After lazing in our hammocks and editing photos for a few hours, we're all hungry, ready to set off down Muang Ngoi's lone dirt road in search of food. There are plenty of options, as it turns out the village is sort of touristy—we decide on an Indian restaurant near the end of the lane.
To our surprise, an actual Indian guy comes to take our order, and we find ourselves wondering, how he decided to settle here. Was he a tourist who was wooed by the peace and quiet of this back-woodsy place? Was he an enterprising entrepreneur who decided this tiny village could use an Indian restaurant? Did he fall in love with a beautiful Lao woman? We don't ask, leaving the flames of curiosity unquenched.
As we sit and wait for our meals to arrive, we are surprised to hear the catchy rhythmic beats of Lady Gaga ("RA RA AH AH AH, ram ma rum ma ma, ga ga OOOOH LA LA") blast out into this quaint Lao village. There is only an hour or two of electricity here every evening, when generators power TVs and radios, so we're not sure where the music is coming from. Maybe a battery-powered stereo?
After marveling at the sheer widespread global reach this woman has, (someone is playing her songs in this only-accessible-by-boat-nearly-electricity-free-village!) the conversation revolves around what to do this afternoon. Tyler offers the idea of cave-hunting, as there is supposed to be a grotto located three kilometers into the jungle.
I would much prefer to stay in town and walk around a bit, taking photos and maybe swinging in that hammock overlooking the river. So, a plan is hatched. Pete and Tyler will go tromping in the woods, and Natasha and I will have a relaxing, decidedly unadventurous afternoon.
As we're stuffing our faces with Indian food (rogan josh, samosas, and garlic naan) Natasha and I lay down the law, enforcing all kinds of safety rules for their upcoming cave adventure, nagging them in half-jokingly way to make sure they've thought of everything. See, we're imagining the worst, perhaps something like this:
Our advice and concerns are practical at first, but eventually progress to the fantastical barrage of over-concern for the safety of our partners.
Tara Be careful!
Natasha You should bring water!
Tara Do you have enough food?
Natasha Bring your headlamps!
Tara Don't do anything stupid or dangerous! Don't do anything I wouldn't do!
Natasha If you see gollum down there, remember he can't be trusted! He's trixy!
Tara If the zombies show up, don't try to be a hero, just get out of there!
Eventually, Tyler stops our tirade with an laughing outburst of "Stop mothering me!" as he shuffles over, looking for all the world like a little boy, whipping around so that his open backpack is right in front of me, and says, "Zip me up?" It's one of those jokes you just have to be there for, but the timing is perfect, and we all bust up laughing.
With a free afternoon ahead of us, and no strenuous physical activity to do, Natasha and I are happy as clams, wandering down the village's single dirt road, taking photos, petting puppies, and hanging out with the adorable kids.
All of the children we meet are thrilled to talk to us, and answer the questions we're learning to say, like "what is your name?" and "how old are you?" They erupt into laughter as we attempt, with their help, to count from one to ten.
One of the little girls we're counting with is selling bags of crab apples, so I buy some from her. Natasha and I each taste one of the tiny fruits, and then do our best not to grimace. They're sour and mealy and half rotten. Yuck! Rather than throw them away, we give the bag back, and tell her to keep the money.
Once we've paced up and down the village's only street a few times, we head back to our bungalows, ready to relax in our hammocks. The river flows along peacefully, and the faint "thwunk" of petang balls can be heard from down the bank. Laughter rings out, chickens cluck, and our hammocks creak comfortingly as we swing to and fro, enjoying the ambiance of this remote village.
Meanwhile, somewhere in Laos, Tyler and Pete are probably hacking away through the jungle to find a cave…