a wild Bengal kitten stolen from the jungle we were off. About 15 minutes down the road we stopped for a potty break behind a tree, and as one of the Brits said we had best "loo with a view" she'd ever seen. We were above the cloud cover and could see lush green mountains peeking out all around. Pretty much the definition of ridiculously beautiful. But no time to enjoy the view, it was time to push on to our next whistle-stop village. Day two played out pretty much like day one, only with a worrying lighter backpack due to our natural consumption of water.
On day three as we headed down the mountain back towards civilization, the highlight of the trip was stopping in a village where just days ago a baby had been born. We were greeted by the family like old friends, given "Lao Lao" Whiskey, BeerLao and lots of food. All from communal glasses and bowls. Alcohol kills everything, right? We were also then invited to tie a bit of yearn around the baby's wrist to wish it good fortune in its life.
Of course the trek was everything I didn't want it to be, and everything I needed to see, but it was so much more. The views, the superficial interactions with the children, the removal from civilization, the brief glimpse of life without the amenities. It's so easy to romanticize their lives and experiences yet it's clearly a gross simplification. They want out of their village just as much as I wanted a hot shower by the end of day three. They know they can get a better education in town, but they can't afford it. They resent us for our comparative wealth. Who can blame them?

One thought on “loo with a view

  1. Ok, there is something to be said for reading your blog AFTER having heard the stories from you. It adds an extra element of enjoyment. While also being interspersed with details not before mentioned. Love it!

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