There are not even that many steps to access the top of the Mount Phou Si; but the heat is making everything challenging. Especially after this royal breakfast that followed yoga.
It all started well, with a few sun salutations, good stretching and peace of mind. I lost it while holding the breakfast menu in my hands. Homemade yogurt, fresh fruits, homemade peanut butter, toasted baguette, smoothie with coconut milk… Already before 10 am, my body was screaming gratitude. That’s was until we started climbing to the top. I have been in Asia for a few weeks now, but still I do not get used to (the) heat. But I stopped caring about my appearance and my smell – the smell of my backpack to be more accurate. At this stage, I believe it qualifies as efficient contraceptive method.
I am missing my dresses and heels, especially my high black boots. I miss feeling cold and nesting into my favorite scarf. It feels good to live in shorts, to walk bare feet in the mud and to breathe the pure air of the rain forest. But it certainly does not help me growing a feminine feeling. Despite the occasional homesickness, and the few moments I miss everyone; I think the biggest challenge for me was and still is the flexibility on hygiene. I just forgot about laundry, clothes and body are washed at the same time, with the same baby soap, in the shower where I always find company – ants, spiders, mosquitos big as a fist … Crumbs, not only of bread I am afraid, find shelter between my toes; fresh sheets have become a luxury, and cockroaches do not make me scream anymore.
The dirt I certainly did not mind on me today was the one I got from cuddling with puppies after zip-lining in the jungle. The owner, a French guy who grew up 10 kilometers away from my hometown probably went to the same college as me. Small world. When I moved to Holland, he moved to Laos and started a business of tree climbing adventure. Today he rules a beautiful park, 30 minutes cruise away from the center of Luang Prabang.
After about 1 hour of flying from one tree to another, I touched ground to meet two playful puppies. They were even sweeter than the iced cappuccino I sipped between two snuggles. Just as my poor skin in the sun, my heart was melting.
I spend my day mopping my front head, and I feel extremely graceful. Luckily it stops after sunset. The story telling I went to last night was in a tiny and – much appreciated – air-conditioned theater. I learned the story of the Phou Si, where I was dripping earlier today. Every mountain, rock or river here has a meaning; and I found it fascinating to discover the Lao legends this way.
Phou Si, literally Mountain Si – which was named after the Queen Si, has a story involving mushrooms greed, monkey ears and power abuse. The Queen Si woke up one morning with a furious envy for mushrooms; but not any kind. Because she did not want to upset the spirits, she could not name the mushrooms she was dying for. It was indeed bad omen to name and eat Monkey ears. So she sent one of her disciple to Sri Lanka, with no other indication that ‘’Bring me back mountain mushrooms’’ Despite numerous attempts, the brave man never brought back the right kind of mushrooms. He flew over and over again to Sri Lanka, always bringing back another kind of mushrooms … but he would always fail to please Queen Si. The next time he flew, he decided to come back with the mountain itself, placed in right in front of the palace and invited to Queen to go and pick up for herself her coveted delicacy. Since that time, the mount has always never been moved from the doorstep of the Palace.
Another legend we were told yesterday surprisingly casted Dragons – whose rage created both the Chao Phraya in Bangkok and the Mekong in Laos; a dad who abandoned his 12 daughters after he could not support them anymore – a Lao version of Tom Thumb where the daughters were found by a giant – whose castle has a lot in common with Bluebeard; a hidden son who happened to be the unique worthy successor of the kingdom and a kept secret princess with whom he will desperately fall in love. This love was not meant to be, and it ended up in a lot of pain for both lovers. Long and complicated story short: the same game of power and hate which unexpectedly united their hearts years ago eventually separated them years after. They both died of sadness. The spirits were willing to make up for the purest love ever seen that human greed destroyed, so they turned the two bodies into mountains. These two highest peaks you can see by the side of the Mekong are the two lovers, united for eternity.
After an afternoon playing monkey in the jungle, it was so relaxing to be told stories. The two Australian sisters sitting next to me were just as impressed as me, and as we walked out of the tiny theater, the sky was reflecting the stars in our eyes. Luang Prabang is animated by spirits; the place is both magnetic and peaceful. As I walked back to the guesthouse, I crossed once again the many handcrafts stand of the adorable night market. And I went to bed with my mouth still full of the perfect taste of the Lao version of the Dutch poffertjes. Dreams are made of sweets.
I woke up before the sun, to take part to the Alms giving ceremony. As the sun rises, monks in their bright orange clad walk past the streets, accepting alms from locals and tourists. They walk in line, in rhythm, in harmony. Their peace and dedication was a humbling experience.
I just felt sorry that more people would experience the ceremony as a selfie taking situation, more than for what it really is: a moment of respectful sharing. We do not all travel for the same reasons, and that is all right; as long as respect is shown to the places and traditions we are invited into. Despite our differences, I do believe we all seek for the same at the end of the day. Being free to believe, practice, and be as we wish; without offending either being judged for it. We may not be animated by the same spirits, ideas or dreams; but we all have some and there should never be such a thing as judging or ranking them. We all are equals, in every little things; especially the ones making us different. Observing and learning will always be more constructive than arbitrating and dominating.
In the morning lights, I walked my opening heart and eyes along the Mekong for an hour and enjoyed this precious and quiet time before the city fully awakes and gets all of us into its full swing.