The Laos Life

I’m sitting on the pool patio, sipping on ice cold water, soaking up the rays through the layer of thick, humid cloud that is concealing the sun. On the other side of the river the builders are blasting Laos pop music at max volume, I can hear the hammering of tools and the occasional outburst of laughter or shouting. The sounds seem to bounce around the hills in the distance, as if we are in a little box of Laos and the hills are the walls.

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Infinity

I’ve found myself back in Laos, this time in Vang Vieng, known for it’s party scene, drunken tubing and half naked tourists wandering confused in the streets after consuming mushroom shakes and taking too many shots at Sakura Bar,in the quest for a free t-shirt, labelled “drink triple, see double, act single”, rules which every bogan backpacker worth their salt will follow on their quest to find themselves in Southeast Asia.

I’m here in the quiet season, and I’m seeing a different side to Vang Vieng. Emphasis is on the beauty of the scenery, the tourists are mostly Korean who cruise down the river in their tubes, occasionally falling out and unable to get back in, they hold onto their tubes and scream with laughter as they bob around, lifejackets and armbands keeping them afloat, all the while holding their phones in waterproof casing and taking selfies with one hand, gripping for dear life with the other.

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Nam Song RiverΒ 

I’m here for one month, teaching yoga for Yoga in Vang Vieng, based at the Silver Naga Hotel. Myself and my fellow teacher, the lovely Tye from Australia, take turns with our teaching days, me teaching both classes one day, and her the next, which means every second day is a day off! Living the dream? Ahhh yep.

It took a few days for me to settle in here, as I always do. I felt like I had stepped into a dream – after one month of quality, much needed family and recuperation time in the UK, I found myself back in sticky, sweaty southeast Asia with all its lovely sounds and smells and I had to break myself back in to the… different way of living here. My first night here I woke up in the middle of the night to thunder and lightning, very very frightening, and one of the hotel dogs scratching at the door trying to get in for a cuddle. However, I’m not living in a bamboo hut or showering in cold water every day, nor am I getting up at the crack of dawn and teaching all day. I remind myself daily of how incredibly lucky I am to be doing what I love while travelling the world, and I get to live in a beautiful hotel this time, which is the cherry on top.

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The doggy trying to cool his genitals on the floor

I’m up at 6.30am on teaching days, prepping the room and my class, I teach from 7.30-9.00am, have breakfast in the hotel (buffet awesomeness), chill by the pool, hang out in my room, explore the town, get a massage, go for a bike ride, practice my Laos language on the hotel staff (who just laugh at me, shaking their heads like “such a fool, at least she tries), visit a local cafe, plan classes, write my journal, chat to other guests, teach again at 5pm, then go for dinner and chill for the evening. On my days off – same same, except I attend the classes instead of teaching (or sleep in, haha…).

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One of my first days here I visited a cafe in the town for coffee and good internet, and got chatting to the owner, who offered me a job on the spot, “like a homestay! You come here, speak English with us and the customers, help us, eat with us, we speak Laos with you, you drink coffee??”. Obviously I said yes, we shook hands, and every day since I have wandered into Offbeat Cafe, bringing writing notebooks and coloured pens and Laos-English language books and we sit around miming things in attempt to make conversation. They laugh at my attempts at Laos language (my mouth just doesn’t make certain sounds), and they laugh at themselves when they try the English words. They call me their baby Laos, because I sound like a very special baby when I speak Laos, and they also call me “uaey” which means “big sister”, which makes me feel all happy. I call them “nongsau” which means “little sister”. There is Song and Prin, brother and sister who own the cafe, and the three young girls, Tame, Deuy and Daa. They are adorable and all wear their hair in the same high bun and their work t-shirt tied up in a fashionable way.

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Dinner Time!

I’m amazed at how eager they are to learn – when I was in school I don’t think my eyes lit up the way theirs do when the teacher walks into the room. They come running up to me, saying “Jao kin kao ya baw??” which means “have you had lunch??”, and they touch my arm and say “beautiful skin” and I’m like really cos I didn’t moisturise today hahahahaha and they look at me blankly but endearingly, like “she crazy, but we will allow it because she has the knowledge we require”.

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Munchkins.

Mealtimes are interesting. Sometimes I have lunch or dinner with them, and we sit around the table and eat with our hands. The first time I joined them, they put a box of sticky rice, a bowl of vegetables and a plate of meat on the table, pointed to me and said “eat!”. So I sat down, pulled the plate towards me and started to eat, and they started laughing hysterically, “NOOOOOO hhahahahhaah that bowl for EVERYONE!”. Needless to say I felt like a greedy little farang at that moment. Just goes to show that portion sizes in the western world are outrageous, that our normal evening meal would feed a family of four in Asia.

The next time we ate together, Song pulled out a plate of pastey stuff, called “jaeow”, gestured to the sticky rice and said “you eat!”.

Rosie: “what’s this? fish paste?” (It sure tasted fishy.)
Song: “no, no, no fish. Vegetable. And….”
Prin: “Vegetable aaaand…. and…. injection!” *flaps arms wildly*
Rosie: “INJECTION??!” *look of horror*
Prin: “Ahhhh…. Insects!”
Rosie: “mmmmm….”
Prin: *googling furiously…..* “CRICKETS!”

Welll. I ate no more cricket paste that evening, and awoke the next morning with a dubious sensation in the pit of my stomach. My body may not be ready for Laos cuisine in its entirety, but it sure is exciting!

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Green Cookies!

I’m off to swim in the infinity pool. Peace and love from Laos to you all.

La Kon! Goodbye!

p.s. six weeks until our Whole & Happy Retreat in Chanthaburi, Thailand on the 4th of November. Wanna join us? There are still some spaces available. Email me at rosie.moreton@gmail.com to reserve your space, or book online at:

http://wholeandhappyretreat.eventbrite.com

See you there?

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Tramping with Rosie.

There are pros and cons to being a casual employee…

A con is that there are less dollaz.

A pro is that I can take mid-week hiking excursions to little huts in the back arse of nowhere!

Mother, cousin and I took a wee jaunt to Fenella Hut in the Kahurangi National Park this week.

Besides the mass onslaught of blood sucking sand flies who love my juicy ankles, it was quite lovely. It was like a Boy Scouts adventure trail, with little cabins and campfires dotted along the valley floor, close enough to the river for a good dip after a long day.

Our first night we just drove into the first hut and slept fitfully, fearful of exposing our toes to the savage insects who roamed the cabin, waiting to pounce.

The days walk was meant to take almost five hours, but because we are youthful and spritely, we trotted along the track and jogged up the hill, doing a few squats while we were at it.

When we arrived at Fenella Hut, it was like a shimmering mirage of glory in the midday heat. A relatively new hut, Fenella Hut was built as a memorial to Fenella Druce, who was killed in 1977 when the Three Johns Hut was blown over a bluff in Aoraki National Park.

We hoped the same would not happen to us.

A high point was the toilet, which may have been the most magnificient Department of Conservation hut toilet I have ever graced with my bottom. And I have graced MANY.

Stained glass windows, a delightful bush view (ha!) and even a pipe of running water conveniently placed for washing ones hands post wee-wee. It’s the little things that count.

Usually you have to dash in, hold your breath, close your eyes and pretend that the flies buzzing out of the dark depths of the long drop are just there for moral support.

An equally high point (some may say higher) was the magical tarn (lake) that rested just over the hillock, beckoning us with it’s un-tarn-ished beauty. I hope you see what I did there.

If trees had eyes, (and fingers and mouths), they would have been laughing and pointing at our naked, awkwardly tanned bodies plunging ungraciously into the waters. I do not like to touch the bottom with my feet, because I fear the creatures of the depths, but I enjoyed doggy paddling about, watching the dragonflies have sex with their faces (at least that’s what it looked like. Isn’t nature wonderful??).

Then came the time to get out. Naked. Using only a slimy rock, fatigued legs and stylishness, I slid on my front up the rock, realised my companions were taking x-rated photographs of my exit technique, slid back a bit in shock horror, then launched myself upward like a nifty seal. It was that rock’s lucky day… Just sayin’.

My evening meal consisted of mothers homemade dehydrated lentil curry, which sounds quite hideous but actually was top notch, and a snack on Rachel’s ‘fun mix’. Open to interpretation.

We had the hut to ourselves, so we played card games loudly and used two mattresses instead of one. Crazy cats.

Today we retraced our steps in a gazelle-like fashion, stopping for water, an occasional nibble and a cheeky skinny dip in the river, much to the astonishment of the German tourists walking by. (Just kidding, no one saw us… We think).

Now I am home, sprawled on my bed with a glass of wine positioned very nearby for ease of access to my mouth.

I DESERVE IT. It’s been a hard week at work..

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Christmas Holidays, New Zealand Style

Its all been a bit quiet here for a while… Yours truly has been busy flying home from Europe, catching up with friends, and adjusting back into having a normal job in peaceful, sunny Nelson.

Having been away for 18 months, coming back to Nelson was a bit of a shock to the system initially – everything seemed to be in high definition, without the grey skies and smog of a lot of European cities. Even when the sun shines in Ireland, it never seems to be quite as bright as here. I spent my first couple of weeks soaking up the long daylight hours, doing quite a lot of sleeping and working most days to boost the ol’ bank account. My mum, my brother and I also did a hike in the Nelson Lakes which was a nice wee family bonding time.

Christmas was at home in Nelson, where we all wore matching elephant pants and santa hats (christmas present from my brother, recently returned from work in South-East Asia), and I was lucky enough to receive a camera from him aswell, obviously to document the spectacle. We ate outside in the sun and went for a swim in the river to work off the excess consumption.

There’s been a healthy dose of holiday time over Christmas and New Years, which we spent in Wanaka at a lovely bach, with adventure on our door step. (I did quite a lot of time lolling about in the pool, trying to SUP on a boogie board and playing amateur water volleyball with the others.. there were a few bikini malfunctions).

On the drive down we stopped overnight at Birdsong Backpackers in Hokitika, on the wild West Coast. I can definitely recommend it if you’re passing through, and its quite different to some of the hostels I stayed at in Europe – probably because it’s family run and a bit more personal. We had a little unit to ourselves with a kitchen, bathroom and outdoor area, and upstairs in the communal area there is another big kitchen and dining room, overlooking the sea. Jeananne and I felt we should maintain some attempt at health and wellbeing on our holiday, so we went for an evening jog into the town and down to the beach, with a detour to the Glow Worm Dell (sadly it was too light to see any wormies).

The next day we continued on to Wanaka to our delightful house in town, with a pool, spa, big front lawn and spacious living area. I slept on the floor in a swag, (we ended up having more people than beds), which I was a bit apprehensive about but actually I think it was the best deal. I could sleep with the door open on hot nights, and I basically had a double bed to sprawl about in. I just feel sorry for the early risers in the house who had to wake me from my slumber.

We went cycling, walking, hiking, swimming, yoga-ing, drinking, eating, luging (on our day trip to Wanaka and Arrowtown) and wine and cheese tasting, so I feel it was a healthy balance of indulgence and exertion. Very different from the holidays in the UK, where the weather is usually too cold and miserable to leave the house for very long.

On the way home we stopped in Kumara, a tiny gold mining town, and spent the night at The Theatre Royal Hotel which was furnished with antiques (and very comfy beds). We had a delightful meal of locally sourced goods and consumed several beverages, before retiring to our grand rooms, just like the good old days…

On our last day we stopped in Punakaiki to check out the pancake rocks and the blowholes (teehee).

It’s nice to be a tourist in my own country – I’m sure a lot of tourists have seen more of New Zealand than I have!

Happy New Year! I hope your 2015 is filled with adventure.

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Bueno.

Thursday was Zoe and Megan’s last day at Casa de Carrasco, so we tagged along on a trip to the Cardo Monastery, way up in the hills behind Rasquera, the nearest village. It’s on the opposite side of the mountain to us, and you feel like you are in a completely different country – our side of the mountain was ravaged by fire two years ago, so is a lot dryer, whereas the monastery side is lush and green.

The monastery was built by monks in the early 1600s, and has been used for various purposes over the last few centuries, most recently as a hospital for injured soldiers during the War. It has been abandoned ever since and now it’s crumbling into ruins – there is talk of it being turned into a luxury 5 star hotel and spa, which is sort of a shame but I guess it gives it another life…

The monastery itself is closed off to visitors, because it’s a bit of a danger zone….. But we climbed a fence and snuck in. Zoe camped there once overnight – I can’t imagine anything spookier.

We did a walking meditation up to the hermitage (where they rang the bell), and sat to look at the view and do a seated meditation. We got the feeling we were the only ones there, and we may well have been!

And today I left the lovely Carrasco, after three weeks of yoga, sunshine, good food and quite a lot of wind (both kinds, we blame the chickpeas)… Last night the wind was insane and I was all alone in a big safari tent, with the A-Frame threatening to collapse on top of me at any moment, but one of the other guests came to find me and invited me to sleep in her lovely little cabin with her, so I got an awesome much needed sleep. Stella the dog came to keep me company too, I think she sensed that I was leaving and wanted to get in one more night of warmth in my bed. Softest dog you ever patted.

I will sure miss the yoga and and the Spanish sunshine, and all the lovely people…. But it’s time to move on to France! I’m lurking around in Barcelona for a few hours, waiting for my night bus which will take me to Lyon, arriving there at 5.30am, which will be super fun. I hope it’s not one of those buses with broken air conditioning and smelly people. But I sense that may just be a given on all public transport…

Wish me luck! I have earplugs, an eyemask, a chunky book and a bag of almonds to get me through.

Here are some pictures from my last few days in sunny Spain!

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Megan and I, mastering boat pose
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The lovely Sarah, owner, host and amazing teacher
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Cardo Monastery Hermitage
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Zoe, inside the monastery
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Stella, my doggy friend
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View from the hermitage
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Dancers pose, inside the monastery

Beached.

Saturday was my first day off, but like a good girl I arose early to do yoga, only to be told it was too windy to do yoga outside, and that we would do it in the evening.. Not a wonderful start to the retreat, but we can’t control the weather, and apparently the wind is the one thing they dislike about living up in these hills. They call it ‘The Big W’..

So we took the guests on a trip down to the beach in L’Ampolla, a fishing village with lots of tapas bars and holiday shops. You can automatically tell the difference between the Spanish people and the holiday-makers; the Spanish women lie sprawled topless in the sun (even when with family, which I find super awkward), and the foreigners are pasty white, and wriggle around on their towels trying to get their swimming costume on whilst revealing as little flesh as possible. Myself included… Although I do wonder what it would be like to just strip off and lie there, completely confident in my right to lie nakey in front of strangers. Makes me squirm just thinking about it!

I nipped into a cafe to use wifi with some of the guests (got to grab it when I can), explored the little town and then basked in the sun for a while, applying sunscreen whilst trying to ignore the fact that a massively overweight hairy man was lying on his stomach directly in front of me,like a beached whale, playing with his beard, surreptitiously staring at me behind his tinted shades. His umbrella blew away but he was too fat to get up and chase it in time. Ha.

That evening we did our yoga, followed by a paella cooking workshop led by Cherry who is our host Sarah’s mum. Cherry is an Ayurvedic teacher and a paella expert, and cooked us up a vegetarian and a seafood paella for dinner.

Traditional paella spices are saffron and pimiento, which is a very popular spice particularly in Catalunya, the region we are in. The reason that saffron is so expensive is because of the manual labour it requires to produce it. Stems of saffron come from tiny fragile plants that only grow in one region of Spain, by individual farmers who then have to pluck the stems one by one from the flowers, which is especially difficult in typically windy weather….

The difference between paella and risotto is that you do not stir paella. Once you stir it, it’s no longer paella! We used local seafood from the bay; mussels, clams, king prawns, and all the vegetables used were grown organically by neighbours or by Cherry herself.

Originally this dish was a sustenance dish for people working on the land during the Spanish Civil War; they would shoot rabbits (they all had guns during Franco’s time) and take whatever vegetables they could find, cook it up in the morning then let it increase in flavour over the day. They ate with their hands, scooping from the inside out. We ate with gigantic wooden spoons which was exciting. We also got to sample a vast amount of local red wine from a giant vat, which pleased us all tremendously.

Yesterday we did an Ayurveda workshop, which was quite enlightening. Ayurveda means ‘the knowledge of life’ and is all about the different mind-body types (Doshas) and how each person has a unique combination of the three Doshas. Vitality and health require your dosha to be in a balanced state, which can be achieved through diet, exercise, yoga, meditation, and massage. We did a little test to find out our dosha, discussed what this meant about us, and learnt a little about Ayurvedic diet and massage.

The three Doshas are Vata, Pitta and Kapha. I am quite a strong Pitta, but I have little bits of the others in there too… The unique balance that each person has determines their constitution, body type, and mental and emotional strengths and weaknesses. It tells you a lot about why you are the way you are, why certain things irritate you , why you like the foods you like and also gives some insight into your relationships….. And it also gives you the tools to keep yourself balanced. It’s useful for looking at other people as well, and for understanding that they are that way because of their dosha.

So many fun things are being learnt! Today there is a bit of a storm, so we are hiding in our tents reading books. It’s hard work getting into the routine of doing yoga every morning at 8, and the classes are fairly intense so my body is a bit achey at the moment. I couldn’t even push myself up into wheel this morning, my arms are so fatigued!

There’s not much to do here when it rains….. I will use my allocated internet time then possibly do a sleep.

Buenos nachos!

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How did I get here??

I wrote this blog post the day after I arrived, but didn’t have enough internet to post it. I can’t be bothered changing it so am going to post it anyway…

By Jove! I may have found myself in a little piece of paradise!

Saturday evening I arrived in L’Ampolla, a town about 2 hours south of Barcelona along the coast. My host, Sarah, picked me up from the station and we drove out of town, up a winding dirt road into the mountains, until we reached Casa de Carrasco, home for the next 3 weeks. The retreat is set amongst olive, almond and carob trees, and they make their own olive oil.

Sarah and her partner Martin run this place as an affordable yoga retreat, where people can come and camp, or stay in the ‘stables’ accommodation. They’re in the middle of a big renovation of the house, which is over 200 years old, so this next week is going to be a lot of cleaning, finishing off renovations and getting the retreat ready for an influx of new and repeat guests over Easter weekend.

I’m staying in a safari tent, and I’m like, so excited. It’s massive and you can actually stand up in it. It gets cool at nights but really warm during the day, today it’s 24 degrees with a light breeze, and I am cleaning fridges.

They have a very deep, square swimming pool, where you just kind of plop into it, straight up and down, no gradient. To clean the pool I get to get in it and suck along the bottom with some kind of magical water vacuum.

They also have mountain bikes, a bounty of hiking trails, two dogs and three cats. Daisy is a big black Labrador, and Stella is some kind of yellow dog…. She took me for a walk last night. Daisy just lies in wait around every corner, then quickly rolls onto her back and waits for a belly rub – when you go to tickle her she grabs your hand with her paw and won’t let go.

It’s so alarmingly quiet here, after being in towns and cities for quite a while. Last night I went to bed and lay there listening to all the weird, non-car noises. Apparently there are all kinds of creatures out in the hills, I hope they don’t come knocking on my tent door in the night…..

Sarah welcomed me last night with some local red wine, a home-cooked meal and a chat about all sorts of things. We start yoga classes when the guests arrive, but in the meantime I can do my own practice on the outdoor yoga platform.

This week the pool is getting refilled, the washing machines are getting hooked up and the internet is getting turned back on, but in the meantime I have to hand wash my knickers in a bucket and climb a hill to get reception. I kind of like it that way though. Sorry in advance if I take a while to reply to messages.

Today I had a lunch of lentils with broad beans, radishes and spinach picked from the organic garden, then I continued to scrub the fridges for 2 hours. Now I think it may be hammock siesta time. Oh did I forget to mention? There are hammocks in the trees. Yep.

Maybe this all seems so much better because of my last HelpX experience. Having been through the weirdest month of my life, this is pretty much paradise in comparison! I am rather dusty and I probably smell weird but at least I’m not surrounded by people who believe in aliens and the such. It’s always a bit strange coming into someone else’s life and fitting into their routine, but it’s so much easier when they are nice people!

I did see a really large beetle thing humping another really large beetle thing. I felt like I was intruding so I just slowly closed the door again and left them to it. Who am I to come to their house and intrude on their sexy siesta?

That’s all for now, limited interwebs. Here are some pictures….

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Planes, Trains and Automobiles

It has been a very long day. Which doesn’t really make sense because I skipped an hour, so technically today has been shorter than average..

After a super fun 5.30am start, (thanks Aunty Sue who drove me to the station kiss kiss), and riding pretty much every kind of transport you could imagine, (aside from a bike, which is the only one I really want to ride), I am nestled safely into my hostel in Barcelona.

Days of travelling are exhausting, which I don’t really understand, because you are mostly sitting on your tush all day, looking at the same map/boarding pass/ tube guide over and over, and worrying about getting there on time. Seriously, today I was in a car, a train, an escalator, an elevator, a travelator, a shuttle bus, an airplane, a train, (again), a metro…. And I think that’s it. Why can’t they make a transportation device that does it all?

After transportation device number three I decided to stop worrying about getting anywhere on time because it obviously wasn’t going to happen. Which makes the whole experience far less stressful.

People are so weird though, I love it.

Whilst waiting for my flight, a small boy behind me in the queue proclaimed to his father in a sing song voice ‘I just ate a naaaail.’ So cute. I saw another nubbin of a child in his mothers arms, dressed head to toe in a furry grey onesie with ears, and a matching furry binky. Too much.

I also found a Blackberry phone on a table next to a check-in desk and handed it in to a member of staff. Later i saw the lady who it belonged to almost in tears from relief when she got given it when boarding. She was so happy she hugged the flight attendant. This was my good deed for the day, I’m hoping that karma comes back to me somewhere along the way. Though I’m sure you’re not meant to say that.

The flight attendant then announced to everyone awaiting boarding that, actually, the plane hadn’t arrived yet, and we all just needed to relax a bit and maybe have a siesta, like the spaniards.

When I finally arrived in Barcelona I was met with a wave of gentle heat and a sign out front of my hostel saying, “welcome, Rosie Moreton!” …Good thing I’m not undercover.

I took a trip to the beach, which was beautiful but also very very windy, so i stuck it out for half an hour then retreated. I’ll start afresh tomorrow…

I am in a room full of Germans, with one American girl; I think we were both relieved to come across another English speaker. Whilst cooking dinner tonight I made friends with two boys who are chefs at the hostel. They were wearing matching outfits and cooking schnitzel, which confused me a little because I thought maybe I was actually in Germany.

Filippe wants to be my boyfriend, he tells me he is from Uruguay and therefore he is a wonderful gentleman. He gave me some Spanish potato and pea combination and let me steal the staff cooking oil. Gracias Filippe.

So tomorrow I am going to go on a walking tour to get my bearings. There’s so much to see and do in Barcelona, but I just get so flustered having to look at a map all the time, so I’m going to let someone else do the hard yards.

In Spanish hostels they only give you a sheet to sleep with, which I enjoy, because when I get up in the night to go to the bathroom I just wrap myself in it and scare unsuspecting bathroom-goers… It’s the little things in life.