Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Luang Nam Tha Trek

I like my consistency. Fifteen days after I discovered that trekking was not for me and here I was, with boots on and a backpack on my shoulders, for another one. Before taking the decision, I bombarded the person in the agency with long list of questions: "It is very difficult?", "How many hours walking?", "What level of difficulty?", "And the landscape? What kind is it? "..He patiently answered all my questions and my soul was appeased. In fact I had no alternative. I chose Luang Nam Tha- a small village in northern Laos just because of the trek, and wanted to make sure that it wasn't a mistake.

Day 1

The first day started in the market. As we were walking through the stands of fruits, insects and other things that we could not identify, our trek-guides bought lunch. Like any good market, at each step, we were filled with smells and sounds that almost touched us physically.

After this moment of pause, we took off in the minivan for the beginning of the trek. A dirt road that cuts through the beautiful mountains. Green and red are the dominant colors. A forest that I have long dreamed of visiting, was in front of me. My age made me grow seeing the films of Vietnam War. Now I had the opportunity to experience that kind of landscape.

After a day's walk, we reached the first village where we slept. Along the way were the images of burnt ground, lunch in the woods and broad view of the forest. When we reached the final destination, we all had a smile of someone who spent a great day.


And the village was hard to conquer. Despite the friendly smiles, we were a few strangers who would spend a night there. On the other hand, the village was an ethnic village that was “alive”. Full of satellite dishes, bikes parked underneath the houses, and modern appliances et al.

But this became a unique experience. This was a real village. Not one where everything is arranged to meet the expectations of tourists. The world has evolved and technology has reached everywhere. Here instead of it transforming the way of life, blended with it. Over a period of time, the shyness faded and disappeared altogether when we shared a magic pot of Lao-Lao on a full moon night.

Day 2

In the morning they informed us: "soon we will begin ..." Those clouds promised rain... and they delivered. We only had enough time to get into the dense jungle. A green that fills all the space. The trek is barely visible, and this is such a time where having a guide is the right choice. "Put the raincoats!" Warns us 5 minutes in advance. But he could do little. The battle was lost since the beginning. Shortly after that, I was a all soaked.

Time for walking and slipping. To fall and rise. The brown earth was all over us, but the water cleaned the dirt. I realize how difficult is the ground in these conditions. A struggle for balance and move a few meters. But every clear space, we saw a landscape that stole our breath. It was a complete experience. It's called rain forest for a good reason. There is something about the rain that makes it even more beautiful.

We crossed a creek to get to a shelter of bamboo. Lost in the woods. Perfect place to recharge your energies and have lunch. Amid drops, we throw our hands up the sticky rice and accompaniments. The bamboo shoot in a spicy sauce is divine.

Meal taken, I realize that part of my waterproof is red. Mmmm ... I think I know what it is and check my arm to be sure. Nothing. Oh .. wait ... the end of my pants are also red. I roll them up and ... a fat leech dwells in my socks. The guide quickly takes it off. I feel raped. It drank my blood and I did not feel anything. Not a bite to say "hey I'm here and I'll feed myself with a bit of you."

With this, begins the second stage of the trek: outrunning the leeches. It's amazing how fast they move and attack you. But the adversities create a spirit of camaraderie and in the end we were survivors of an unequal struggle.

The last part of the trek was done without rain or leeches. We have come to a village by the river. We had a sight that seemed it would end in heaven, such was the beauty of the green that surrounded us. Arriving at the village our feet were asking for freedom. We took off the soaked boots and stepped into our flip flops.

But the rain still had made some damage, and our van was a few hundred meters far. Time to venture into the mud. Something that some flip-flops could not bear. Just as well. They gave me the opportunity to enjoy the taste of this red earth with my feet ...

I like my consistency. It is her that takes me to the next experience. A decision is only a decision if it can be undone. I was glad that 15 days after realizing that trekking was not for me, here I was, with my feet in the mud and happy for the two days I spent walking...

Le moi errant: Goodbye ...

It is the hardest part of the trip. A goodbye steals a little of your soul and leaves a void inside you. Everything around becomes gray. Just the memory glitters.

It was always there. Some almost impossible to say. But while traveling, the rythm is different. In a "normal" life we savor the sweet illusion that there is no goodbye. On the trip it is present from the first moment.

I do not give in, nor do I revolt. These are rules of the game. Not of traveling, but of life. With a ‘hello’ comes a ‘goodbye’ and with this an emptiness. Deep and sharp. One that leaves a scar behind. After that you instantly shrink to the sound of the next "Hello." But you end up forgetting it.
You are aware of the sadness that follows, but you let yourself go. You freefall and feel the hardness of floor, rise up and treasure every moment, smiles and words shared. Abandon material and keep the rest. Keep safe in your heart. They are your most precious treasure, sealed by a single word: Goodbye!

Story of a photo: At the table ...

It is a trait common to mankind. The time of a meal. And if the Nordic stress has stolen a bit of the communion of this occasion, Latins- and rest of the world still enjoy it with the sociability that this implies.

The food is one of the most important links of humanity. Around a table we fulfill rituals, tell stories and enjoy the taste that the human imagination creates. This meal- in the Asian jungle- brought the satisfaction of a day’s walking. Brought more stories. Unknown flavors- like the crumb of bamboo - and other familiars- such as mint. And among Latinos, the conversation turns out to revolve around food. We walk through other flavors, sharing experience.

At the table we travel across continents, dreams and emotions. We find a part of the essence of humanity and make that empty stomach peaceful...

New Routine

A world trip is also about routines. Some small - pack the bag, others that take more time - get a room. The latter always begins with a look that has a touch of awe and another of daze.
I wasn't different when I arrived in Luang Nam Tha. Maybe a little more lost than usual. I had just come to a new country and this was my first stop. Worse, I arrived early. When I alighted the bus, I thought it was a regular stop. A group of tourists aroused my curiosity: "What are they doing here?" I looked around me and found the same word repeating: Namtha... "Is it my stop by any chance? Luang Nam Tha? " I decided to ask. And at the third confirmation, I realized it was it.

The second step of this routine is to see how we arrive at the Hostels area. This was a village too small for a map in my guidebook. And around me there was only ... well, nothing. I had a market, buses and street. No Tuk-Tuks in sight, trying to sell a hotel or something else.

Third step of this routine: leave the station. With no alternative option other than just one street... life was easy. Now I had to choose the direction. On my left, I saw nothing more than an empty street. On my right... voila, the tuktuk and the group of tourists. An easy choice. When I arrived they were in midst of negotiations. They were also going to the city, so we ended up going together. When we were surrounded by hotels and travel agencies, the driver stopped the tuktuk.

Time to take the last step of this routine. Pick up the backpacks and start knocking on the door of the guesthouses, with the following questions:

"Do you have room?"
"How much?"
"Can I see it?"

It follows two alternatives:

"Ok, I'll be back if I do not find something cheaper" that serves both as the initial search and to check the price sensitivity.


"Discount ... discount? "that is used when you already have a room that interests you.

In my case, I make this last question in a begging tone, rather than demanding. I'm not good at negotiating, so this is the best way out . In addition, this negotiation is different from the Indian one. The refusal is taken as mere refusal, and not as a mean to get into a negotiation.

Finally I got my first room in Luang Nam Tha. A guesthouse that is located slightly off the main street - with an appearance suitable for one day. With the key in hand, I came to an end of this new routine, with the last ‘sigh’ but then again, is it not the way all routines end?

Crossing the border

A new experience. Crossing the border by land... in this case, river. All the borders I crossed before were in an airport. So I was curious this time. Upon arriving at the border post on the Mekong River, I didn't know what to do. But everything was easy. Passport delivered, red tape filled and a stamp on the passport. I was officially out of Thailand. I went down to the river and took a long and slender boat that were waiting for passengers.

At the sound of the engine, We were set off to a new country. It was a strange feeling. The crossing of a no-man's-land filled with water. Whenever I pass a river, I hope to find the same city. In this case too i felt same, only the flag told me that it was another country.

Once I set my foot on the other side, I felt it was different. Something subtle. I walked a little towards the border post. I was greeted with broad smiles and introduced to the red tape needed to enter a country. One question was impossible to answer: "where would you be staying?" It should have been easy, but from the beginning of my travel, it had been a normal thing for me not to have a prior booking. In this case, I didn't even know which city I would be at that night. I asked him if it was a must to fill that part. He said: “it is not important”. With everything sorted, it's time to pay for the visa ...

"What? Not Euros? "
"No Euro ... Dollars " he answers me. I check how much cash I have and it isn't enough. I look around, trying to find a solution. I notice that the exchange office is closed:

"When does it open?"
"2 P.M." he answers ... this means I would have to spend the night there. A delay in the trip that I did not feel like doing
"Other place?" I asked with almost no hope of a solution. I say ‘almost’ because of the optimistic person i am. I had to find solution to the “impossible-to-solve” riddle: "No money, no visa. No visa, no money... "

"Yes ... ATM ... end of the road. "answers me with a friendly smile. "You can go to the ATM ..."

I couldn't believe. With that response, the riddle became an “impossible-to-solve-unless-in-Laos” one. That was my first experience of entering Laos. Without a visa, disoriented and looking for an ATM. A strange feeling of illegality and into a country that seemed different from what I had experienced so far..

Monday, May 7, 2012

Thursday, May 3, 2012


Sometimes the journey has a rhythm of its own. And for each the way of sensing the place also changed. The north of Thailand was made at three different tempos. Each of them painted different traits on the northern Thailand.
Andante - Ayuthaya
It was a response to a quasi-challenge. The day I arrived I heard: Ayuthaya is impossible to be done on foot. The Uncle Scrooge in me and my curiosity then led me to give up the idea of renting a bike, and i decided to explore this beautiful temple city by foot. And geography helped me. This tourist town is flat and a natural island in the middle of the river.
And if the ancient and touristic temples are the big attraction, I found that the smile of people and the small details of daily life equally attractive . Instead of fast moving between locations, I saw the contours of the temples turn into flowering trees. These changed into narrow streets, wooden houses and alleys, to be extended into big avenues. Here the features are broad and the rhythm of a main artery. Once again the lines are blurred in another temple degraded by time. I follow these lines to the confusion of a peaceful part of the city across the river.
And I follow my andante rhythm... sometimes almost an adagio when the heat leaves me breathless. But when a salesperson gives me directions to my new destination, my pace quickens a bit. Changes to an allegro, as we try to communicate and I learn a few words of Thai. I say goodbye with a smile, a smile that was a reflection of the one on the face in front of me.
Alone again, again walking. I follow the contours of this city. And after crossing the river those contours transform into gold ... gold from roofs of the temple, gold fromtheandante sunset that hides behind the landscape.
Gravissimo - Chiang Mai
And sometimes the pace is so slow it seems to be on a stand still. This was how I saw the tourist capital of northern Thailand. A small town, consisting of many Wats and a impeccable historic center. Exept the temple atop the hill, everything was done almost on a standstill mode. I walked without haste through the night market and rest of the temples.
I decided to stay here for sometime to do my writing and from the sit out in front of a cafe I saw this city. One of which was at the door of the old town. Here I saw the traffic flow. Tourists going in front of me, and from time to time, locals with the traditional Chinese hat. I remember a beggar who asked me for a cigarette. Tanned from a sun that does not spare anyone, and with a t-shirt and used shorts on, he politely asked for a cigarette,something that I never refuse. And then money, something that I never give. Days followed with the same routine, accompanied by smiles. I carried on with my writing, he carried on with his begging.
Another cafe’s sit out was at the center of the city - halfway between the door and the main Wat- the voices around were more international. I like to observe other foreigners, their way of communicating with their surroundings. Some smile, extremely pleased with their journey, others indifferent and arrogant, , ammending their travel check-list in a dry manner. In the background, the cafe staff follow their routine of taking orders and quick breaks. Spent so much time there that it created a complicity of its own. One small converstion with one of the staff members and it made me feel at home.

Presto - Chiang Rai
Just one night. This was my Chiang Rai. My pace was high. A beautiful sunset upon arrival. The desire to find a place to stay. A quick visit to the night market, full of smells of the foods, sounds of the music of stalls selling DVD's and colors of the crafts sold here. I wanted to catch everything. The sounds, the houses and streets. The faces and the smiles on them. I was there for just a few hours. Not enough to describe a place. But this was a more real and alive city than the others. The following day, while bidding a goodbye to the city, my heart still followed apace so different from what I felt in the previous cities.