“They told us there would be three French girls” someone mentioned as we waited for the ferry boat to get un-sunk. When we arrived at the river we didn’t see any feasible way to cross but that was only because a sunken longboat didn’t appear usable. It was a funny sight to watch our ferry being bailed while it was still almost completely submerged.
“They probably just say there will be three French girls on every tour” I remarked as a joke just before climbing into the leaking boat. It ferried us across and soon everyone on the tour was hiking through rubber plantations on our way to the “Ethnic village” we had been promised.
It soon became apparent that everything they guy at the tour agency had told me was a lie. He told me there would be two guides, one native and one who could speak good English to translate yet there was only one 63 year old guide that could speak a few words of English. He said there would be three other people on my tour, there was just me and the guide except the first hike of the first day. He told me I would be hiking in the national park, it was next to a road. He also told me that the two villages were located deep in the jungle and they were both next to the road, not in the national park and not deep in the jungle. Actually they weren’t even the same names as the villages he told me about with such color before I booked the tour.
I was not disheartened, if traveling has taught me one thing it is that sometimes no matter what I do the situation isn’t ideal and if I were to not enjoy myself every time I would only enjoy about half my trip. I’m not about to not enjoy myself while I’m here in Asia so I just wrote down in the back of my head all the differences between my trek and what the tour agency promised, just for laughs.
After the first hike to the little village, which was actually little, the four other people on the hike left to go back to town. I didn’t know until that point that they would leave me alone with my guide in the village, and since the trek only lasted until around 2pm it left a lot of time to do nothing. My guide wandered off within the first fifteen minutes and I spent about half an hour trying to find him. He then took me on a little tour of the village school before bringing me back for dinner. It was a lovely dinner of pumpkin stew, chicken and green things, and sticky rice. In Laos they eat sticky rice by the literal handful with every meal. All the other countries I’ve been to in Asia eat a lot of rice but here they just reach their hand into the basket and eat that handful with a tiny amount of other side dishes. They probably eat five times the amount of rice to every portion of meat or vegetables, it even looks as though they enjoy the rice more than the other kinds of food they eat the rice with. They will take a giant handful of rice and than put one or two tiny pieces of chicken on it.
The food was delicious and my only complaint was that they pressured me into eating to excess, sometimes I’m too malleable. After dinner my guide took me to another families fire where he taught me some words from the local language. Everyone was chatting and helping to teach me the words for pig or fire when I made the mistake of asking what they were cooking. They told me it was banana flower and rat soup, and then they pulled a rat out of the soup so I could try. Being as malleable and polite as I am I accepted the rat gift and began my attempt at eating it. I’m usually pretty open minded about this sort of thing, I’ve eaten many awful things and I’ve found I can enjoy many kinds of food I didn’t expect to. This was different. The meat was black and the skin was rubbery and brown. It even had some cooked maggots inside it. I ripped little pieces of the tough meat off and tried to not look horrified. It started to taste like blue cheese which, despite seeming strange, helped me to eat the last bits of it.
Pretty soon my white face caught the attention of the town clubfoot drunk. He wandered over and used his few English words to say hello and ask my name before inviting me for a drink. Since my mouth tasted awful it sounded pretty good to have a beer. He grabbed a friend on the way and than pointed at a little wooden shack “pub” he said. What he was pointing at was a little convenience store, probably one of two places where you could buy anything in the whole village. True to Southeast Asian standard they had a speaker blasting poor quality pop music. A few minutes after we sat down Kin the drunk decided that the music was not nearly loud enough so he moved it closer and then he moved it onto the table two feet from me. He face it right at me as if I was suffering from severe hearing loss, and since I wasn’t it became a pretty uncomfortable drink at the local pub. Especially since he kept trying to get me to stand up and dance. It was just me, him and one other guy blasting pop music in a quiet little village. I thought it would be too much to start dancing while all the other families were cooking and eating circled around their fires.
The following day my faithful guide and I arrived in another smaller village. We got some rest and had dinner with a young man that seemed to run a guest house. It was not a home stay like I was promised but it had enough blankets. After dinner I was taken on a tour of the sleepy village.
It was quiet until it wasn’t. At the school there was a party in full swing. The children were all wrapped in plastic, they fashioned them into capes or masks, and the adults were drinking Lao Lao. My guide had told me the night before that he was old and didn’t drink, but it only took the group of giddy adults a few seconds to get him to have a few shots of the rice wine. I felt like a visiting diplomat, they pulled me over and had me dance with them. All the while they poured rice wine and soup down my throat. One of the teachers got a soccer ball world globe so I could point to where I’m from.
“She’s the same age as you, and she’s single” my guide whispered in my hear about one of the girls dancing. I always wonder how the criteria can be so low. Apparently in his mind, no ability to communicate and the fact that I live ten thousand miles away was not nearly barrier enough when compared to the fact that I was the same age as this single girl.
My guide rescued me from a hungover hike the following day by getting me out of the party before I had too much to drink. Suddenly it was quiet and all I could hear was some low music coming from a house near the center of town. “A ceremony” my guide told me. he walked us over and opened the door. We peered in and saw a group of people sitting at the feet of some kind of holy man who was chanting and waving a stick at what looked like Chinese characters written on fabric. My guide explained how they were trying to rid the house of spirits through a three day ceremony.
As we walked away he told me that three men in the house were smoking opium. It was early still but there wasn’t anything else to do but sleep. I curled up with my three blankets and listened to some of an audio book until I felt tired enough to sleep. But there was a knock on the door, my guide got up and opened the door. Seeing a women enter the room reminded me of how my guide joked about how he was going to have one of the unmarried women in the village come give him a massage later. “good for you” I had said, I couldn’t quite tell if he was joking but then he asked me if I wanted to get a massage too. I had no idea what kind of massage he was talking about so I declined. I had forgotten until I saw the women come into the room. Somehow a quiet evening turned into a really strange night. I turned my audio book up and went to sleep.