Our kind friend from Khao Lak, Nishan, recommended (by way of a black permanent marker on Jon's forearm) that we were not to miss Tad Lo in Laos. "Get there before the place changes, and all the tourists arrive," he had said.
So we took Nishan's advice. And we went.
Immediately after arriving in the early AM on an overnight bus ride to Pakse, we took a Tuk-Tuk to another bus station and were guided towards the local bus to Tad Lo. After a brief stop at the WC and some sticky rice for breakfast, we rode the uneventful, yet beautiful 86K towards Tad Lo. Dropped off in the midday heat at the end of a dirt road, we (or maybe I, I should say) had a brief moment of wondering whether or not we should have trusted Nishan's advice.
We decided to walk the 2K up the dirt road, as the sign before us (that was hidden a bit by high grasses, and had fallen towards its side) read: Tadlo Resort 2k.
The walk was rather nice, as we passed wonderfully kind Laos families along the way, all huddled in their homes escaping the blazing sun. "Sabai Dii!!" (hello) was exchanged countless times as we walked, and again, we found ourselves with such grand emotion for the people of this country. We passed by the small local school, where young children scurried about in the front "yard" accompanied by water buffalo, cow and some chickens here and their. Teachers were no where to be seen, and the chaos told us it was either lunch time, recess, or simply the common scene at many of the rural South East Asian schools- constant disorder. The kids were super happy, it seemed, and we got many a wave and hello.
As we headed deeper into the village, and could hear the first rumblings of the waterfall and river, I become more an more aware of what a special place this was. The word "community" is what comes to mind, and despite, or maybe because of, the extreme poverty that grips it, it is felt right away. Kids playing games in the dirt road, women sitting and chatting in each other's homes, and everyone waving hello. There appeared to have been a surge of births recently in the tiny town, animals and humans alike. Baby goats, baby chickens, baby cows, baby geese, and plentiful spotted piglets. It was a fantastic sight, and after only a 2k walk, I knew instantly that Nishan had been right.
We found ourselves a wonderful $4 bungalow with a porch right on the river, attached to a nice little restaurant. The river's source was an absolutely gushing waterfall which that roared only 20 meters away from our spot. Lovely.
Not much happening in this darling little village, and we sank right into that bliss. We read on our porch, we met and chatted with the few other travelers that were passing through, we ate lots of curry at the two restaurants, we went for a walk to another waterfall and again through the village to take photographs. We also had the pleasure of meeting and holding an adorable young Gibbon, who had been bought at a local market by the owner of our guesthouse. We found out it was not rare for him to purchase young animals, whether it be monkeys or bear cubs, and then reintroduce them into the wild. This particular little Gibbon was orphaned when his mom was shot, and so he was then taken to the market to be sold. There are way too many animals in South East Asian countries that are tied up or caged (monkeys especially) for tourist attractions, or simply as family pets. It is heartwrenching to see. We were elated, then, when this little guy was free of any leashes or cages, and simply loved to be held. It was amazing to watch him for the hour that we did- holding our hands, curling up on Jon's chest to try and sleep, and denying our offering of bananas, because he would rather a crunchy cookie!
One of the many memories I will take with my from our time in Tad Lo happened when I decided to brave my fears of "dirty" rivers, and do as the locals do and swim and bathe. Freezing cold showers are never inviting no matter how hot it is, and the river here semed cleaner to me and more inviting due to the waterfall. So, I made my way down to the banks in front of our bungalow (dodging the offerings on the ground by the mother cow and her calf who were living below us) and stepped into the water. As I was lathering myself, I noticed I was being watched by 3 little boys, who of course were wondering what the funny looking white woman was doing in the river. They toddled down the grass towards me, giggling and huddling together, and eventually made it to the rocks where I was sitting. They were precious little ones, no more than 4 years old, and I was only annoyed that I didn't have anything for them, or a camera to take a photo so they could see themselves. I decided to entertain them with a little liquid soap, if I could. I poured a bit into each of their hands, and showed them how to lather it up. They loved it. And I was amazed. Such a little thing. They loved to see their brown skin turn white, and eventually, they were asking for more and more, until their bodies were covered in foamy soap, and they were putting it in each other's hair. So great. We went through several episodes, as they lathered, then rinsed, then held their hands out for more, and then more. As this was happening, I looked up and noticed two young teenage girls each with a baby on her hip. One of them smiled a great big smile at me, and pointed at herself. I knew right away that somebody wanted a bath.
They came right down and walked right into the water with their clothes on, babies and all. They were all filthy dirty- yet so beautiful. I was able to hold one of the little babies as the (too young) mom wet her hair. We washed the babies together, and then the moms asked for some soap. With crying babies in their arms, there wasn't much chance of them shampooing themselves, so I gave each of their long black hair a scrub. I think it was the first time. At least the first time someone had done it for them. They were elated, and the second they came up for a rinse they asked for another scrub. They brought strands of their hair around to their nose and smelled, and then smiled to one another. Ahh. Pantene.
Perhaps it was their smiles, or just the simplicity of it all that touched me so. Without having spoken a word to one another, we had shared a wonderful 20 minutes, and we all went home clean. For them, the cleanliness most certainly brought them their happiness, but for me it was being so close to people that live such incredibly different lives than I do. It is moments like these that make me realize how amazing travel is, and how nothing can compete with its teachings. Sharing a bond with your fellow man, no matter where they live or who they are can only create goodness.