Lao Festivities


We take a group journey to the Tham Phu Kham caves and blue lagoon. It truly feels like a school trip with the Aussie sister as our parent chaperone. The 20 or so of us fill two tuk-tuks and head down the unpaved chaos 7 km away. Because of the crummy conditions of the road the trip takes more than thirty minutes.

Ahhh…the color of the lagoon is divine, a shimmering sapphire where one can clearly view the cute fishes that populate the water. Rope swings hang from the tree branches and guests pleasantly wade respectfully in tubes.  Our colorful tribe has arrived earlier than the other types of raucous visitors to Vang Vieng. We are on farm time.

Napping in the sun, swim, picnic on straw mats. Some of the adventurous males plunge high from the tree tops in to the sea of blue, doing front-flips, wacky dives, all with pleasure. Groups of all day cocktail consuming young foreigners join the lagoon as the afternoon arrives, increasing the noise level of the serene and natural environment. We play together still.

It is remarkable to see the difference in body shapes of the entire crowd, our veggie loving members significantly leaner and less bulked with muscles than the rest (the men in particular). Tons of meat and beer does a body bad.

One may not win in tug-of-war but one can plant a mean mulberry tree. Aho.

A bunch of us climb the steep 200 meter long steps to the entrance of the cave sharing three headlamps between all, the ones in charge of providing light generously positioning themselves to pave the path. The communal expedition is nearly pitch black. The guys are particularly accommodating and supportive, waiting patiently for all to navigate through the often narrow crevices of the cave, assuring the safety and unity of the whole group. We explore the bat filled cavern, passing the reclining bronze Buddha altar and numerous sink holes. At the end of the cave we all sit in a circle for a moment of meditation, turning off the three tiny lights. I share some words how to steer our “monkey minds” and be centered before we all OM together. The cave fills with the sound of harmony and love.

Back in the tuk-tuk we head through the town to the farm, north of the center. The ride is so dusty our clothing, backpacks, skin, and bottom of tuk-tuk are completely covered with layers of orange and white earth. It makes us all look like we aged twenty years in a Middle Eastern sand storm. I suppose everyone has moments of wanting to be blond(ish)? In town we quickly try to take out money at one atm with no success and then another at a location near the market. I intend of returning to town later to complete the task for I hope to leave tomorrow in route to Bangkok and then Southern Thailand.

I shower off the layers of dust in the cold water outdoor shower hose and head back into town, walking along the main road with my thumb up in hopes of catching a free ride. I jump on the back of a motorbike for half the journey and then in the front seat of a tuk-tuk carrying tubers who have completed their afternoon floating down the riverside bars. I feel a sense of energetic protection traveling with the driver and not in the back. In town I attempt to use the two other atms and learn that because it is Sunday, all are empty and will not be replenished until the morning. There is a bit of a scramble in front of all four machines that exist in Vang Vieng, our expectation to get whatever we want whenever we want it a lesson of luxury.

So I head back to the treasured farm for Mr. T is throwing a feast in celebration of the pig that was slaughtered. I am smoothly picked up by a fancy SUV on my voyage back to the farm, a group of four Vietnamese men generously driving me back to my home. It was a treat to ride in a car on the ride back down the crummy path, my ass bones experiencing comfort in ways they haven’t in quite a long time.

I enter the kitchen and am upgraded to prep status, chopping potatoes and separating the curly lettuce leaves onto plates. It is true that it is the swine we honor tonight yet because the majority of the volunteers are non-meat consuming souls, the cuisine remains largely unscathed by flesh. Plates of long beans with sesame oil and crushed garlic, salad of tomato, cucumber, potato and cilantro tossed together in cubes, lettuce leaves, tofu diced small with mint (a version of the traditional Lao Laap dish made veggie friendly), soup with white squash and cabbage, bowls of toasted peanuts, steamed black and white rice, sticky rice. There were platters of pig as well, delicately arranged to feature all parts…crisp belly skin, loins, etc. On long tables we all indulged until we could not take another bite, Mr. and Mrs. T continually encouraging us all to consume more as Lao beer and homemade whiskey was equally offered with generosity. Thanksgiving Lao style followed by many, many dishes to collectively wash. YUM.

Mr. T and I share another moment at the end of the night, chatting about living in Laos. Family and celebrations are most dear to the Lao people. There is always time to rejoice and share food, a time to drink more Lao Lao. The Lao people observe no less than five New Year events…Hmong New Year, Khmu New Year, Christian New Year, Chinese New Year, Buddhist New Year. It is as if one eternally has the opportunity to begin anew, to experience a renaissance of life. Weddings are no less than three day events. Mr. T is committed to cordially integrating the tribe communities, the Hmong being the largest group in the area. It is told that the Hmong were werewolves who came into Laos on magic carpets; they strongly believe in presence of multidimensional spirits and every home is graced with an outdoor altar to honor the land.

Hmong, I love you so much.

Insufficient education is one of the principal obstacles in Laos and consequently Mr. T channels all the profits of the farm into the local community for such. His humility and selflessness is inspiring. I later learn he sleeps in the goat house on the floor and not in a proper bedroom with his wife…and it doesn’t seem like it is marital troubles that are guiding this decision.

There is a bit of an after party where the head farmer is encouraging all to share Lao Lao banana whiskey. He is a champion with the best smile.

Food coma sleep.

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