Waterfallworld

[Written Friday, February The 17th, Night]

Martin and Elisabete checked out of the dorm early this morning, headed off to an Elephant Festival somewhere south of here. Now, I’m the only one here – the first time I’ve flewn solo in a dorm since Hawaii The Big Island. Actually, it’s a little bit lonely in here.

For no real good reason other that I’d not gotten ‘round to it, I’d yet to have visited the city’s No. 1 tourist attraction (or maybe it’s not – but it’s right up there): Kuang Si Waterfalls. Located 36 kilometres outside of town, you gots to take a Tuk-Tuk there. I did talk to a few guys who’d biked it down there, and said it’d gone more less okay; but it didn’t sound like a very fun trip.

Wanted to go on a weekday, as I’ve read that the place is overrun with tourists at the week ends. So arrived into town early and…the flip-side of fewer tourists heading to the waterfall during the week is that fewer tourists are looking for a ride during the week.

Finally, though, I did hook up with a group needing another passenger. Apart from myself, there was a Taiwanese-American currently living in L.A., a Swedish lady (who has seen, and loved, My Life As A Dog), and a Brasilian couple.

The grandfather of the female half of the latter emigrated to Brasil from Japan. She (the grand-daughter) thus enjoys permanent Japanese residence status. So, they lived there for a year, and have been traveling around many other places, working as needed. They’re soon headed to Nepal to hike up to the Everest base-camp (but no further).

Shoots! Martin was talking about Nepal last night as well. I’m kinda wanting to go there, now, too.

A little bit out of town, we stopped and picked up a Norwegian couple from a Tuk-Tuk which had had only the two of them. Then after ten or fifteen minutes’ time, we pulled over, and the driver had me re-locate to a civilian pickup truck. I didn’t really know what was going on; but thought that maybe it was more of the horse-trading with other drivers, to maybe get his vehicle up to the eight-person capacity, rather that its then-current seven.

In the cab of my truck was four locals, plus two more in the back. Seemed like a okay enough way to get to the waterfall, excepting that I missed the company back from the Tuk-Tuk. It’d been a quite fun and interesting group.

Turns out, we were soon reunited, as the truck pulled over, I was ejected, and puttering down the road come the Tuk-Tuk to let me back on. What it was, there’s some kind of a checkpoint along the way, and if the driver passes it with more than six occupants, he’s got to pay a premium (or what). So, I guess he slipped the pickup driver a few to get me past the checkpoint.

So, we got to the waterfall, and I was disappointed to learn that we had to leave about an hour-and-a-half earlier than I’d thought. The Brasilians needed to catch a bus for Vang Vieng at such and such a time; so, we had only a couple of hours to explore the park.

The park’s trails are absolutely perfect for barefooting: hard-packed, tree-shaded dirt with plenty of countour, and no rocks. The park itself is a paradise beyond what could be imagined (at least by my own self).

Think I’ve learnt a rule of thumb when it comes to photography: the more better the image is in real life, the less justice a photo will do it. Certainly the case here! Nevertheless, I did snap a good many of them. Just keep in mind, what I seen in person is so much the more fantastic than what you’ll see on the screen.

Don’t know how many falls there are all told – several score, I should think. Mostly they’re terrace-type waterfalls, reminiscent of Mammoth Hot Springs (but with much more water, natch).

The lowest area…

waterfall1

…doubles as a swimming-hole; rope-swing included.

ropeswing

The next area up the trail…

waterfall2

…does not double as a swimming hole.

waterfall3

Moving further along, the viewing-stand for the Main Event. Look at all the falls snaking up the hill!

waterfall4

From there, one can hike all the way up to the very top. A hike not for the faint of foot (I was on more than one occasion quite glad to have an exposed tree-root onto which to grab), it was mostly comprised of steps hewn into the dirt. Gets the old ticker pumping, for sure.

Once at the top, one can walk right out into the river, and stand this close to the brink (yes, there’s a fence-rail):

waterfall5

Then, one can walk through the river, all the way across – a good two hundred yards, I’d estimate (mostly about shin-deep). About a third of the way across, there’s a huge tree downed, atop which one can stand and receive a massive view.

waterfall6

There isn’t a fence-rail here; and the scene was a bit of a stretch for my slightly-vertiginous blood – but, I guess, shutterbuggery wins out over vertigo every time.

I’d arrived to the top at about the same time as three Australian blokes and a European girl. I realised, however, that in my photo-malingering, they’d left me way behind. And so, I was all alone. Standing there by myself, and turning around to look back up-river…

waterfall7

…I felt that this space was as sacred, or more, as any Temple I’ve been in here. Great googly-moogly, if not for the earlier-than-expected Tuk-Tuk departure, I might still be standing there. There are hiking trails up there, too.

But, eventually I did depart, and began to descend back down the other side of the river. So many great and wonderful trees in the park, but I did come to the one Master Tree.

waterfall8

Just lookit that fucker go! What a champion!

waterfall9

Moving down the trail, one reaches a wooden staircase, with a viewing stand so close to the falls you’re practically inside them. The water’s dripping right down on you.

waterfall10

Standing there, hearing the falls’ roar, tasting its breath…so fucking amazing…

A little further down the staircase, turn around and, it’s a full-on mountainside of water.

waterfall11

From here, still a ways down to that bridge, which serves as the trailhead to make the climb up either side of the river.

waterfall12

Back down at the viewing area, people were having picnic lunch and shit (as people ofttimes shall). Among them, this awesome guy. Seen lots of Laotians wearing cowboy hats, believe it or not.

cowboy

Even when you could find a few square yards of water not cascading over, it was still a scene like out of a fantasy movie.

waterfall13

Also on the grounds, an Asiatic Black Bear rescue center.

blackbear2

Was running well short on time by now, so only got to check in upon a few of them. Looked like they were enjoying themselves, though.

blackbear1

 Couldn’t help, upon seeing this one, recalling the late, very great, permanently lamented, Wesley Willis’ lyrics to “Taste a Lechwe’s Ass”:

Taste a golden retriever’s ass
Taste a zebu’s hard dick
Taste a caribou’s smelly ass
Taste a racehorse’s cock

Taste a lechwe’s ass
Taste a lechwe’s ass
Taste a lechwe’s ass
Taste a lechwe’s ass

Taste a zebra’s ass with Ragu spaghetti sauce
Taste a baboon’s dick with tabasco sauce
Taste a black bear’s ass with Smucker’s grape jelly
Taste an Arabian camel’s ass with Price Chopper imitation vanilla extract

Taste a lechwe’s ass
Taste a lechwe’s ass
Taste a lechwe’s ass
Taste a lechwe’s ass

Taste a jaguar’s smelly bootyhole
Taste a racehorse’s shitty ass
Taste an Asiatic black bear’s dick
Taste a waterbuffalo’s ass, jerk

Taste a lechwe’s ass
Taste a lechwe’s ass
Taste a lechwe’s ass
Taste a lechwe’s ass

And then — far, far, far too early — it was time to go. This place, this just might be the best place god made.

Greatly regret that our time there was so short. But the Tuk-Tuk company was fantastic enough to dampen the pain. Just knowing this place exists is enough to send the soul soaring into orbit.

On the way back into town we stopped at an “authentic” Hmong village, which turned out to be a Potemkin village: a front for the sale of beads and textiles. These girls looked nice, though. They were singing a song about buying beads from them.

hmonggirls

There was this one really cute little girl, with her baby brother slung over her back, whose picture I was getting ready to take. “Photo 2,000 Kip,” she demanded.

“Photo 2,000 Kip? I’ll pass,” I politely told her.

“Photo 2,000 Kip!” she insisted.

“I didn’t take one!” I clarified.

“Bleargh!” she petulantly spat back at me.

She followed us all the way back around to the Tuk-Tuk, pestering us to give her 2,000 Kip for her photo. The Brasilian guy took a pic without even paying. Saucy!

I’ll say one thing for the village: its chickens are perhaps the most beautiful I’ve seen to-date (and Laos is so riddled with beautiful chickens it ain’t even funny).

hmongchicken1

hmongchicken2

As we returned, it came out the the Chinawoman and the Swedenne needed a place to stay for the night (had not previously realised they’re traveling together). I offered to lead them to the guest house, carefully enumerating the pros (it’s cheap, staff is incredibly friendly, fellow-travelers kick ass, the outdoor-shower has a river-rock floor) and cons (loud motorcycles, crappy mattresses, slow Internet).

They walked with me back; but then decided not to stay here, the ungrateful wenches, as it doesn’t offer a female-only dorm. Oh, well; gave me a chance to grab my swim trunks and head for the swimmin’ hole.

On my way there, I heard my name called from across the street. It was Pheng, the garden-watering local with whom I’d conversed last week. He was all dressed up in his work garb. It was good to see him — I forgot, however, to ask him why he’d not e-mailed me.

Up the road a piece, some sticky-rice being dried.

ricedrying

Once down to the river, a group of Frenchman (and one Frenchwoman) invited me to join them in shooting the rapids out of the Nam Khan and into the Mekong. Sounded like fun; so we plopped into the water, and away we went.

Bobbing merrily along, the current beginning to pick up, the Frenchman behind me called out, “Ven you get to zose rocks, you have to zwim very hard to ze left.” Urp, now you tell me. But I zwam very hard to ze left, and, lo and behold, didn’t crash into the cliff.

Then the current picked up some more, and some more, and still some more, and soon, zwoomph: we were in the Mekong! The only problem was, the current was so strong, and the ground so shallow and rocky, that in attempting to stand up, I stubbed my toe really good one. The same one I’ve been stubbing repeatedly since arriving in Asia. There was already a lovely blood-blister on there, and now this.

Later learnt that a little further on downstream, the current isn’t as rapid, and the ground is sandy. Good to know.

The toe was hurting pretty badly by the time I got to shore (not normal for stubs to keep hurting for so long); and when I bent down to check it out, noticed that the toenail was bent to perpendicular from about a third of the way down. Flipped it back into place, hobbled up the bank, poured some water on, and it seemed to calm down a bit.

Still bothering me some as these words are written; but I don’t think it’ll end up being too bad. Curious to see whether that nail is going to continue growing as-was, or if it will instead fall off above the crease-line.

Walking through the Night Market, came upon this photogenic stall o’ umbrellas, which I’d not previously noticed.

umbrellas

This little girl had about the best seat in the house.

nightmarketgirl

Another bang-up Mekong sunset was had by all.

sunset

[Written Saturday, February The 18th, Evening]

Started walking around this morning, and my stubbed toe was feeling kind of off. Not painful, but just, kind of odd. So, I elected to postpone until the morrow the renting a bike and cycling up to of the Pak Ou caves.

Thought, instead, that I might do some reading and some juggling – but just ended up walking around all day, enjoying the town yet again. If you would care to believe it, there were still some streets and alley-ways down which I’d not yet trod. I think I’ve now covered them all at least once.

Saw a guy playing a bamboo pipe instrument – he was really quite getting into it.

woodpipes

Spent a while at the World Heritage info centre. The nominal main attraction is this building, which was once an official palace, and which pre-dates the French occupation.

heritage

I liked the building well enough. But for me, the principal attraction was the incredible feeling of peacefulness on the grounds (aided in no small measure by the large number of butterflies winging it about the area).

I did manage to find a couple of temples I’d not yet visited. At one of them, a rare glimpse of the elusive Pink Buddha.

pinkbuddha

The other temple is stunningly, almost impossibly gorgeous. Alas, it was all closed up, so didn’t get to have a peep inside.

temple

Also at this temple, some nice golden chicken action. Not a giant golden chicken, granted; but nice all the same.

goldenchicken

Found a gallery with some great wood carvings.

gallery

Chanced upon this strange/terrific flower.

flower

This family was drying up a huge quantity of these chapathi-looking things. There were many more racks than are pictured here.

chapathi

From the it’s-all-good-‘til-somebody-gets-hurt dept.:

 

Finally, caught the security guard napping. Hey, that daytime sun can be relentless.

security

Upon returning to the guest house (only three total customers booked tonight – yikes!), happened to cross paths with the British girl to whom I’d a few nights earlier introduced this place.

She asked if I knew where she could get something to eat. I was kind of taken aback, responding, “I don’t know if it’s possible to walk five yards in this town without finding something to eat.”

“Where are you finding these places?!?!” She was pretty exasperated.

“Haven’t you seen all of the restaurants up and down the street??”

“No! I mean: I just want a sandwich, not any fucking Lao food.”

“Oh…well, there’s an Australian pub down the street. Maybe they serve sandwiches.”

“But where are all the baguette ladies?”

“I think they’re only out in the morning. Maybe head over to the Night Market?”

“Well, I’ve been out all day; and I can’t be asked to walk all the way to the Night Market just to get a sandwich…”

As I was stammering for something more edifying to say than, “I don’t know what to tell you,” she brandished her fork and added, “Do you know what I mean?” Then she stalked off toward her room.

Good on her for being prepared, I guess. But that was one strange conversation. Actually, she’s pretty chunky; so the night without food’ll probably do her some good, methinks.

Update: Have been joined in the dorm by an Israeli name of “Nitzan”. He’s got dreads. Seems to be throwing money around like it ain’t no thing (flew from Bangkok to Chiang Mai; and then bought an expensive three-day package tour from Chiang Mai to here via mnivan and slow-boat).

He wants, however, to go on a rural homestay, and live and suffer like real Laotians. That last is very important to him: sumbitch can’t wait to suffer.

He’s quite anti-noise, as of course am I. But whereas I put in earplugs to drown out the motorcycles and be able to sleep, he started pumping Janis Joplin through his headphones. Seems like a nice enough guy, if a bit hyperactive.

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