Friday, December 12, 2014

Vang Vieng

 Our trip to Vang Vieng last weekend was as peaceful as pie.  Vang Vieng is a well-known tourist spot in Lao, mostly because of its booze and drug-saturated backpackers.  It has become a party town, and tourists come for the mushrooms and stay for the drunken river tubing.  Erica, Otto, and I went for the natural beauty and hiking.  We stayed far away from the intoxicated tourists in a little garden hostel with a cantankerous Irish man straight out of a Dickens novel as the grouchy innkeeper.  While at the hostel, we spent our time being verbally abused by the innkeeper, and also enjoying the 24/7 spectacle of a tiny dog making passionate (and ineffective) love to an elderly and much larger dog (who had no idea what was happening.)  To give you an idea of this innkeeper, who is surely at least 200 years old; as a response to Erica's bubbly nature, he growled at her and asked if she had taken a "bloody course" in cheerfulness.  Or, in response to a Lao staff getting our weird, complicated food order correct:, "canya do a ferkin thing right?"

 When we weren't observing the grotesque spectacle at our hostel, we were out walking miles down a dusty, dirt road beneath jungle mountains and alongside rice paddies and fields of cows. We dodged speeding caravans of aged Korean tourists flying by on some perverse form of a SE Asian snowmobile (dirtmobile?).  We were all happy to note that for once in our lives, Americans weren't necessarily the ubiquitously obnoxious tourists.  Thanks Korean grandmothers and grandfathers!

I've probably told you before that there are a LOT of dogs in Laos.  Some of them I like, but most of them I don't.  And I love dogs.  My daily encounters with dogs looks something like this:  3:20am stupid-barking-asshat-dog-that-lives-next-door wakes me up by barking for no goddamn reason.  7:00am On the way to school kujo-neighbor-dog chases me half-halfheartedly down the street and I nearly have a heartattack and run over a small gaggle of monks out on their morning alms giving.   4:30pm I walk past possibly-rabid-dog-with-mange on my way to the gym and avoid eye contact.  Riding home at 7:00 pm, I slow down at a certain corner so that evil-neighbor-dog decides that I'm too boring and slow to chase.

Anyway, this ain't no Beppo land.  But in Vang Vieng, we made such a special dog friend!

This is Honey:

 We met Honey on our hike (on the way to the Blue Lagoon) at a hostel that we stopped at to buy water.  A little quivering mass of excitement and affection, Honey gave her huge heart to us the minute we met.  Otto especially, she was enthralled with.  When we left the hostel to continue our walk, she came along with us, walking alongside or a little in front for our entire journey.  Always looking back to check up on us, and always bravely exploring and conquering the frontier so that we didn't have to.

Honey vetting out a suspicious character:  

 Regrettably, Honey seemed to be lacking some essential dog-quality that usually leads to things like street smarts, dog-etiquette, and generally just all logical instincts that a canine should have.  Honey was all passion, and bold-hearted stupidity.  Coming from our firmly ingrained Vientiane tendency to let laying dogs lie (or keep the f away from all dogs), we cringed as we watched all 5 pounds of Honey conquer and pillage the homesteads and fields around us.  Ducking under barbed wire fences, chasing chickens, trying to make friends with guard dogs, Honey boldly and stupidly put us into all sorts of awkward and dangerous situations.  At this point, we no longer even saw Honey as a dog, especially when compared to all of the real dogs with dog brains and instincts who nearly killed Honey whenever she came onto their territory and did all sorts of ridiculous and inane things.  I think Beppo would have been more savvy, actually.  Because of Honey's antics and un-dog like behavior--blatantly breaking all sorts of dog-dog contracts that have always existed (like "hey, don't come onto my property and chase MY chickens")--we actually attracted the unwanted attention of hundreds of terrifying dogs and one near cow-attack.  Yes, we almost got attacked by a cow because of Honey.  I don't really think that cows actually attack like ever, but Honey's ridiculous footloose and fancy-free behavior in a field of cows irked this cow to such an extent that Otto almost got run over when the cow attempted to charge Honey (who was standing on the other side of Otto).

Pre cow attack:

 Shortly after the cow attack (aka after Honey's attempted self-martyrdom), while mentally recuperating in the field, a family of farmers approached us on their way to dig, and Honey jumped up again and bravely barked at them and tried to chase them away and apparently protect us.  From peasant farmers.  Cringe.  "Koor Thood," we said in Lao.  Excuse us.  We are just hanging out on your farm field, riling up your cows, and chasing you away.

Yep, Honey was undeniably special.  Erica and I had resorted to closing our eyes whenever another Honey-Actual Dog encounter occurred.  We felt so attached to this little dirty mass of fur and neither Erica nor I could fathom witnessing Honey getting mauled, although we felt it inevitable.  Our peaceful walk had turned into a very stressful situation, our own safety compromised by the snarling territorial Actual Dogs who would follow us past their property growling in outrage over Honey's antics.  Honey was a liability.  Oblivious to the real world, she trotted along happily, eyeing her surroundings to find her next adventure, her next territory to gleefully pillage and burn as her human companions shrank in embarrassment.  It was so clear that she was with us.  After one misadventure off into the bramble to chase someone's pigs, Honey returned covered in mud and with sharp bramble caught in her long hair and cutting her skin.  We spent 10 minutes crouched on the road, gently removing the sharp thorn and stick from Honey as she smiled happily in her Otto's arms.  I literally have no idea how a creature such as Honey has survived so long in the world without an ounce of survival instinct.
 Meanwhile, the view was beautiful.
We reached our destination; the Blue Lagoon after a 7 km walk.  The blue lagoon is one of the biggest tourist landmarks in Vang Vieng and consists of a beautiful blue natural pool with zip lines, swings, swimming, and drunk tourists.  We sat at a picnic table with coconut shakes, Honey sitting on our feet below, like a real dog for once, exhausted and covered in mud, excrement, and parts of trees from all her adventures.  At this point, we had accepted the fact that Honey was our dog now, and we were responsible for all of the horrible things that would happen to her in the future.  We were dreading our long walk home, wherein it seemed inevitable that Honey would finally get mauled by a real animal.  
Magic happens, though.  We decided to go play some weird yard game and in the midst of our game we heard a woman calling to us, "I'm looking for my dog!"  Turns out this kind woman had driven all the way from the hostel that she owned to find Honey.  Until this point, we had been calling Honey "Harold" and "Charlie" so this too was a surprise.  Through the village grapevine, she had heard reports of Honey's pillaging and looting on our walk to the Blue Lagoon, and then she drove to the Lagoon to look for us.  We were so happy that Honey had someone who loved her and took care of her, and that we were no longer responsible for her safety.  However, we were sad, too.  Honey was so special.  Honey had chosen to walk for hours with complete strangers who she instantly trusted and loved, so far from her home, and now we loved her too.

Honey was very resistant to jump into his mom's minivan and leave us:

Honey's departure freed us up to do some human activities like climb up a mountain into a huge cave and just stare out at the immensity in silence.

Me in the cave:

On our peaceful long walk back to the abusive innkeeper, we saw some beautiful sights during the magic hour in Lao.

Love and Honey,

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