May 13, 2004

my first post

ok i am succumbing to the peer/husband pressure to contribute to this blog - and more specifically to include specific retelling of my Northern Laos experience - And I'm not talking the big cities there in Laos - I'm talking "up there" northern Laos. Now be warned that as a woman of MANY words, I afraid the 'blog' medium is not for me. But one of my dearest friends consoled me with the following wisdom:

"usually a picture is worth a thousand words but sometimes a hundred or so words is worth a thousand words =)"

To begin, I'm the girl who can go a week without washing her hair (or at least a good 4 days!) and wears the same clothes again and again (I blame/credit this on my catholic schooling and uniforms). i'm not high maintenance, i'm not a princess...And as I see it, this should make me a good - or at least an easy - traveler.

My biggest 'flaw' as a true backpacker may be that I probably wash my clothes too often (I have a tendency to take them into the shower with me - what else am I going to do while my conditioner sets in??!?!) but otherwise I think I have few needs. But beautiful, wonderful northern Laos let me face all of them - in a sometimes quite painful way.

You see, I knew it was RUSTIC and I was looking forward to it. Figured it would make the luxuries in my life that much sweeter, right? and give me that 'authentic' experience while traveling.

To prove to myself that I wasn't quite a princess I made a list of things I can live without - INDEFINITELY:

1. no ice in my soft drinks
2. manual toilet flushing - i don't mind that whole 'bucket' thing
3. additionally, i'm getting into the hose-bidet thing (thank you dave samuel)
4. I can even deal with using toilet paper as napkins - granted i feel like i use too many sheets per meal!
5. If the climate is hot enough - and let's face it those are places i tend to want to travel to anyhow - i don't really need hot showers
6. i can handle shoo-ing flies away from my food
7. i can handle deeting exposed areas of skin to repel all the flippin mosquitos (i'm still waiting for someone to explain to me why mosquitos are necessary in our ecosystem - what purpose do they really serve?!??!). and to that point, people here in asia are 'immune' to mosquitos - the repellent is for us 'falangs' or 'farangs' depending where you are, but YET being from the midwest, where mosquitos are so
rampant - why aren't we IMMUNE!!
8. I don't need soft mattresses and fluffy pillows
9. blah, blah, blah...i know there are MANY more I will think of later.

And I even made another list....things I can deal with for a FINITE amount of time (without complaints or injury):
1. no hot water at all
2. no running water
3. serving dishes and glasses being not quite clean (a by-product of #1, me thinks)
4. dealing with some bugs in my bed - mosquito net withstanding (I found if jim rested our flashlight on his chest as we read books in bed at night the bugs would land on the pages and I could just squash them dead between the pages!)
5. using outdoor 'facilities'
6. when #5 is not available, using the river or bathing by bucket
7. i can even pick small bugs out of my soup (keyword = small) and finish my meal

but when *everything* on these lists cummulate on ONE day, I find that I may lose my low-maintenance. Here's how it went down:

It was my third or was it my fourth day sitting down to yet another dinner served with dirty dishes with hair unwashed for about a week (ok, that really doesn't bother me at all) in clothes unwashed for probably longer, swatting off mosquitos who bite through not one - but TWO shirts - my enthusiasm at hitting a city again and living a bit like a westerner was really starting to appeal. But I was feeling tough, like I was really proving what I was made of ;)

And when the soup I ordered for dinner arrived at my table I was really impressed. Rather than just broth and cabbage like I've been used to - this soup had tomatoes and sprouts and PEPPERS! I was so happy. I could even ignore the mosquitos for a second or two.

But there were a few small, very small bugs in there - fly-like, gnatty things, but as a low maintenance traveler I can deal with this nuisance with ease. So I start spooning out the extra "protein" so I can enjoy my dinner when I notice a particular looking 'vegetable' in my vegetarian rice noodle soup.

as I isolate it onto my spoon I realize it is NOT a vegetable or root indigenous to northern Laos, but rather a fair sized BEETLE! Now, I can handle A LOT I mean I really can spoon small gnats and flies out of
my soup and deal - but a beetle as big as my big toe exceeded my limits!

So I push the soup aside and ate Jim's eggs rolls with pleasure. And while Jim enjoys a real, bug free meal, I spend the time swatting at mosquitos. It was probably my most successful night of mosquito killing - although I didn't keep count of the casualities!

So we move on to another restaurant with dishes no more clean, but less mosquitos for a nightcap. Unfortunately, I've given up alcohol for a bit (beer is the only real option and my consumption of it seems to be proportionate to the size of my belly). Altho I could have certainly used it to dull the pain...

So Jim grabs a drink as I sip water and we play some cards. So most of you (ALL of you) know how competitive I am. Well, Jim has been kicking my butt (BIG TIME) at cards for - literally - three days. I just can't seem to get good ones - or play smart enough to win (although jim is sweet enough to say it's luck, not my lack of skill) there is a lot of insult to my injury happening here as Jim continues to pummel me at every game we play (from 31 to spades to gin rummy to GO FISH!!).

well, I finally start to believe that I shouldn't take the losses or the pathetic night as anything personal and that it will pass and that tomorrow is a new day - and one that has me arriving back into civilization.

So I fold my legs onto my chair indian style in my new Luang Prabang lightweight super cute travel pants with a pink swirly on the leg - just to have them SPLIT IN THE CROTCH!!! Oh yeah, in both directions!!!
And I still need to walk home. And with the on-coming storm the new ventilation is not necessarily needed.

Ugh - can it get worse?!?!??

Again, I'm not drinking so the only thing to ease my pain is my husband's wonderful-ness and a change in my own attitude. It also helped that electricity goes out at 10 pm, so if I left late enough no one could see the gaping hole in my pants - or at least that was my working theory.

Which proved to be true - and me with my new attitude walked home. I learned long ago that if I couldn't laugh at my own folly, I'd be a miserable wretch.

Lo and behold, no sooner did we get to our rustic bungalow before the storm blew in - thunder, lightning...terrential rain. All the things I usually love to see and hear at night - when my roof doesn't leak that is!

So in the same vein as - chinese water torture - we had drops of rain fall on our heads as we slept despite jim covering our mosquito net with our sarongs to absorb more of the moisture!!!

Anyhow, I tell this story more as comic relief than anything. I loved every pant-splitting, bug-squashing, game-losing minute of it :) And that's the truth!
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