Bleary eyed and delirious with fatigue, after a full day (and then some) of bus riding, with barely a night's sleep between us, we carve ourselves out of bed this morning to join our friends. As we stumble around, fumbling to find shoes and something to wear, we feel a bit like Wall-E (without the solar panel, sadly).
After the rough task of waking up is complete, the first order of business is to find scooters. Pete and I accomplish that task, picking up a pair of little red Honda Waves at a nearby rental shop. Then, we ride back at the guest-house to pick up the women, who are busy getting ready and chatting away, sharing travel tales that occurred during the last two weeks.
When we're all ready, the four of ride down to the riverfront where Pete and Natasha's group of friends are waiting. As morning mist rises off the water, the easy going guys shake our hands, and welcome us into their gang without a moment's hesitation. Then, we all hit the road in a lazy, unhurried group of scooters, on our way to a party in the countryside. What a way to begin our Lao adventure!
The warm sun kisses my bare shoulders and a cool breeze blows in my face, sending my hair flying in twists and curls. Last night, we arrived too late to notice much about the town except its quietness, but this morning, as I sit behind Tyler on a little rented scooter, I feel like I am being welcomed into the heart of Laos with open arms.
Buzzing past historic homes in sunny yellows and oranges, and countless wats in dazzling arrays of color, I find myself soothed and comforted, smiling as broadly as the friendly people we're passing. Everyone seems so chill. I love it here already!
Soon the city is behind us, and mountains rise ahead, looking majestic and soft under the morning sunlight. The road curves and winds through tiny villages with smiling children who wave and shout "sabadee!" as we pass. Eventually, we turn onto a dirt road, leading to an even smaller village.
Here, we pull into the grounds of an aging orphanage, which also happens to the local soccer field. While we wait for the match to start, we wander back through the town, where a small market is selling grilled chicken and fresh fruits and vegetables. One of the men comes along with us as our escort, helping Pete and Natasha order noodle soup from one of the vendors.
I opt for fried bananas and fresh papaya. Meanwhile, Tyler heads off to get some roasted chicken and sticky rice from a group of teenage girls running a barbecue. They giggle uncontrollably at his attempts to speak in Lao, and before he can go, one of them tells him emphatically in halting english, "You, so… BEAUTIFUL!"
As we walk back, there are so many cute kids who say hello to us, and so many people that seem so relaxed, I feel like I could really learn a lesson from their serenity. My observations make even more sense when Pete tells us what our new Lao friends told them. Here, people try to live as stress-free as possible, and their favorite saying is "bo pen yong" which roughly translates to "no problem!"
By only harvesting rice once a year instead of twice, they're able to eliminate as much work and stress as possible, while still living comfortably. What work they do is infused with "muang", or fun. If there isn't some muang in it, it probably isn't worth doing. Have I mentioned that I love Lao already?
Light filters through the trees as we sit in the shade of a large old tree and watch the soccer game. The air is clean and refreshing, and the atmosphere is so relaxing I can scarcely believe how good it feels to be here. The mountains in the distance are regal, and the weather idyllic, perfect for bare feet and picnics, hammocks and weekend barbecues. In short, vacation.
And there's no noise. I think that's the most striking, relaxing part about this place. Except for our own cheering as the guys run around after the ball, and children's laughter as they climb trees and run around outside, it is quiet!
Adding to the breezy weekend vibe, a man cracks open the first from a case of Beer Lao and pours us all glasses at the early hour of ten in the morning! But we don't mind a bit; being in Laos feels like vacation and we're grateful for this immediate intimate introduction into Lao culture, so we follow protocol. Thus begins the ultimate relaxing Friday and our first real day in our new country.