30 January 2011

In Plain Sight

(Published 20 September 2010)

The sounds of morning in a tree house hostel.

“Where is your life vest?”

“Dunno.  I’m not wearing it.  Did I have it on when I got back last night?”

“Why is there a cat in my bed?”

“You might have.  I don’t even remember coming home.”

“Did you look for it?”

“Can’t I am in the worst pain of my whole life.  Brutal sunburn mate.”

(loud anonymous fart sound)

“Seriously what are you doing here cat?  Go away”

“What time does our bus get here?

“Half nine”

“What time is it now?”

“Half nine”

“F---- me.  Brutal”

(Another loud anonymous fart noise)

I am writing this blog sitting in a hammock in Vang Veign surrounded by palm trees, jagged emerald mountains, softly spoken Laos, chirping birds, and three Englishmen discussing whether or not to steal a pair of flip-flops that seem to belong to no one.

Laos has been spectacular.  A revelation.  An utter and beautiful surprise.  Thailand has beaches and hedonism.  Cambodia has Angor Wat.  Vietnam has great historical significance to all Americans.  Laos is forgotten.

I came here by pure travelers chance.  I had no expectations.  Laos is one of the 20 poorest countries in the world.  Its tourism industry is not practiced.  It is sleepy and inexpensive and indescribably beautiful.  Here in Vang Viegn muddy country roads dotted with sporadic sparse houses lead to a brackish river that cuts through an emerald mountain lined valley.  Every shade of green….

“Mike…Stop your typing, look at this picture.  It’s the gayest picture I’ve ever taken.  I look like a Filipino rent boy”

There are moments when nature brings you to a stop.  It makes your stare and focus and soak in every wondrous detail because you know that neither words nor photos will ever justify what lies before you.  Since coming to Laos nature has made me immobile and reaching blindly for the words.

The traveler’s attraction to Vang Veing is tubing.  A drunken man’s nirvana.  You rent basic black inner tubes at shops in the village and a tuk tuk drives you to bar #1 on the river.  The river is dotted by ramshackle bars pulsing with western music.  Every bar has a menagerie of drinking games and water fun including; massive rope swings, beer pong, huge water slides, slingshot can shooting and over water zip lines.  You travel from bar to bar sitting in a tube floating in huge groups of bobbing drunken revelers.  It is brilliant and joyous and makes absolutely no sense for the surroundings.  Vegas in the desert is odd.  Tubing in Vang Veing is confounding.

“I’m checking the news for the first time in weeks.” 

“Anything happening at home?” 

“F---- all” 

“Yeah?” 

“Yeah.  Got an email from my dad, all it said was ‘Finally sold the fish tank’ that about sums it up”

Last night we followed-up the days tubing by going to a place called Bucket Bar.  We had wrist bands that earned us a free bucket drink, which was important because normally a bucket cost 10,000 kip, or about $1, have to watch those costs.  At about 11pm the outdoor dance floor was empty, people were clustered into separate groups in separate cabanas….then it started to rain…and thunder.  With water cascading from the sky people flooded the dance floor spinning and dancing and soaking in the monsoon rains.  Everyone looked from person to person smiling and laughing and seeking confirmation that the moment was real and shared.  It was a dance of pure euphoria.

I don’t want to leave this hammock.  It is Monday morning and I am swaying in paradise.  However, I am also really hungry and restaurants here take forever to bring out the food.  I am convinced that they are movie set facades.  I think that once an order is placed someone sneaks out, drives a scooter to their house, cooks the meal and drives it back.  A slow bit of magic.

Did I mention I am writing this from a hammock?