Just back from Laos…
The hair on an elephant’s head is beyond bristly. It’s sharp and needley, but that did not stop me from wrapping my arms around my new pachyderm friend, a rescued logging elephant who now spends her days doing far easier tasks with shorter hours, more medical attention and more food. I pretty much fell in love with her at first sight, and my heart was up with every powerful step she took. It’s a teary feeling to be that close to an elephant. The whole time I was with her I wanted her to be out in the wild, free, but that is not to be — Laos is a country where everyone, from the animals to the people, works hard. But amid the struggles and the emerging economy, there’s much to take it and much to savor, from intense and expansive natural beauty, to kind people, vivid flavors and a feeling of peacefulness and slowness all around. I returned from my trip there a month ago and I am doing my best to hold on to that essence, to those colors, to the richness.
Laotian monks collecting their daily meals, donated by the community.
I was traveling with my pal, Erica Gragg, who runs a fantastic company, Escape to Shape, and once more she put together an incredible itinerary – part culture, part sensory overload, part fitness, and part simple fun. The food was light, freshfreshfresh and most dishes had a kick of red pepper heat. (Sticky rice and coconut milk helps to quiet the fire…) Erica is a curator and she pinpoints and delivers special experiences wherever she goes. (This is my third trip with her, including Istanbul and Marrakech – all amazing.) This time home base was the charming and historic UNESCO site and former French colonial city by the Mekong, Luang Prabang. Among the notable things we did was to line up on the side of a quiet residential road at 530 in the morning to give alms to the monks. The monks depend on local people to feed them and every day, they walk, smiling, silent, and barefoot, from their respective temples through town to receive offerings of food, their sustenance for the day. Often, this food will last for two meals only and they go to sleep hungry. We gave pieces of fruit and nuts to the monks, placing each element in their bowls without talking to them, looking in their eyes or touching them, as per local custom. hard to explain, but we were all beaming –
Happy group! The Kaung Si waterfall is followed by cascading pools that feed into each other like a long stack of cascading dominoes. The water is chilly but super refreshing and clean. Blue Lagoon remake, anyone?
Also traveling with us was the lovely and Jivamukti-trained yogi-extraodinaire, Kari Zabel. Kari lead our class daily and once more I realized that nothing but time on the mat will elevate your practice. Our poses came in handy when we hiked through the jungle to arrive at the stunning Kaung Si waterfall surrounded by cascading natural pools. We hopped in and did our best tree poses amid the rushing torrent of water, making Kari proud.
I think the pictures really tell the story best so I’ll post more below. Thank you, Erica, and thank you too, friends who joined me. I loved every minute. Where’s next? xxoo Steph
The money shot – as in where we all spent our money. The night market in Luang Prabang is great for little gifts and keep sakes, especially textiles, and we all went nuts for shockingly bright bags with pom poms (when in Rome…)
Now that’s how to commute. These skiffs are the best way to travel up the Mekong – they are fast and light and have no depth to their hull so they glide in shallow water.
The Pak Ou caves, a pilgrimage site on the Mekong, house thousands on Buddha statues.
At one of the billion outdoor cafes in Luang Prabang. Dinner was often by lantern light and the nights are warm. Crazy peacock-feather patterned pants courtesy of the night market 🙂