Friday, January 29, 2010

Slow Time in Tad Lo, Laos

At times I seem to forget that I am on a bicycle journey and that some people might be interested in the details of where we have gone, things we have seen but at each juncture, I seem to come back to the joys of traveling, especially on two wheels.

We are now back in Pakse, having done a triangular detour of about 220kms to the Bolevan Plataeu. The first leg was the most challenging climbing steadily to about 3,600 feet and for the first time having to do a constant, but moderate climb of about 40kms.

But it was all worth it. First night we stayed in a true, tropical lodge set amongst the trees within hearing distance of a couple of waterfalls at Tad Fane and within a short walk from the actual falls which consisted of two small streams, cascading quite dramatically over the escarpment of about 400 feet. Since the lodge is at the end of a short dirt road, its truly in the wilds of the plateau with virtually no development nearby affording a true get- away experience. As I noted earlier, there is something very basic about the sight and sounds of water, and it certainly kept Alison and me captivated as we had dinner in an open air restaurant, with brilliant stars and a near full moon to accompany the water music.

The next day we rode about 90 kms to Tad Lo, which as a place may not exist, since there are no signs of any description when one approaches it from the west, and only one sign indicating that Tad Lo Lodge is 1800 meters off the main road. But the fact that there was a one lane paved road, a small market and a few stalls alerted me and inquiries confirmed that indeed about 2 kms away, were the falls and the place, which consists of a couple of dozen frame, thatch roofed dwelling and a handful of places to stay, is indeed an entity on the land, if not marked on any map that I have seen.

We first went to the Tad Lo Lodge, where laid back is an understatement since it took me some considerable efforts and strenuous "sabaidees" to rouse a very disinterested young woman off a couch, who tried hard not to understand that I was disturbing her slumber mid-afternoon, to inquire about a room. She did find a key, and handed it to another young woman, who flipped flopped me to a very nice looking cabin but on further inquiry it had not amenities and hardly deserved the US$45 price the first person quoted me.

At this point I produced a business card that says I am Andrew Jacob, Chief Explorer, Andrew's Bicycle Tours, as an entre to negotiating a discount. As she did not seem to respond, I asked for the manager, who she pointed vaguely as being in the gardens.

He seemed like a more professional person and was willing to reduce it to $38 but fortunately for me, I had no intentions of staying there under any cirumstances, he did not have a room for two nights that I had wanted.

The Lodge did have one compelling feature, two beautiful and very tame elephants that Alison instantly loved, but they were on public show and we got to enjoy them freely over the next several days.

Given our relatively late arrival, we ended up at the other lodge, on the other side of the river and falls for which the place is famous, paying about half the discounted rate and staying once again the a raised cabin, looking into a forest of trees and a tropical garden, with a location that was closest to the falls and yet still in view of the river and the narrow bridge that we crossed. A true tropical paradise with windows on all sides and since for some reason they damn up the river during the day, the increased flow at night makes a tremendous roar thats somehow seems to facilitate sleep.

I call this piece "Slow time in Tad Lo" since we ended up staying three nights not only to recuperate from the extended cycling we have been doing, but also to soak of the lifestyle which is like living in a local village where time has stood still existing in full harmony with a few dozen tourists who seem to do nothing but laze about.

The highlight of our stay was, and yes again it is about food, "Mama Pap" and as her simple sign says, "Big Eats, Small Kip". For once this is an understatement and indeed we had more food than we could handle, coming from a tiny outlet of four small tables, where "Mama" as she is called by everyone, dishes out food of gigantic proportions: the banana pancake is on a platter, her fresh Lao coffee is served in small beer mugs, her rice and noodle dishes overflow the bowls, but she also dishes out warm welcomes in Lao, French and English and some philosophy and advice as well, all from a giant of a person standing well under five feet, who seems to do everything herself.

Since our late arrival for breakfast at about 7:30 meant that the place was "full" with four or five other fans of her food, we spent nearly two hours enjoying that extra mug of coffee and watching the village life roll by.

We saw the kids, mostly under five, with hand made sling shots, spears and small motor cycle tires heading toward the river, and we later saw them frollicking in the waters and playing by themselves, not an adult in sight, laughing, giggling and having a good time jumping from a ledge and then rolling in the sand.

Then there were the vendors, carrying fresh picked vegetables stopping at each small stall and the handful of restaurants, returning with empty baskets.

The pigs, dogs, ducks chickens,one of which was so domesticated that it jumped on the tables and helped itself to some of the breakfast of the guests, all wander freely.

A young girl of maybe eight, was learning to ride a moped and she accelerated and braked until she returned with a wide smile on her face.

And the adults all going about their daily lives, happily returning a greating with a smile.

Later in the day, we explored going up the river to series of rapids and swam in the pools below.

The highlight being the washing of the elephants as they responded to gentle tugs on the ear and submerged like submarines with their trunks acting as periscopes to take in air.

We ended staying three nights, just wandering about the village and of course returning to Mama's for more food and share traveling tales with the others who wait patiently for her magnificent offerings.

There was the Jesus or Don Quixote look-alike who stood out at another diner in Pakse, who turned up here with two buddies and a Swedish girl. All the guys turned out to be Israeli and she, in her soft cotton dress was I am sure causing a 'Jimmy Carter' on a number of people present. Each of their lives unfolded quickly as it always seems to do in these type of settings, an soon to be 21 Jessica has traveled to 26 countries, an envy no doubt to many an adults twice or thrice her age.

Then we met a couple, who had just met the day before in Pakse. He 43 yuear old, a former Peace Core Volunteer, Phd, graduate from various business venutures, including a Boston Hedge Fund, thrice divorced, teaching in China, She on her own, with an overprotective mother in Italy, just quit a demanding job etc.

There were many others whose stories were served up as easily as Mama Pap's offerings.

Such is slow time in Tad Lo.

Tomorrow we are off to Champasak, where there is a full moon festival around some Angkor Era ruins, and then to Cambodia in a few days.

Wishing all slow times,



Paul said...

snowing and -18 in collingwood. white outs getting here yesterday. love the contrasting mood - but yes we will have slow times too

Julia said...

Andrew, I think my heart beat slowed just reading about your adventures. It must seem that you are in another world; I am beginning to sense what a shock the two of you must go through when you return. We are enjoying the view out the kitchen window and are happy to see the sunshine. Love to both of you.

Andrew said...

Wow, Laos sounds ideal. Jodi and I have never been, but its now high on our list. We'll come to you for some advice when we go. Thanks for sharing your wonderful insights.

ronjacques said...

Great post as usual, Andrew. You really make that world come alive. When I'm back here, I tend to forget that world still exists somewhere. I must get to Laos, as it sounds wonderful. I went snowshoeing yesterday in the bush near my place, totally quiet except for the wind in the trees above me, brilliant sun shining in a winter-blue sky. Just me and a couple of deer who did their best to ignore me as I invaded their territory. Quiet time, Muskoka-style.

Laura Jacob said...

Hi Andrew, Sounds like fun. Can't imagine a pet elephant but glad to hear your negotiation skills are as sharp as ever.