Trekking in Laos
While I'd love to declare the view from the mountains of northern Laos as incredible, it is, and the Hmong people kind and warm, they are, this trek has been nothing short of hell. In fact, I feel like I've been in Dante's 9 circles of hell. Traipsing through ankle deep mud for four days, up to 9 hours of hiking up a mountain, my travel mates having violent bouts of vomiting and travelers diarrhea, and sleeping on wooden platforms with no bathroom nearby - only the woods where wild pigs abound - has been a shock beyond shock. This has been extremely unpleasant and not what I imagined. My only source of solace is knowing that, at some point, I return to a home in a lovely bed surrounded by comforts and security that these people only dream of. My impression is they only participate in the movement of "community tourism," allowing home stays and cooking meals for hikers and explorers is because it's a form of income for them. I don't think they love sharing their homes all the time. I don't think having strangers constantly staying with you and focusing your life on these visitors is fulfilling or rewarding. It is sustaining. My sense is there is no other place for them to go, and if they had the chance to switch lives with me or any of my travel companions, they would do so in a nanosecond. It's a hard life. Remote, wild, poor. The children are wonderful, and I love their welcoming spirit. Yes, the mountains are gorgeous and the plant life is rich and green beyond green. But, the life here is hard for these people. My question is do we make it harder, or do we help them by our presence. I don't know. I do know that this has been one of the most trying times of my life. And if I could get airlifted off these mountains right now, I would. I'm soaking wet, covered in mud and leeches, battling infections, both stomach and a staph infection, sleep deprived, living on Pringles chips, because I'm unsure what I'm eating. I may sound like a spoiled American, and frankly, I am. I'm tough. I've been tough through this, but if I could run away right now to a place of comfort, convenience and a warm shower, I would. I appreciate and value what these people do and what they go through to support their families, and, as I said, I'm not sure if I'm part of the solution or contribute to the problem. This I do know, I will make sure people understand how hard their lives are, and how gracious they have been.