Chewing The Fat
When you’re travelling you have a lot of time to chew the fat so we have spent many hours discussing silly made up scenarios such as: how much we would be willing to spend on our favourite takeaway from home, especially when we've been eating pot noodles for days and long for a Yardsale. Or to lift the spirit on a tiring walk, we create challenges such as how would we spend 10k in cash in the next hour in that very place? Just imagine spending 10k in the jungle... there's only so much bamboo you can buy for 10k! One day our discussions turned to fears, namely our biggest fears, where Ali divulged her worse scenario is being left out in the middle of the ocean. Mark's nightmare is being lost inside a cave.
A few days before Christmas we booked a tour from Nong Khiaw to a famous local attraction called the 100 waterfalls. The day included boat rides, trekking, lunch on a mountain, chilling in a village and then back to town. A fun filled afternoon that would be a pleasure rather than a chore. Indeed, much of the day was pretty pedestrian but in the last few hours.... fears were faced.
“Do something everyday that scares you”
An Australian we met proclaimed this well known phrase and it does hold some truth. Why live life in a protective bubble? Much of world survives pretty easily in places where safety is rarely considered, climate and environment temperamental and meat is left out in the sun for days. No one but the tourists seem to get ill from the meat in these countries! Asians have stomachs of steel conditioned to all the germs, dirt and the occasional nibbles of rats (we’ve lost count of the amount of rats spotted around the restaurants we eat it in).
The 100 waterfalls was a pretty memorable experience as we clambered up the hundred mini waterfalls in our trainers, sun glistening through the trees. Later we climbed to the top of the waterfall via the track to the side and dined on sticky rice with vegetables gazing down at the landscape below. Our guide then took us back to the boat passing grazing buffalos in a field, wow these beast are huge. Upon entering the village our boat was docked and the villages chief beckoned us across to sit in a circle on rickety wooden stools. A slight nod was made to our village guide who brandished a clear unlabelled bottle filled with what looked like water, a nagging feeling told us it probably wasn’t! The guide took a swig and passed it to me, “Laos Laos” he said. Historically we’ve been game for a day drink and we knew the tour was over so what harm would an afternoon tipple do? Laos Laos is home-brewed whisky made from rice and the Laotions can be seen drinking it everywhere, it’s taste can only be described as a strong tasting vodka.
The next 30 minutes passed and the 5 tourists, guides and the chief take turns to knock back the jungle juice, which is becoming more sickly with every sip. The booze combined with the hot sun is making everyone a little drunk, tired and giggly, these jungle villages definitely know how to have a good time. Gradually the people in the circle start to decline the Laos Laos until its just the chief, our guide and Mark still drinking. Bottle finished we start to wobble our way down to boat and enjoy a pleasant voyage in the afternoon sun. You can see how relaxed Mark was in this photograph:
In the midst of heady daydreaming, the boat driver pulls in at a random restaurant and we are all handed head torches. What are we doing now? We are drunk, sleepy and we’ve been handed a head torch, Mark begins to expect the worst and best of all there aren’t enough head torches for him. The guide leads us up to a huge opening to a cave (oh no!), this is the first mention of a cave all day! We start to enter the dark opening and quickly the light fades, Mark has to share Ali’s head torch beam. The cave is quite large to start with but soon starts to taper and eventually bottlenecks. What's more, as the space gets smaller it gets hotter and we all start to sweat out the boozy Laos Laos from the village. Mark finds himself drunk, sweating profusely, without a headlight heading into his worse fear.
The Belly Of The Beast
During the Vietnam war the cave was used as a hideaway and there are still artefacts from the 1960s in the cave like vintage 50 year old tin packaging and the remnants of fire pits. Trying to remember that people once lived here, we ventured in for a few minutes until we reached a tiny bottleneck where the guide decides to squeezes himself through with the promise of a huge open space on the other side. We deliberate, our German friend Daniel doesn’t fancy it and turns back whilst the French and other German guys decide to squeeze themselves through (they're both just over 5ft) Ali can just about fit too. Drunk and whoozy from the heat, Mark decides to face his fear and squeeze through the impossible space which he just about does but with cuts and grazes on his legs. On the other side it’s hotter still and the ceiling lower, the guide says we need to crawl now so we are down on our hands and feet in press-up position physically pulling ourselves forward. The experience is more like pot holing and the sound of 5 people in the cave echoing causes Mark to hit breaking point. Brought on by the sweaty jungle juice induced agoraphobia, Mark decides he must leave. He’s faced his fear and crawls back through the tiny hole scraping up his legs again as he pulls himself out back to freedom.
Life is is for living and doing something everyday that scares you might help you to do new things. But remember you might need to get inadvertently drunk on jungle juice to do so!
Why not watch our travel video from Nong Khiaw?
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