I am currently in Luang Prabang, the UNESCO World Heritage Site city in northern Laos and it is so blisteringly hot that there is simply nothing to be done outside between the hours of say 10 am and about 5 pm. I made the mistake of walking and exploring yesterday between those dreaded hours; and when I returned to the guest house, it took the rest of the afternoon and well into the early evening for me to recover. Yeah, I know, it was only a week and a half ago that I left Vietnam and was whining about the cold and damp weather in Sapa – but that was then and this is now, and I’m just not made for this heat and humidity anymore!
Today, I was smarter – I was up and meandering the Mekong riverside at dawn, taking in the sight of the dozens of saffron-robed monks walking the streets, as they do each morning for alms. The local people wait along the road to greet them with sticky rice and crackers and then the monks walk back to their temples. I kept my distance as the tourists have been known to be disruptive to the somber process, clicking their cameras and dressing inappropriately. So I took it in and then continued on my early morning stroll. Even at the very early hour, I was not alone. It seems everyone is an early bird in Southeast Asia – people are often up before the dawn and early to bed. When I went to the local food market at 6:30 this morning (which is a stone’s throw from my guest house), the market was in full swing and everyone was out in full force. So it’s back to the kind of schedule I had in Siem Reap and Angkor Wat – up and out early in the morning until late morning and then far away from the sun and heat until later in the day!
I guess I’ve been traveling long enough now to have landed smack dab in the height of low season – which makes for being in this normally very touristy city much more pleasant than when hordes of us (I almost typed ‘them’ but caught myself!) are around. But it also means that I’ve hit the time that is not recommended to be anywhere in these parts because of how hot it can be. We’re also on the shoulder of rainy season and it’s been early this year – so it’s hot, humid and sometimes rainy and damnit, there’s not a beach in sight – what was I thinking?!
Oh, the beach – what a lovely thought – how did I end up in land-locked country thinking about the beach? The same way, I guess, I ended up living on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean without enough beach time – it seems like some perverse twist of fate! One of the biggest draws for moving to Hawaii was imagining a lifestyle of being not only near, but in the ocean almost daily. There’s not much that comes close to the pleasure I receive from frolicking in a warm, soft ocean. But that’s not Hawaii and that’s definitely not Puna. Even before I lived in Hawaii, I found the Hawaiian ocean waters to be on the cold side; and because I’m on the windward side of the island, the ocean is generally too rough for the kind of frolicking I’m talking about. You know the kine – easing into a gently lapping, warm ocean that my body immediately melts into without the slightest contraction of chilly-ness. Now that is what I love – and what I miss not only right now, but on my island home as well.
I had a great skype talk with my sister today and during our chat, she asked me if I’ve given any thought about life back ‘home’ and what I may do when I return. The short answer – no! The longer answer – no! There’s not much to say about it – I have been quite content in living in the moment out here in a way that pleases me very much – what may come when I’m back in Puna feels far away and not particularly pertinent in my day-to-day life here. There have been a few times when anxiety has momentarily come up – when I was looking at an online bank statement or reflecting on being way over-budget overall on this trip – but it doesn’t stick around long; I choose not to give it much air time and making that choice feels easy. There will be plenty of time for all that – and I imagine I’ll get a big dose of it when I’m back in the Bay Area and especially the first time I go out to eat; but for now, I’m focused on being here now and am delighted it is coming mostly so effortlessly.
It’s evening time now and while I had reserved this evening for a stroll around town and some much-needed clothes shopping (don’t get me started on that!), the rains came suddenly and relentlessly – needless to say, I got completely soaked; by the time I got back to the guest house, it looked like I was trying out as a contestant for a wet t-shirt contest in a country where that doesn’t go over so well. So I’ve given up on my walk about town and am happily back in my room while the rain pours down, the lightening flashes and the thunder crackles – I’m warm and dry and a bit hungry since I didn’t get to have dinner before the deluge. But no matter – writing calls me right now more than food!
I’ve found an ideal place to call home for my time here in LP – the Guest House Manichan, an old French colonial villa, which is just a few meters away from the Mighty Mekong, steps away from the Morning Market, the Night Market and right in the middle of the Old Town. It was no small feat finding a budget spot where I could stay for awhile – this is one of the most expensive cities not only in Lao, but in all of Southeast Asia; and even with low season, this is the only place I found of this quality at $10/night – all others were $25 and way up from there. So, I am very pleased with my ongoing excellent skills in manifesting fine places to stay – my room is on the 2nd floor and I’ve got a huge balcony where I spent most of today – on skype, reading, writing, eating and napping (the basics!). My room, while smallish, has two walls full of windows and a reasonably soft bed (for SEA standards) – lovely breezes, lots of natural light, a comfy sleep; and the Guest House has great guys managing it (more on them another time).
I’m planning to spend a week or so here in Luang Prabang – I need a rest. It seems like I’ve been saying that a lot on this trip. And now, it feels like it’s more than only a rest – there’s a part of me that feels full and complete with this journey. That surprises me and yet, when I think that if I’m really done, I can just change my ticket and go back to the States earlier; I’m not quite ready to do that. So no, maybe I’m not quite done. When I look at the calendar and realize I’ve ‘only’ got a little over a month left, then I feel sorta sad about the journey coming to an end. Ah, the dilemma of ambivalence!
Part of why I want to stay here in LP is that it’s easy and I need easy (I think it’s the 3rd world lack of easyness that makes me so weary) – it’s a clean, pretty, quiet place that’s got all the infrastructure I need and I’ve got a very comfortable guest house in which to rest, relax and write. There are scads of fabulous restaurants, cheap street food, plentiful and affordable massage and beautiful areas for walking. That pretty much takes care of my needs at the moment … well, most of my needs, anyway! Yes, easy feels really good right now.
I marvel in retrospect at how I was able to travel for almost two years 10 years ago. Now, after 3½ months, I’m more tired than I recall from that trip. Although it might just be how memory serves me, I also think it’s the almost completely solitary nature of this journey that was not so for that one – while I truly feel content much of the time in my aloneness, it takes a lot of energy to maintain and sustain my energy, enthusiasm and forward momentum in the 3rd world completely and totally on my own. I’m simply tired. It also feels like a matter of fullness – I’ve taken so much in, there’s so much to digest and reflect on that to keep taking more in dilutes my ability to be present to what’s already in me that needs and desires further digestion and reflection. So it’s all of that and more.
I’m particularly mixed about Myanmar – I really wanted to go to Myanmar. Everyone I’ve met who’s been there says it’s an absolutely enchanting country with the friendliest people, the most amazing culture and the least tourist-ed of all the surrounding countries. While ‘least tourist-ed’ often sounds wonderfully and romantically appealing, what it means in reality in the 3rd world is that infrastructure is very sketchy, at best – and it requires a lot more time, energy and patience to navigate systems that either aren’t in place or barely function. Even preparing to go there takes some doing – it means getting back to Bangkok; applying and waiting for a visa; getting crisp new American bills of a certain Series because that’s all the currency they accept (if the bills aren’t as crispy new as they think they should be, they simply don’t accept them & there are no ATMs in the country); finding an inexpensive round-trip flight from Bangkok because there’s no overland travel allowed; figuring out how to travel there and support private people with the least amount of money going to the awful government; on and on. While none of that is insurmountable and all of it is stuff I’m quite familiar with dealing with; it requires a well and reserve of energy from which to draw upon that I simply don’t have at the moment. Shit, even just writing it all out right now makes me tired!
But still, it’s very mixed – I’m disappointed not to have what it takes to go there and simultaneously, I’m grateful and relieved that I realize it and accept it so that I’m not pushing myself beyond a comfort zone for the sake of ‘proving’ something. Yep, Myanmar will have to wait for another time.
As I head into my final month of this Southeast Asian journey, I am indeed winding down, going into the home stretch slowly, in low, low gear! And in so doing, listening to that wise and wonderful intuition that always knows what’s best!