True love is three days, six bus rides and zero showers, and still being attracted to her scent.
While hiking in Nong Khiaw, Laos two little local girls--'One and 'Loon'--led me a quarter mile into a cave, giggling as my head and knees struck limestone and sent echoed thuds up and down the narrow passage. If alone I would have turned back after crawling through and feeling the reverberation of flapping wings. Nothing brings courage quite like having one six year old drag me along by the arm with another pushing from behind.
Now a fearless explorer, when returning to Vientiane I seek out the Konglor Cave, a 7.5 kilometer long waterway cavern cutting under a mountain. It's grandeur requires a Lonely Planet guidebook excerpt. "This 7.5km tunnel... is unlike anything you can imagine, and in the words of an Aussie traveler: 'I've done loads of caves, but this is the creepiest and the best I've ever seen.'"
The cave takes me over two days and six bus rides to reach, including 200 kilometers of backtracking, partly because I'm one of those fearless explorers that doesn't need directions, partly because of misinformation, and partly because my subconscious is intent on teaching the life skill of patience.
Real-Time Travel Tip # 7: The smaller, more difficult to reach the village, the more interesting travelers you'll run into, or: the more out of the way one goes the more one is rewarded.
This time I meet a Canadian couple on their third year-plus odyssey together, the travelers' travelers, carefree and refreshingly philosophical on intuitive exploration and material matters. I'm not one for talk of 'soul mates', but if you've been schlucking around backpacks for six months together on a third multi-country trip, no less, and you're still laughing and enjoying the other's company then 'thy love is true', comrades.
The Konglor Cave, it's vast, it's erie, it's never-ending. In many places the flashlight's beam can't find the ceiling. I exit thankful my sight was limited. If I could have seen the entirety of the cave and all that lurking within evolutionary protocol would have have kicked in. A half billion years of adaption gave this amoeba legs for good reason.
If I could have seen everything I wouldn't be one of those brave explorer types.
|Picture: Inside a cave outside Nong Khiaw, Laos.|
|Picture: Inside the Konglor Cave.|