“Nature. Yuck. No, thanks.” Me, approximately age 14, speaking to my mother about hiking in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.
“An eco-retreat with no electricity or indoor plumbing that requires a 2km walk from the nearest road? Sounds great, when do we leave?” Me, about a week ago, speaking to two women I’d just met at a hostel in Vientiane, Laos.
Looking back at the wasted opportunities to explore what was in my own backyard growing up in Colorado, I shake my head. I can’t turn back time to those years when I didn’t take full advantage of my surroundings but I’m sure as hell doing my best to make up for it now. Jen and I did some great hiking (or trekking, as the rest of the world seems to call it) in New Zealand and elsewhere but recently, I’ve let the rain stand in my way of truly enjoying our planet. So I decided that in my time alone in Myanmar and Laos, I would no longer let a bit of mud or a downpour of water stand in my way. Well, as I’ll explain in an upcoming post about Myanmar, I wouldn’t let it hold me back too much. So when the two Israeli women sharing a dorm room with me invited me to join them at Dreamtime, I happily accepted the invitation.
Dreamtime is run by a Belgian-Israeli man and his Chinese-Australian wife; welcoming and easy-going, these two have created an oasis 25km from the already laid-back city of Vientiane. Dinner is served by candlelight; showers can be taken in one of two outdoor stalls or in a private bathing pool of the river; and daytime activities include reading, walking, bicycling, swimming, chatting with the owners and other guests, scrambling over rocks to a waterfall, and generally enjoying the peace of being in the middle of nowhere. There are only two toilets (both squat, both outside without any sort of roof but with doors) and the use of toilet paper is discouraged but tolerated. A bucket of water is always available beside each toilet for washing and flushing. Toilet paper is available for purchase.
For three glorious nights, I stayed in a bungalow across a stream from the main cabin and toilets. I started and finished a novel I picked up from the communal bookshelf. I sat in the river, sometimes talking with others and sometimes just smiling up at the beauty around me. I stood below a waterfall so hard to reach bringing a camera with me would have been dangerous and I let the water massage my shoulders while my mind went blank and I listened to the falls crashing around me. I wandered the paths and got lost a few times. I ate delicious homemade food, simply prepared with local ingredients. I was bitten by mosquitoes and no matter how clean I got in the shower, my feet were always dirty. I happily stayed longer than planned. And when I left, I slung my bags over my shoulders, traipsed back down the 2km of paths to the road, and hopped in the back of a truck with about 30 Lao people and a basket of live chickens.
Times like these remind me how far I’ve come from the teenager who raced off to New York City, eager to live a more fast-paced life than the one I saw around me in Colorado. Although I appreciated the view of the mountains and the ease of navigating based on my relative position to them, I had no interest in exploring or truly enjoying the landscape. I wanted the buzz of Manhattan: the fast-talking, fast-moving concrete jungle of finance, arts, business, and dreams. Despite my Colorado roots, no one has ever called me “outdoorsy.” And while it’s still possible I haven’t earned that adjective, I seem to be heading there. I still love a bit of luxury every now and then but I slept better under my mosquito net at Dreamtime than I had in an air-conditioned hotel room in ages. If the shower hadn’t worked, I’d have happily bathed in the river. In fact, I’m already sorry I didn’t. If Laos were a place where one could pitch a tent or string up a hammock, I’d be looking at buying one of each. It isn’t – too many termites and other ground life for tents and the mosquitoes in this malarial zone would be a nightmare sleeping in a hammock. I have no idea where Jen and I will go after this trip winds down but if it’s up to me, it won’t be a big city. It will be a place where I can easily escape to the outdoors, listen to the insects and birds, fall asleep under the stars, and cherish this incredible world we call home.