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09 January 2006

a hole in the side of the earth

vangvieng.jpg

during dinner last night, pritesh, mira, courtney, amanda, ed, and i made plans to go out biking to some of the caves around vang vieng today. we'd all agreed that 1000 was a realistic time to meet up, but then shortly after amanda had asked if we could push up the departure time by a half hour to 0930. the rest of us reluctantly agreed. smile bar, 0930. this morning, i arrived at the smile bar at 0935. no one else was there.

i walked over to the cabin where pritesh and mira were staying; they'd just woken up and apologized for the delay. no problem at all. i walked over to the nearby restaurant and hung with loren and his wife, cindy, while waiting for everyone to get ready. pritesh and mira woke up courtney and then checked on ed and amanda who apparently said they would 'catch up with us later.' blah. and after the 'can't we start earlier? 0930?' last night. i'm trying to think of an interesting word to describe amanda's behavior and i keep coming back to the slightly dull and monosyllabic 'lame'. i wasn't the least bit disturbed by the delay, only that amanda had asked for an earlier departure and then had completely abandoned the plan. lame.

after breakfast, the four of us walked into town and found some decent bikes, formed the vang vieng slow boat biker club, studied the hand drawn cave map, and biked down through town, across the toll bridge, through the toll booth to the cave whose name escapes me at this moment. we arrived at approximately noon, during the cave's lunchbreak, we'd need to wait. walked down to the staircase leading to the cave's entrance; dropped my sunglasses into the crystal clear water and courtney retrieved them before going for a short swim into the cavern. sticky rice before the long climb to the cave entrance.

the cave was handrails, electricity, and supporting cement and while it had most likely been very impressive when it was first discovered, it had evolved into an oversafe tourist attraction which didn't much excite me. the most excitement i experienced while touring the cave was the scare that pritesh gave me when he jumped out from behind a stalagmite and i screamed like a little girl (or so i was told... i prefer to remember it as a very manly scream... in fact, i don't remember screaming at all... i was merely clearing my throat). the view from an opening in the side of the cliff was postcard pretty.

we descended the stairs back to our bikes and were off to one of the other myriad caves which were scattered about the area. the dust and small rocks and holes slowed our progress and drained our enthusiasm and we eventually abandoned the farthest cave for a closer one, down a dirt road until we came upon two men. pritesh knocked off 1000 kip from the ticket prices, we donned headlamps and heavy batteries and followed the guide through fields to the cave. two minutes after we climbed the first ladder into the rocky opening i knew this cave experience was going to be far different from the first.

no well worn tourist path here, no electricity, no handrails, no supporting cement... this was a hole in the side of the earth and we were crawling into it. the rough surfaces gradually became soft and slimy, beautiful untouched rock formations, we walked, climbed, ducked, and slid into the cave for about 15 minutes before we came to the end and our smiling guide gently tapped some of the rock formations to elicit soft tones similar to those produced by a xylophone [avi video clip; 800kb]. courtney discovered a white cave cricket and as we exited the earth, we wondered if there were other creatures living within until the wondering stopped when we encountered the biggest spider each of us had ever seen. without exaggeration, the outstretched legs of this magnificent brown arachnid were bigger than the outstretched fingers of my hand. we tried for several minutes to capture an image of the spider; no one was brave enough to put their hand close enough so that a sense of scale could be captured along with it. courtney was deathly afraid to walk beneath it and our guide walked over to cover it with his hat and when he did, the long legged beastie ran a short distance with a quickness which shot blood through my body and made my skin tingle. given the size of the spider, i'd expected a slow lumbering and not a fast sprinting. damn. what an amazing creature. back outside, i gave the guide a 2 usd tip which made his eyes light up and gave me a great feeling.

i took this picture on the way home. smiling.

we made it back into town at around 1730, returned our bikes and then met up for dinner at one of the friends restaurants. later that evening, i hit an internet cafe. despite having to endure an israeli girl speaking at volume 10 in one of the indoor international call phone booths and an american girl having a very intimate conversation over an internet phone at one of the terminals with absolutely zero discretion, i was in a very zen mood. today had been a great day and i was really loving laos. unfortunately, tomorrow i'd be pushing on... the sand was running on my vietnam visa.

posted by paul on Mon 09 Jan 2006 at 00:00:00 est (-05:00)

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