Monday, December 15, 2008

Tubing in Laos

Perhaps Shel and I like our drink a bit much. We have found ourselves in Vang Vieng. Visitors to Laos, and its surrounds, will recognize the town as one of much beauty and much debauchery. We set out yesterday, with lofty ambitions to see the beauty. Tubing is the main adventure here, so we thought we might go along with that and take in the mountains as we went. We bought a bottle of local whiskey, to further our opinion of what great travelers we are, and got our tubes. The set up with the tubing is this: you get your tube in town, they drive you 4 km north to put in. Ironically, or perhaps not, they drop you off at the location we had chosen to stay at. You put in and float for 2 hours… Except there are bars all along the first part of the river. And they have rope swings. We knew about the bars, we had bought the whiskey to save money, plus the bars are full of tossers and tourists, not proper travelers right? We didn’t make it past two bars before we stopped. To our credit, we didn’t buy a drink, but we took full advantage of their rope swing. What a rush! Back to our tubes. And then to another bar. And then to another one. The first grouping of bars gets you in by launching a bamboo pole at you. You grab it and they pull the rope attached and get you on land. The last bar we stopped at was in shallower water and the owner actually walked out and got us as we hadn’t realized the depth. We shared one bucket of local whiskey mixed with pepsi and M-150, a local energy drink. We shared with a Swiss we’d met earlier in the day. At the last bar we met some Americans in town for the climbing and a couple from I believe Sweden. At this point, we still quite sober, but bought a bottle of water just to be sure. But then things took a turn. The bars stopped. We had another hour of tubing and nothing to do but drink local whiskey. And we did. Shel got drunk first. I was laughing at her until I realized I was hammered, which unfortunately came at the same time I realized Shel had just put out and I was floating past and needed to scramble up some rocks to get in and some random guy was trying to help me as I’d gone a good 20 yards scraping my knees and being pushed by the current. I managed to hold on to the tube, but lost one of my favorite shirts in the process. I got out and was so disoriented, I didn’t have time to ponder at what point I had gotten so drunk. I followed Shel and the German girl to town and became very aware that I was walking around in shorts and a bikini top. Yann, the Swiss, volunteered to go get me a shirt. While waiting for a long time, I stumbled up to a local construction worker and asked for a cigarette. He gave it to me so willingly, like I shouldn’t have even asked and should have just taken one. What felt like an eternity, but maybe was only 3 minutes, passed. I went over to the restaurant where Shel and the Swedes were. Another Swede walks up, and either I told him, or the Swedes told him, that I needed a shirt. He was staying across the street and I followed him to his room and he gave me a shirt. Quite a sweet gesture. I went back we ate. I’m typing the details of this almost just to prove to myself that I remember. We were smashed. Pissed up, wasted, and any other sordid words one can use to describe unadulterated inebriation. At some point we excused ourselves, attempted to get money from an ATM to no avail. So we began to walk toward our lodgings, which was 4km away. We assumed we would pass a tuk tuk or a motorbike on the way that would ask us if we needed a ride. We walked a while and instead of a ride, we found a party. What a stroke of luck to stumble on a party full of local Lao. We imposed ourselves and joined and they loved it. There were about 50 locals, a few Koreans, and us. They proceeded to give us more beer and some sort of sweet liquor. I spent the evening spreading the good news of RocknRoll, trying to get them to play Led Zeppelin and Queen. Shel spent the evening trying to convince them she couldn’t play guitar. Eventually we reconvened, and flagged down a passing car. I honestly don’t remember if he actually agreed to take us, but we got in his car and he took us back to our lodgings.

Let me try to regain some travelling dignity. As I write this, its very early in the morning. I’m sitting in a cabana next to a river. The guesthouse I’m staying at is a working organic farm. They grow mostly mulberries, but also they raise goats and ducks among other things. They operate a mojito bar next to the river where the tubers put in. The profits go to support a bus that delivers kids from 3 villages to school. There is a restaurant onsite, serving things from the farm. You can volunteer on the farm or in the school. One guy comes from France every year for two months to work on the farm. The housing is spread out through the farm in the form of wooden cabins. Communal shower house. I’m basically staying in a jungle farm. We are far north of town so we don’t have to deal with the crazed tourists here only for the party. Everyone here wants to be here. On one side is trees as far as you can see, except for where the goat house is of course. And on the other side is a sheer rock mountain jutting from the other side of the river. Its gorgeous. Its hard to believe that just a few kilometers down the road is the epicenter of all that is good in moderation, but taken beyond excess there.

We were meant to take the bus north today, but the roads are treacherous, and with these hangovers, we would surely chunder all the way. So we’ll stay here at the farm for another day. I’ll nurse my bruised knees, maybe have one mulberry mojito, but just one. Maybe we’ll even try tubing again, but without the aid of alcohol this time.

Wrote that a few days ago. I'm now in Luang Prabang in the north of Laos. There is so much to see and travel is so slow here. I think I'm going to save Vietnam for another time. Heading off for a boat trip tomorrow. When we get back in about a week, I'll have some time to sort through pictures properly and write up about Angkor Wat, monkey bites, motor oil, etc.