The kind that requires a machete!
02.13.2012 - 02.13.2012 27 °C
Jenn & I were eager to make the most of our 5 days in Lao so we immediately booked a 2nd tour, a jungle trek with Jewel Travels the same company for the motorbike trek, and we joked at the idea that Ton would show up at our hotel the next day. It's a small town and we were right in our assumption. We were joined by Stephan from Germany who decided that he did not want to join his girlfriend in the cooking course she was taking that day. Along the drive we made a quick stop at a food stall to purchase our lunch for the trek, needless to say, we made a request to Ton: No eggs please! At least not 15.
We got to our destination after a 45 minute drive and picked up a local guide who knew his way in the jungle. I don’t recall him introducing himself due to the language barrier, but he happily shook our hands. Before starting off, he spent a good 5 minutes sharpening his... machete! He wet the rock between his feet and passed the blade back & forth. The rock itself was smooth and slightly concave from the repeated motion.
Off we went. I kept pausing and straggling behind because I just had to take in the view. The sun, the water, the foreign landscape and savouring the relief brought on by the wind.
We were heading towards the main peak just off to the right.
The only person we encountered, it was probably just 5 minutes into our trek.
Crossing the river.
Ton showed me how to spot the ant mounds that he brought to my attention the day before and I started spotting them everywhere.
Here's the picture again:
Cow dung was everywhere along this path, yet I don’t recall spotting any cows at all.
Less than an hour into our trek, and thus far an easy walk along the dirt path. It was noticeably cooler in Luang Prabang but the sun was really beating down on us and it was barely 10am.
I lied, we saw one other person. We took a break at this hut in the middle of nowhere and sat with its owner. At this point, Jenn mentioned that she had hoped for a more vigorous trek and the fact that we were already taking a break after an easy hour of walking wasn’t exactly what she had in mind. Looking back, that was the turning point. She got what she asked for... x 1000.
We immediately started going on a steep incline for a solid 20 minutes. Every 3 steps I took I slid back down the equivalent of 1 on the loose red soil. My heart rate escalated much, much higher than the elevation we were tackling. I was carrying a total 3 bottles of water. At this point I already downed one, we were 1.5 hours into our 7 hour trek.
The machete finally came into use. He was hacking away & making our paths, and also marking dents into trees. I kept telling Jenn to not tag so closely behind our jungle guide, incase her body parts came too close to the arcing motion of the machete.
This make-shift bridge was the only evidence so far that people have walked the same trek before us.
After 4 hours we had tackled climbs & descents that had us eating our words on the trek being too easy. Now we were complaining about how the tour should have been clearer about the fitness & exertion level this trek truly required. It was denoted as being difficulty level 3-4. Which was fine, except it wasn’t based on a scale of 10, but rather on a scale of 3-4. But then we shut up. This was what we were seeking, I didn’t really read the itinerary of where we were going on the jungle trek, I was under the impression it was a waterfall we were going to but I was blown away by what it ended up being. The waterfall fell into a huge deep cave. This picture is an overview which doesn’t really allow you to appreciate the aspect and how truly huge it was.
This is a better comparison but it only reflects about ¼ of the mouth of the cave.
There was a heavy mist from the splashing waters, the drop was at least 100+m (damn 2D pictures and its lack of depth!) and we gingerly crept towards the edge. My stomach sank, as it was mossy & slippery and I kept imagining the worst. I trembled holding the camera over the edge to take this picture.
As my nerves eased, I sat down and even let my feet rest near the edge.
Here’s a view of the mouth of the cave from below. It was maybe 50m across.
We sat down for lunch. The food was poured out onto giant leaves and we sat at the edge of the drop, listening to the sound of falling water and grabbing handfuls of food. The 2 communal spoons were used to drink the cold bamboo soup out of the bag and to scoop up the veggies into your hands. I had trouble making small bite size balls of sticky rice, the 2 guides made them smaller than ping-pong balls. Mine... the size of tennis balls. Whatever, it was all ending up in my stomach anyway. For the next 30 minutes it was a wonderful feeling to be the only 5 people in the world. What brings a smile to my face thinking back on this moment, was that I actually thought they had teared off these giant leaves for us to seat on. I'm still caught up on the idea of clean & comfort.
The guides cleaned up after us, bundling up the food and plastic bags back into their bags and left the area exactly as we found it, prestine. The jungle guide told us that we’d be taking another way back.
We were climbing up & down giant crevices.
The trail was sharply downhill for quite some time, which forced me to always spot a tree or a vine that I would purposely run into to stop my downhill stumble. The worst was either getting your foot tangled in ground vines that threatened to topple you mid-step or grabbing a handful of spiny vines such as these.
After what felt like 2 hours we were hitting our exhaustion point and our water supply was all used up. “How much longer?” we whined.
“Another 2 hours.”
But you kind of lose your confidence in that reply when you keep seeing your guide scratching his head, and looking confused... that’s not a good sign. The guide often left us a bit to stalk out the area to see if any of it was familiar.
Finally, another sign of life and a possible landmark to bring us back on route.
We demanded for another rest.
At one point both Ton & the jungle guide started to stray off more and more. They had decided that they wanted to collect wild banana flowers to cook for dinner and needed about 7-8 of them to make a decent dish. Supposedly the wild bananas were not edible for humans, and once flowered, the tree dies and falls. These 2 started to either climb or chop down banana trees. Ton cut one up for me to taste, it was very bitter.
This tree that they hacked at, fell in the wrong direction: straight into Stephan & Jenn who narrowly moved out of the way. We were tired, hot, thirsty and had already avoided death one too many times on this journey and called an immediate stop for them gathering banana flowers and focus on bringing us tired tourists back home.
We finally reached flatter ground and off the deep slopes. Trekking along a constant slant was the worse, your ankles carried your weight extremely awkwardly; actually by the end of that day everything was just plain difficult. Our footing, heavy & laboured. Our bodies bruised and hands splintered. Did I already mention that we ran out of water? Cause I kept unconsciously reaching for my empty bottles, just hoping to shake out any remants. Ton went and filled ½ his bottle from a stream and I took a swig even though I was given cautioned looks by Jenn & Stephen.
Alas, we exited the jungle into the open field. We were too exhausted to even celebrate.
Stephan had an app on his phone which showed him the trek we tackled via GPS tracking. He showed the map to Jenn & I on his phone and I died of laughter. After our lunch we nearly accomplished 30km of the most convoluted path ever. It resembled the sketch of an eager child who has never handled a crayon before. Here’s me sketching it from memory, and seriously, with zero sarcasm, our true trek was far more convoluted then what I drew here.
I recall the this day very very fondly. In fact, since the pain endured was only temporary I now only have memories that are 100% perfect and priceless.