I Am Deep In The Lovely Land of Laos In South East Asia While My sweet Granddaughter, Molly, Turns 18!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOLLY! WISH YOU WERE HERE!
I have entered the adventurous, over-active and yet chilled, life of a travel group tour member! The life of early morning bus departures, of two days on a longboat in the swiftly-flowing waters of the Mekong River; exploring temples and caves with golden carvings and statues of all sizes of Buddha. Sleeping in guesthouses, small hotels and in indigenous family homes on the floor with a mosquito net tent. Now I am dining most gloriously at my Luang Prabang, Laos, guesthouse, where I intend to stay into next week. Or forever!
I have hopped-off , more than I have continued seamlessly with the same group I left Bangkok with, because I have a whole year to complete this four country junket through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. I can stay in each country as long as my visa allows and travel at my own speed.
The great advantage is that STRAY TOURS knows a whole lot more than I do about how to get up close and personal and our guides for each section are natives of that part of the world. So, I…. consumate solo traveler that I am…. bought the whole package at their desk in my Bangkok hostel. With a generous discount of 35%, my cost was around $1800 for the guided transportation and some activities in each location. I will pay for my housing and food costs as I go. This covers a very extensive route which would take about 41 days if you stay with the same group without stopping indefinitely now and then. I traveled between Bangkok and Chiang Mai, Thailand, and then stayed there for two weeks; taking in the Elephant Sanctuary, where elephants are given a good life after being rescued from their slave labor or logging or providing rides for people, which is very hard on their spines. We also enjoyed a fantastic swim in some gorgeous waterfalls. Another athletic attraction was ziplining through the jungle, which lured us with the possibility of seeing Gibbons also swinging through the trees with us. Hardly, but it was very exciting, even without monkeys.
Then, I just wandered about that interesting town of Chiang Mai, mixed with my fellow hostel guests, and read several books; treating my downtime as utter luxury. One of the serendipities of life happened because I had plucked a tattered, dog-eared, coverless book off of the bookswap shelf and discovered an American twin sister world traveler, Rita Golden Gelman, writer of many children’s books and author of Tales of A Female Nomad. She is also eighty years old and two months older than me and she has traveled for years to indigenous populations; living with them and learning their language, while assisting them any way that she can; often with teaching the English language. It is a much rougher and more heroic method of travel than mine. When in the States, she can be found visiting her daughter, Jan, in Seattle.
I have just written to her and and am very much hoping that we can team up in the Phillipines in a few months. Not for the rough travel life, but to chill on the beaches of 700 islands, sipping Pina Coladas and sharing notes and bright ideas. Resting on our laurels, but no doubt, exploring that fantastic island nation that neither of us has any clue about. I have so many writing projects to give birth to, such as compiling the blogs on both of my websites and publishing a few books on that great variety of topics. So, I’d like to rent a beach house; equip it with the office machinery needed and get into some serious work until I run out of visa. Rita has done that sort of writing setup prior to each of her many books and she surely has much advice to pass on. My four books have been written when I was stateside, caretaking a sick family member; so this would be a new experience. It takes discipline to stay inside and focused, but I so love the work that it is really enormously fun. Especially, since the writing is done and I would be already into the editing and formatting.
I also intend to hone my photographic skills with the short courses offered there from a few hours to a few days in length. I am now just punching buttons on my cameras and hoping for the best and this land deserves much more than that in the telling of this exciting story. Having a tour group filled with people with sophisticated cameras turned out to be a huge advantage. I made a trade with them. Send me the pictures you have taken along the way and I will give you three of my ebooks as an even exchange. So, I have their email addresses and we will set up some Google Drive exchange possibility and I will pop my book manuscripts over to them for their own reading pleasure. That way, I’ll have tons of expert shots of these undiscovered places…. as well as photos that I might just appear in. I don’t do selfies, it turns out; but this way, I am visually on the trip.
I plan to innundate George Burdeau and Rock Richardson of Warrior Films with the lot and see if they want to use it. So, each new tour group I join, I’ll make the same irresistable trade and see what we wind up with. I am taking tons of pictures myself.
I have found a few interesting photography courses in Makati City, Phillipines, which might just do the trick to make me familiar with my cameras. Then, I’ll eventually return to this continent to finish my travels through Vietnam, which everyone says is spectacularly beautiful and welcoming in every way. But, I’ll be better prepared to do justice to it. Maybe, Rita will be interested too?
As a matter of fact, I would sincerely love it if I could locate more Seriously Aged Seniors, who are still out here on the world trail. I met a Norwegian woman in South America, who is 76; and I keep hearing of a couple in their middle eighties who do one of these Stray Tours every year. We need to stay in touch with each other and hopefully, travel together, somehow to somewhere, so we can collaborate on a story collection. I am already now plotting on the best way to do that. Would that be mindblowing, or what? Say, anybody on a pension, or over 65 would qualify for the club. If you know of someone, refer them to me. We have a message to deliver! Maybe, through Oprah or Ellen?
I get told all the time “I want to be you when I grow up!” I bet those old trekkers do too!
But, back to the story I am living now. I was delayed at the Laos border because I had unwittingly, overstayed a month on my Thai visa because I read the wrong date on the passport stamp. That comes with a fine of $15 per day, but I cheerfully coughed up $450 and admitted my error. Even the uniformed woman immigration official I dealt with wound up as my New Best Friend as we talked about my travel style. It really pays to keep your cool in all surprising situations. I could have argued that I was innocent, but would have only made enemies and had to pay anyway, to get across so my travel group could get moving again. We were all so happy to arrive in the lovely small town of Luang Prabang, where we checked in, showered, and went out to celebrate with dinner. The next day, we learned how sticky rice is planted, harvested, husked, shelled and cooked at The Living Land rice farm. Sticky rice is a much more rare, healthy and specialized variety than the white rice that we all are familiar with; but I imagine that the farming techniques are the same.
My very favorite part of the fourteen steps was the first one. Taking turns, one by one, we slid into knee deep mud, the consistency of thick, thick, thick chocolate pudding. Then, we struggled over to the huge wooden plow handles and shouted “HO!” as bossily as we could to the sweet, lazy, long-suffering, bored-with-this-silly-routine, water buffalo who had to “plow” in circles for so many groups of silly tourists all day long. But, finally, he would budge and we could concentrate on releasing our foot from the serious suction; raising it high enough to clear the surface, so that we could un-squelch the other foot. Shouting “HO!” loud enough to sound like a male driver, and trying always to keep the heavy, primative, plow upright and not dragging, wholesale through the mud. I was really proud to have passed my Plow Technology 101 course!
My next favorite was segment #14: eating all the yummy samples of what can be created with sticky rice. Not only the handfuls of plain, cooked rice, which accompanies every meal in Laos; but lots and lots of crispy bars, logs, and flakey”tortillas” and, yes….rice krispies! Kellogs ought to come here to take lessons!
On the way back to town, we stopped at a most-unusual series of shallow, stepped, turquoise waterfalls and cavorted in the many photo-ops, which unavoidable with so many bikini babes and today’s generation of camera buffs. We also learned about the precious Moon Bears here. Somewhere nearby, there are Sun Bears. They are hunted for their bile by the Chinese. These cuddly ones, which look like big fur black bears, now live a secure, rescue life in a Free The Bears jungle home. They are adoptable, moneywise, and I’ll find their contact details somewhere in my stuff to include here.
Stuff rules and I struggle with five heavy suitcases, including my backpack; but I keep buying all this light cotton, gorgeous clothing. Plus, I am accumulating gifts to send home to my family if I could figure out how to wrap and mail them.
HAPPY 18TH BIRTHDAY TO MY DEAR MOLLY….. MY SWEET GRANDAUGHTER IN DENVER…..MARCH 3RD.
I haven’t forgotten and I have presents, as well as Christmas ones, but it’s not easy to find the wrapping to send it all. Gifts for the family to take care of the entire year. But, it will be a hilarious day when they arrive.
Also, the truth is, that wi-fi is a rare commodity. Even this hotel has it only on the lobby floor and not in the rooms; so I am not even collecting my emails. If you don’t hear from me, that is the cause. So, don’t worry because, I havent much time to read and answer them, either. Or to blog very often. But, I sure am living a great life!+++++++++++