Have you ever been in a position where you’ve been disconnected? Isolated in the middle of nowhere? No chance of gaining contact with the outside world?
So when a friend asked me to tell her my most memorable adventure when I felt truly disconnected, I immediately thought of an experience that I would never forget…
I woke up. Something woke me up.
I pulled off the jumper that covered my face and the ceiling was adjourned with green mosquito nets as I blinked getting used to the dawn light streaming in. My friend, Alannah, snored softly next to me and I poked Muriel awake, in the other side of me. Glancing out of the net, I froze. Eight inquisitive faces stared back at me and shaking Alannah awake, the three of us stared back at them.
We were deep in the heart of rural Laos, far from marked roads and close to the reputed scariest cave in the world, Kong Lo Cave. We hoped to have a day trip but as six hours of constant travelling from the town of Thakek involving an overheated bus, being stranded in a village, a dilapidated tuk tuk and walking two kilometres in the searing sun. Of course, by the time we arrived to experience our highly anticipated foray into Kong Lo Cave with only a flickering head lamp and a guide that spoke no English, it was too late. The light was fading and we were told that under no circumstances could anyone visit the scariest cave in the world at night.
So what were we to do? The cave would only open the next day and being stranded in the middle of an overflowing forest definitely wouldn’t be ideal to sleep overnight.
Luckily, one of the guides knew a local villager who could offer us a place for the night. It would prove to be one of the most touching and most rewarding experiences I would ever experience throughout my time travelling the world.
Guiding us through the trees for an hour, we stumbled across a small village up on the tree tops. Some were hoisted up on stilts, some were embedded into the woods and some were camouflaged. We were truly in the middle of nowhere with no connection to the outside world. We found out that we would be staying with the local’s family in their treetop lair.
The outer walls were open to the elements save for the roof, affording wonderful views of the secretive village and the scenery beyond. Only two small rooms that acted as the kitchen and the family’s bedroom were attached to the main living area, where the three of us would be sleeping.
As the sun went down, the Lao family showed us the bathroom facilities, a dug out hole on the ground far away from the dwelling and a ‘shower,’ which meant dipping a small bucket into vat full of rainwater. Hand-washing myself using natural leaves and water, I ended the shower by upturning the rest of the bucket full of freezing cold water above myself, screaming delightfully much to the stifled laughter of inquisitive local children who hid behind trees.
As night drew in, we could believe how much we could see of the starry sky. The Milky Way blanketed the horizon, blue dwarfs and red giants shining colourfully. The moon raised in a crescent mode, offering natural light that brushed over our faces. The only man-made light was the flames that boiled our homemade fare full of Lao vegetable stews and spices. Sitting round in a circle with the family, the language barrier was broken when we laughingly taught each other words for physical objects and emotions.
It was probably the first time I could feel I was at home since leaving for my round the world trip two months earlier. It was strange that fate had decided I join this unique and eccentric family in the middle of a deserted forest, with no one around for miles deep in the heart of rural Laos. It was a time to stop whatever you are doing. It was a time to reflect, feel at one with nature and give thanks to the kindness of strangers.
The grandmother made sure I would sleep soundly with my ‘wife’ (Muriel and I had to pretend we were married) and fussed over the green netting that hung above us, it’s protection being a barrier between the mosquitoes and us. With that, the candle that she held, slowly disappeared from view as she closed the door into her room that she shared with seven others of her family.
It just wasn’t dark or scary. The night was happily alive, the starlight illuminating the silvery earth and the calls of wild animals resonating through the trees. I stared awake, with a big massive grin on my face as I truly felt that the highlight of my arduous and long journey into the back and beyond of Laos wouldn’t be Kong Lo Cave where I would descend into the next day, but rather the happiness of being part of a local experience that enriched your understanding of the region’s culture in such personal ways.
Have you ever experienced a honestly with a local family?