Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Water Spill Conspiracy

Vang Vieng, Lao PDR – Picture farang, on a tube, in a river, with tangerine Ray Bans and drunk before five. 
Hundreds of them. 

Even though this is not even remotely appealing to us, we decided to stop in Vang Vieng on our way from Luang Prabang to Vientiane to spend a few days volunteering at The Organic Farm

But that’s not why I’m here. 
Here’s why.

If “The Golden Hand” was about Intention and “Monks…” was about The Search, this one is about Coincidence.  Or Luck.  Or Cosmic Conspiracies.  Who knows? 

We rent bicycles to explore what the area has to offer, other than floating drunkenness.  We’ve heard stories of caves and waterfalls around this place, but there is one in particular whisper we decide to chase. 
The Blue Lagoon.
The name alone evokes excitement and exoticism, and a cool respite from the sweltering heat.  We cross the Nam Song River and hop on the not-so-smooth dirt trail.  We ride through the dry plains, rice paddies on each side of the path.  At a distance, large carbonate rock bursting out of the bedrock trying to reach the sky. 
Lorenzo is furious, El Rubio está encendio
After riding through a dry paddie and into a pretty cool cave, we continue our search.  At a fork in the road, the girls ask for a break.  The rough terrain and brutal sun are making us pay.  A tuk-tuk drives by and the driver says you are about 4 km away. 
The girls look at each other and say: “we’re turning back, this is as far as we go.” 
I’m hot, I’m thirsty and I’m hungry, but the thought of “The Blue Lagoon” at the end of the road makes me carry on.
I take the backpack, camera, 50,000 kip ($6.25) and two half full bottles of water. 
I’m on my way. 

A woman stops me.  I have to pay. I get of the bike, pay the ten thousand and chug what is left of water. 

I pedal closer and get my first glimpse.
It is blue, deep blue, soothing blue, refreshing blue, cool blue.  Not kind of blue, very blue. 
I cross a small footbridge and I’m refreshed by it’s mere presence. It sits serenely at the bottom of a large limestone mountain, inside of which is the Phu Kham Cave.  My muscles ache, I profusely sweat, but I decide to go check out the cave and then come back down and take the plunge.  Waiting will make it that much sweeter. 

I climb the steep steps, chunks of rocks and an improvised bamboo handrail.  Deep breaths, deep breaths and my thighs pumping out lactic acid like there is no tomorrow. 
I am relieved by the cool air inside the cave.  I walk around large boulders and make my way to a large cathedral chamber with a small opening that allows Lorenzo to creep inside.  To my surprise, there he is.  Again.  My homie Sid’ just lying on his side, looking ahead with his enlightened smile.  It makes me smile.  I make a few photographs, I bow, and say until the next time.

Peeking Lorenzo
Phu Kham Cave
Vang Vieng, Lao PDR

Chillin' Sid
Phu Kham Cave
Vang Vieng, Lao PDR

I make my way down, faster than I thought possible.  I find a spot to leave my stuff, make my way to the edge and just stare. 
I have been waiting for it all day long.
It looks cool.  Cool in ways that only Big Boi can describe.
So fresh and so clean clean.

My thighs push me off the ground one more time.

"Cooler than Freddie Jackson sippin' a milkshake in a snowstorm"

Refreshed by the plunge, pedaling is not much of a burden.  I stop in a small shack that refills water bottles for two thousand.  I throw the topped off bottles into the basket of the bike.  I save some plastic and have hydration for the 11km ahead (7 biking, 4 walking.  Throw in the swimming in the hole and I’m a triathlete!).
A small wooden bridge with unevenly spaced, irregularly sized planks of wood lies ahead.  As I make my way across the vibration is intense and one of the water bottles flies out of the basket, the cap pops as it hits the deck.  Water starts gushing out.  I rush to recover the bottle and save the precious liquid.  I put the escapee back into the basket and reposition the bottles thinking that they now are safe.  I get back on the bike, push the crank arm one turn and the second bottle jumps out.  Rush, recover, save the precious liquid.  This time I’m laughing hysterically, sensing that the world is conspiring against me. 
I pull of to the side and go down to the creek over which the bridge rises.  I clean the bottles and secure them in my backpack this time.  Lesson learned.  As I do so I notice two planks of wood, lying perpendicularly on one another, sitting at the edge of the water. 
I like the geometry.
Lorenzo, which I had been trying to ignore all day, is now giving me a gift for all my suffering. 
The water spill got me here. 
A conspiracy indeed.

Cosmic Conspiracy

As I sit and soak in the moment, I look over to my left and notice a dog doing the same.  He might be in on this plan.  Unbeknownst to me, a slice of the quotidian is unfolding right in front of us.  Something mundane.  An instant we never get to see.  The fleeting moment that everyone who grabs a camera aspires to capture. 
Like a Wu beat, thoughts travel like a vortex, from my spine to the top of my cerebral cortex.
Cartier-Bresson’s Decisive Moment. 
McCurry’s Unguarded Moment. 
I act coy and slowly raise the apparatus that stands between me and real life and will capture the image in my eye.  As I do so, I hear a rumble coming from behind.  I stay steady and notice it creep into the frame.  For an instant I hesitate, thinking that the moment has vanished. 
And it had.
But a new one was about to appear.
And right as it did, I pull the trigger.

Doing the Dishes

Cosmic Conspiracy?

I don’t bother with finding an answer.

I just ride into the sunset.

Laoatian Sunset


  1. Wow Juanse, just wow!!!! Yo quiero meterte en la aguita azul! Estaba fría? o estaba bien rica después de esa aventura y el calor. Las fotos están brutales!!!!!!! Keep it up!!

  2. Como diria La Pequeña Wendy Sulka "rrrico, rico, rico, rico!"

  3. Estoy apuntando todo los sitios que estas visitando... Namaste

  4. Love it!! sigo so~ando que llegan a PR y mi alegria se mezlca con tristeza de que ya no puedan seguir contado esta aventura!! Me encanto este post!!
    Keep it real negro.