Saturday, February 12, 2011

Laos last few days: Thakhek and "Home Stay"

Our second to last day, we drove to a small town on the Mekong River, Thakhek, stopping at a few Buddhist temples en route. As you've seen a lot of similar pictures, I'm only posting two cool ones (that I took [pats self on back]). The first is of a flower and a stupah (a stupah is the Lao version of an urn, where they put the ashes of their loved ones)
and the second is of a monk walking in the wind near the same stupah. Thailand, as always, is in the background.We then went to another Buddha cave, which was actually an active temple, so we couldn't take pictures inside, and Alison was require to wear a traditional Lao skirt. There were fewer Buddhas than in the other cave...but it was cool to watch people praying, as well as a monkey (likely a pet of one of the people administering tickets) play in the trees.Then we basically had the rest of the day to relax. We ate like kings, took naps, wandered around the town (which had lots of pretty European-looking architecture), and "enjoyed" what was advertised as an oreo smoothie but was really a bunch of scoops of random chemical powders blended together with ice.
Not gonna lie--it gave me diarrhea. But I recovered in time for delicious Thai street food for dinner.

The next day, we were picked up early from our hotel for a home stay and jungle trek. We'd used the same driver and van the whole trip, so we were a little surprised to be gestured to take a seat in the most ghetto Cho-Mo van (cho mo = child molester for those of you who didn't grow up going to Coronado with the cousins) ever invented, driven by someone who was 22 but looked 11. True to form, we got to within 2K of the starting point of our hike, and the car broke down. The driver took out a screwdriver and was poking the engine, located at our feet, which started we decided to walk. It was in a sun-baked, barren setting, so we weren't so happy.
To be honest, we were actually very worried about the homestay--the one we did in during our trip to Kashgar in October was pretty awkward (10 people slept in the same room, and they basically ignored us the whole time) and we couldn't shower (and getting from the Lao village to Beijing required 17 hours of travel, including cars and layovers). So having to start the day sweating bullets was NOT good for our mood.

But then we started the actual hike through the jungle. We saw a lot of things we'd already seen--flowers, termites, caves, etc. But this was cool for two reasons:

1) The trail was pretty rough and required some impressive balancing skills in some parts:2) The caves we walked through were much scarier than the other ones...The pic below is blurry, but I wanted to show you guys what we walked DOWN (the left hand side) since our guide thought we were young so "needed adventure."But the cave was so beautiful it was worth it ;)I think that's one of my favorite pictures she's taken all year (side note: I think I'm going to make my future office into a gallery for Alison's pictures.)

10K later (no joke) we finally arrived in the picturesque village where we would be sleeping. We were filthy and looked disgusting. Here I am with Alison's dirty socks and a beautiful background.
And here are our feet--can you see the line of dirt? It's the most tan Alison will ever be!!Also on display are my impressive fingertoes--useful for picking up things on the floor, pinching people sneakily, and proving that humans evolved from apes. Anyways, we were delighted to be able to sponge bath in an outhouse and afterwards were ready to experience/explore a poor agricultural Lao village.There was a bocche set up in the middle of the village, so we went to watch our guide play with some town members. Soon a few children came to watch the game (and us).
And sure enough, within a few minutes, Alison had enthralled them. She has a gift ;)

We then returned to the "porch-area" for dinner. We were anticipating a super simple meal
--our home stay in Kashgar involved a dinner of rice in water--but we had one of the best meals of the whole trip there! Beef laap (stir fried small chunks of meat swimming in fresh mint) and ginger-stir fried vegetables. I am salivating just thinking of it.
After dinner, the most respected people from the village came up to join us and brought this Buddhist prayer thing made of banana leaves and flowers.
We participated in a ceremony of welcome that wished us a lifetime of health and prosperity. First we put an egg in our hand, representing long life, a wafer for sweetness/happiness, and sticky rice for prosperity. (This is afterwards, but the only picture that shows what we were holding). They then chanted some blessings, ending up taking thread and brushing away evil and brushing in good. They then tied the thread around our wrists. And we had to take a shot of the most vile hard alcohol ever made.
Writing about this makes it seem like the ultimate tourist hokeyness, but to be honest, it was a beautiful ceremony that made us feel welcome in the village. We were so apprehensive that the homestay would "ruin" the trip. But, it ended up being the perfect icing on the cake.

We then passed out in our improvised double bed......and spent all the next day returning home (or Beijing)...

And we're leaving to pick up my parents at the airport right now!! SO EXCITED :)

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