When our guide told us that the second day of the trek would be a lot harder than the first, she was not, as it turns out, kidding around.
But we all started the day in jaunty high spirits, as you can see:
I do not have photos of the charming Swiss-Chinese couple who took the tour with us. It was nice having them around, especially the lady, who was a native of Yunnan province. Not only did she absorb the bulk of our chatty guide’s chattiness, but she also spoke some Thai (which is similar to Dai, one of the minority languages spoken in the area we were trekking) and she had no problem walking up to interesting-looking ladies and asking for their photos. This was extremely convenient for me; I just followed meekly in her wake, camera in hand, like the parasite I am.
Oh speaking of parasites!
Look who hitched a ride on Ryan’s leg! At last! I have met one of my tribesmen (for Google/employability reasons I’ve never put my last name on this blog, but in case you didn’t know, it’s a homophone of ‘leech’)(and this is a terrible photo so if you can’t see it, it’s the little snot-shaped thing on the ground below the heel of Ryan’s sneaker)(EW EW EW).
Between those cheerful morning photos and this last disgusting one, our guide — who was fun, and informative, and on friendly terms with the families we stayed with, and a great guide in every other way I have to emphasize — lost the trail. And so the five of us spent at least two hours bushwhacking our way straight down and then straight back up the valley. There was driving rain, and squishy mud, and gushing streams, and waist-high weeds, and face-high thorny branches, and corn stalks that sliced at you if you rubbed them the wrong way. By the time we found the trail again we were soaking wet, covered in filth, and bleeding for various reasons.
“Well, we have earned our lunch today!” declared the strapping, unflappable ur-Aryan Swiss dude, as he strode up the path in his Gor-tex hiking shoes and moisture-wicking zipoff cargo pants.
“Fucking god damn mother fuck,” muttered Ryan and I, with our wet cotton socks, our sneakers with very little grip, and our butts covered in mud.
I guess here is where I should eat some crow. I’ve never bothered to hide my contempt for Westerners who, when on vacation in a country populated by brown people, think it’s appropriate to dress like they’re on some kind of hobo safari. And I stand by that judgement, I mean I absolutely do. Being a Peace Corps Volunteer — especially being a PCV in a country where nice clothes, shoes, hair and makeup are of significant cultural importance — has only hardened me on this front. If we are in Erdenet, or Beijing, or Luang Prabang, or Bangkok, or Mandalay, or any other place on this earth where people live and work and manage to look nice every day, then you will pry my dresses and my makeup bag from my cold, dead, judgmental hands.
But I do have to say that it might have been nice to have worn slightly more outdoorsy gear on that trek.
Okay? I no longer judge sporty-looking tourists WHEN THEY’RE TREKKING IN THE HILLS OF SOUTHEAST ASIA. All right? But that’s it. And, in fact, as I write this in a backpackers’ cafe in Luang Namtha — a town where all there really is to do is sign up for treks — I am still managing to judge the sporty-looking tourists at the table next to us, because the womenfolk are wearing strappy tank tops and short shorts, and that is not appropriate for Laos, because I am an expert on these things. In conclusion, I am better than them, and everybody.
Whew! Glad we’ve got that straightened out.
Once we arrived at the village and cleaned ourselves up (again: hot running water!), the day got significantly better. We ate some delicious food, we found some beer at a tiny store, and we drank on the rooftop of our photogenic host’s home.
The third day was easier. We only walked an hour to the local market, where there were lots of colorful Aini ladies and tiny delicious fried potatoes.
We were supposed to walk two more hours after that, but the four of us and our tired legs mutinied, and we took a bus home instead. “I hope you enjoyed the trek!” our guide said, once we’d arrived back in Jinghong.
“It was an adventure!” Ryan replied, and he was not wrong.