How in the world have I gotten here? It is day 200. In some ways it has felt like the trip has flashed before my eyes while in others I wonder how I have even managed to survive this long. Through the highs and the lows it has been a journey worth living yet I still have so much left to explore not only out into the thick of the world but within myself (then again when does that journey ever end? When I and the earth I so eagerly traverse meet as one I suppose). Day 200 seemed so far away not long ago yet here I am wondering the same about the time that separates me from home, which can be more accurately described as wherever my family may be.
I woke up late in the morning despite the original plans I had laid out to begin early in an effort to make the most of a presumed bicycle rental for exploring the caves around Vang Vieng. Exhaustion and your own body’s determination to turn itself into the world’s leading export of chocolate shakes will put to bed an rising effort but eventually came around to it. I went in search of a fair priced mountain bike rental since I am always look to save not just a buck but even a quarter or less when it can be had. Frugal men and cheapskates the world over would be proud of my efforts or likelier think I probably went a step too far. Outside one shop I made my intentions clear that I wanted to rent a mountain bike of theirs but the woman continued chatting on the phone as if it were some gal pal she had to share last night’s juicy dramatic details with. After waiting enough time, I began walking away knowing many, many more shops offer the same deal. Sure enough like in most circumstances when you walk away, they suddenly come to life. Not to sound rude but Asians (not all of them) tend to struggle with hospitality and business. Maybe they take me for granted as a tourist but I will sure test that. Anyways I hopped onto whatever piece of mechanical shit you want to call that mountain bike and began riding out of town while the seat of the bike eagerly tried to castrate me and the gears and wheels squealed like a pig being prepared for a roast. Despite the mountain bike doing all kinds of unspeakable bodily harm to me, I enjoyed getting away from tourist central and just riding along at the slow easy pace (not necessarily my choice) while taking in views of the surrounding karst limestone rocks. The awaited cave 15 km away from Vang Vieng is called Elephant Cave and was supposedly worth the visit. I decided to go out here first to work up a good sweat for the sake of exercise and so that the dip into the grand finale of the Blue Lagoon would be that much more satisfying. As much as I enjoyed riding on this somewhat gravely road that brought my memories back to the times I fell and scraped up my body, I could not enjoy the limestone rock mountains beside me running alongside the river as much as I would have liked. Plus, the Elephant Cave was a joke and a half. The Elephant Cave barely etched itself into the rock and was used as Buddha shrine like many others with a large Buddha footprint etched into the ground. Not until I began walking out did I finally see a stalagmite that resembled an elephant or maybe it was just my blurry, dehydrated, sweat soaked imagination. Not until later did I learn that other more picturesque, worthwhile caves laid around the corner within reach of even my tired, faulty bike. Alas, I wasted my time and more approximately my energy to come all this way but at the same time it was satisfying to know that my sweat had been produced out of exercise/physical activity rather than the simple fact of sitting still yet sweating as if I had just recently ran a marathon even though my body may have remained perfectly still. I got back to Vang Vieng and loaded up on two fruit shakes (mango and papaya) for the sake of reinvigorating my vitals and for the simple fact they taste f$&@ing delicious. Back to some sense of feeling like a real human being, I got back onto my bicycle to ride out to the Blue Lagoon which waited 7.5 km down the road into the karst limestone alleyway with the rocks shooting up on either side of the path. Even though I knew it would be a dirt path, I expected the road to be of some fair quality due to the lagoon’s popularity but I had no idea it would have so many potholes and rocks strewn across the road that even the passing trucks loaded with tourists would shake and tremble upon crossing. After an estimated 1.5 km, I locked up the bike on the side of the road and decided to walk figuring I could move just as fast as the bike could without the seat numbing my butt and legs to the point of amputation of being a cakewalk. Since I had no idea when the Blue Lagoon would close and better yet how quickly I could even manage to get there, I jogged in spurts but with the sun spotting me from up high and choosing to dedicate all its rays of light upon my innocent withering figure, the pace was unwatchable and lasted shorter than I may be willing to admit. Eventually as much as the sun wanted to strike me down in this practical desert that was ringed with limestone karst formations, I made it to the Blue Lagoon dragging what little was left of my dignity behind me. The Blue Lagoon was much too overcrowded and easy to get to compared to the first lagoon I experienced at Railay in Krabi, Thailand but that didn’t stop me from jumping into the blue icy waters. The lagoon has been built up with rope swings, a jump from an overhanging tree branch, and a slide to cater to the many tourists that visit including the constant flow of Koreans strapped with their designated life jackets. After cooling off enough to lower my body temperature to a more hospitable level, I tried to raise myself out of the water but in that moment practically my entire body decided to seize up. The arches in my feet and my calves froze tightly stabbing me with imaginary knives; my feet especially felt like a lock jaw experience. A Korean couple loosened up my limbs and helped bring me out of the water after I had clanged firmly to the ladder in case I may drown. After sitting around for awhile, I had the opportunity to share a tuk-tuk with a group of backpackers who already had their driver waiting. Even though I planned to walk back, I was willing to give myself this break if the price was right. I gave the driver a fair offer of 15,000kip (~$2) but he wanted more – 20,000kip ($2.50) -even though I was basically free money to him. Out of principle alone I decided to walk with the slight chance he may come to his senses but sure enough the man stuck to his guns and rode past blooming a cloud of dust in my wake. Eventually perhaps another 400 meters down the road I got the deal I wanted with some more hardened negotiation. Over the rocky and pothole-ridden dirt road, the tuk-tuk truck shook and bounced as if we were riding away from some apocalyptic earthquake. Back in Vang Vieng after my brain resettled into its original place, I got myself a plate of stir fried mixed vegetables (my prayers have been answered!) and sticky rice along with another mango shake since I was in the area of course. As my last course of action for the day, I reserved a spot for a full day of rock climbing tomorrow, which will likely be a major test to my depleted strength. I haven’t done so much as a push-up in months let alone pulling my fat ass up a rock wall so I like my chances. Lately, I have been really missing home, not necessarily the place itself as much as I would appreciate the cooler temperatures but to see and hug my family for the first time in a long long time. I can’t even gather how I have lasted this long without some touch of home. So many people either travel with friends the whole time or friends with come meet them and travel together for a few weeks (or they never set out for traveling this long straight). A booster shot of home would do splendidly right now.