Exhaustion is a disease of the brain that results in me becoming an introverted paranoid human. Like a dog’s ears pricing up at the sight of a cat the fear of being spoken about is always at the forefront of my mind. It’s like I catch a glimpse of shifty secretive body language and my eyes and ears lock in and can’t break away. That fear cooked up with 3 hours sleep, the anticipation of waiting for Max to reply to my super long message about how I feel, and the responsibility of a mini bus of 7 others just send me into this crazy state of paranoia. It was my last full day and I had planned a trip to Kuang Si waterfalls in Luang Prabang, Laos, with a group of people I met at the hostel. With the bus booking being under my name I was, by default, the one responsible for rounding everyone up but just as expected a few people were running late. Our driver was pacing up and down the hostel drive staring at me. Each step he took was like a heavy brick of guilt being thrown into my stomach. I hate being late. One time I hosted pres in Year 11 and my close friends didn’t show up for 2 hours. 2 fucking hours. I’d lost the will to live. So, as you can imagine I was already getting angsty and was absolutely not in the mood. Although I came to understand and bounce off of Joël’s humour when I met him in Vang Vieng we were still acquaintances and the goggles of exhaustion led me to believe he had a personal vendetta against me. He kept biting at everything I said and I felt so sad. It’s all good though, this tall Swiss blonde guy (super handsome and a fellow Leo) has a huge heart of gold and I adore him a lot.
Luang Prabang is the town I was fortunate enough to meet the group I would continue my entire trip with. The first of these wonderful people was 2 sound Australians named Alex and Jay who I struck up a conversation with by apologising that their country was on fire. Alex has a really sick sleeve on his left arm with several beautifully life-like animals representing his family. He’s also hot on comebacks and insults especially towards his best friend Jay. Jay is a human who finds himself being away with the fairies A LOT – so much so that Alex forces him to do press ups when the words “I wasn’t paying attention” came out of his mouth. Our conversation swiftly moved onto ice cream which then ended up being a volume rising debate between Alex and the woman I met on the sleeper bus about whether “Golden Gaytime” were the best Australian ice cream. I sat in between them dumbfounded, not because of how passionate they were but, because there was an ice cream in existence named a “Gay time”, a “Golden Gaytime”. Joël was travelling with them. Although I never spoke to Joël whilst I was staying at Nolo Hub I recognised him from my stay and it turns out he went back a second time and met Alex and Jay.
With a couple of ciders in my system I was fully (kind of) prepared to fail miserably playing bowing at 11pm at night. There is a strict curfew in Luang Prabang meaning that bars and pubs close at 11pm however, and this is the weirdest flex ever but ok, the bowling alley stays open until 2am. And that’s where we were for the entire night, pouring house whiskey after house whiskey and taking it in turns to lob heavy balls down the alley. All three of the guys were pretty decent at bowling, especially Joël who puffed his chest out and told us he plays every week back at home. I, however, was absolutely terrible. No amount of alcohol could’ve improved my ability to throw… a heavy ball and clumsy feet would. The balls were circling back through the system really slow and so when my turn came back around I had no choice but to pick up a 10. I hastily moved towards the alley, knowing that this throw would really hurt my wrist, pulled my arm back and swung with full force. I released the ball with such power that it sent me flying backwards onto my ass. Through embarrassment and hysterical laughter I watched the ball fly down the alley and flatten all 10 pins to the ground. I jumped up immediately, turned around and saw Joël, Alex, Jay and Nigel bent over in chuckling confusion.
Two games had passed and we felt ready to head out but not before we tried our luck with archery. As if drunken bowling wasn’t questionable enough, drunken archery was pure stupidity and fuck me did I find that out the next morning. I was very whiskey drunk and I began skipping around saying “I’m Katniss Everdeen… Jay take a picture and make me look like Katniss Everdeen.” The ridiculous mixture of intoxication, being a leftie and having hyper extending elbows resulted in have a fat fucking bruise on the inside of my inner arm where the arrow band snapped against it. It changed from yellow to green to blue to purple and then to brown in the course of two weeks. At one point the brown colour grew and it looked like I dipped my elbow in foundation. Our night came to an end and the four of us bargained a tuk tuk to get us back to Mad Monkey. As the tuk tuk set into motion and we steadied ourselves with the handles behind us but Joël had other ideas, the thought flared up in his mind and within seconds he slid out of the tuk tuk and climbed onto the roof. He rode the whole way home like a king without the driver knowing. A few days later when he attempted the same thing he wasn’t so gracious – he jumped down and scratched the fuck out of his leg and now has a fat L shaped scar.
Mad Monkey is a chain of hostels that pride themselves in drinking, good vibes and awesome culture trips. The Wednesday trip in Luang Prabang is a 6 hour boat tour down the Mekong River with unlimited beer and free lunch. The 4th wonderful soul I met is Emma, a Belgium woman whose smile and kindness illuminates the entire room. She also knew the guys from Nolo and we clung to each other after she asked if I was going on the boat trip too. We were both dying for some sun and therefore perched our butts at the bottom of the boat, immediately slid back the roof and opened our white canvases to the sky. A gorgeous young woman with the most beautiful eyes and sweetest smile became the 5th beautiful spirit in the group of ever growing humans that I keep so close to my heart. Her name is Lena from the Netherlands, this trip is her first time away from home and a little breather before beginning her higher education. She sat with Emma and I and from then on the boat trip became more about getting to know each other than it did about the weird buddha caves and dead snakes in alcohol.
After the whole “paranoid that everyone was talking about me at the waterfalls” thing I was feeling really disheartened and cooped myself up in the dorm when we got back. One of the guys that came with us on the trip, and who was staying in my room, asked me if I was coming out. I paused folding clothes and looked up at him from the floor and croaked “no, i’m not feeling it” to which he then asked if I was okay. I murmured a “not really” as he left the room and then just burst into tears. I felt defeated. Defeated on my journey around South East Asia because I believed that a group of people were all whispering about me but they weren’t. I was seriously considering meeting Spencer in Cambodia and then heading home because I just can’t hack the days that feel as if you’re trapped inside the deepest darkest well in the middle of a forest way out of town.
A wave of nerves surged through my body as I sat on the bus from Nong Khiaw to Vang Vieng, I knew that the entire waterfall group – Emma, Lena, Joël, Alex, Jay and a girl named Mikaela – would all be there. This sickly feeling in the pit of my stomach is incredibly similar to the way I feel when walking past a specific Fish & Chip shop back in Ilfracombe. I keep my head down and try and focus on slowing my breathing down. Why do I get so worked up about this? I can’t stand coming face to face with people don’t like me, it makes me feel incredibly small. When Jay saw me he called me over and gave me a huge hug, as did Alex and Emma. It was fine. Everything was all in my head and the remainder of that evening was buzzing with banter, free drinks and dancing.
My handwritten diary for January 14th says: ADVANTAGES – THE WHOLE DAY. Emma, Lena, Joël and I went on a skitz mission for the day on pastel coloured scoopys, Joël and Lena on one leading the way with Emma and I following closely behind on our own. I fucking love riding scooters it makes me feel so powerful and free. Our first stop was Blue Lagoon 1 and the cave close by. After a refreshing swim in the pools we dried off and approached the stairs for the cave where a Laotian woman insisted we hire a head torch to guide us when we’re in there. “Nah we don’t need it” we replied… but we absolutely fucking did. The entrance of the cave fell upon our curious eyes – deep in the centre laid a peaceful reclining buddha kissed by the warm sunlight that shone through the window way above our head. We didn’t need a head torch, we thought, what on earth was this woman on about?! Emma excitedly spotted a route to go further and we unknowingly, yet happily, followed her lead. Up and over the rocks we scrambled, hands clinging to any ridge we could find and yanking our feet from tight spaces that were desperate to keep us there. It got dramatically darker, even though we trusted our iPhone flashlights to begin with their performance was diabolical. As we stood on the edge of abyss looking out into nothingness we saw 5 figures opposite us, staring and mirroring our actions. “People further in the cave” I pondered. “No that’s us” someone, I don’t know who, exclaimed. “How the fuck? Are we doing that with our iPhones?” Our iPhones were in our hands pointing to the floor. Lena and I were incredibly confused as to how our shadows were projected on the wall in front of us. We span around to see a group of other explorers with head torches on their heads glaring right at us. Stupidity hit Lena and I like a bullet train with no remorse, light doesn’t work like that Jodie you fucking idiot. The chill ridden air of the vast open space hugged me tightly and sent shivers through my entire body and it must’ve done the same to Emma because, as leader of the pack, she put one foot forward to lead us back into civilisation. Except she had no idea where she was going because she didn’t retrace our steps, she just wandered off. 5 minutes passed and we were walking in circles with no daylight to be seen. My heart began to pound with panic but Emma’s heart began pounding with excitement – her face lit up and she got incredibly giddy about this “adventure” we were on. More minutes passed and still with a smile on her face she began making weird noises… “that’s morse code for S.O.S” she said and then continued beeping. This was all whilst she was laughing. Creepy as fuck. She paused for a second, turned to us and said “wait, I can just shout S.O.S”. We were in that cave with no sense of direction for at least 15-20 minutes and I was secretly starting to get worried. Eventually Joël and Emma found the way in which we came and took us back to safety. A huge sense of relief washed over me. I was not going to stand for being rescued from a fucking cave in South East Asia.
The next stop was the viewpoint, a short drive around the corner from the lagoon, where we would climb up as the sun started to go down. We all whizzed along the gravely road and went a little too far past the viewpoint car park. One by one we all U-turned, Emma went first and then me. I wasn’t fully aware that I was incredibly close to a ditch by a fence and as I turned I crashed so slowly into it. My right hand then decided it would do it’s own thing and twist the accelerator so that the bike began moving beneath me. I’m not sure what sounds came out of my mouth but whatever did must’ve been funny because as I looked up, with my hands on the thigh of my painfully spread apart legs, Emma was in silent hysterics. Our bikes were parked and we started for the viewpoint climb. Steps turned into rocks turned into dirt climbs, it was quite the sweaty hike. Just before we came to the top Emma, Joël and I turned and realised we’d lost Lena. In unison we called out her name but no response, where the fuck was she? We couldn’t make out movement between the trees so we continued to call her, nothing. Eventually, as we waited at a rest stop, Lena emerged from below looking like she was going to die. Near-death experiences are always worth it in South East Asia, the view at the top was absolutely incredible. With our birds-eye view we could see the narrow dirt roads snake around the smaller hills and mountains with rice fields accompanying them all around. At the top there is a motorbike with a Laotian flag that you can take advantage of for amazing photos but when we got up there 2 Asian girls were hogging it to take Tik Tok videos. We stood for a couple minutes before giving up and plonking ourselves down and stared at them intently hoping they would move. They didn’t. Eventually I waltzed down there and sat close to them to drop them a hint but instead they ceased the opportunity to take selfies with me. Classic.
Tubing, an activity where you sit in a rubber ring and float down the river with a bev in hand, is why most people go to Vang Vieng. We were staying at a party hostel called Nana’s that ran tubing everyday at midday. Emma, Lena, Lieke (the 6th gorgeous spirit, also from Holland) and I signed up together for a day of floating and possible drinking.
(I spent my last week in Laos with Lieke down in Don Det (4000 island), we did nothing but eat, relax and get some work down. We had met two other people from Nana’s down there and spent the day with them but things got awkward. I could tell that they weren’t engaging her into the conversation and it was horrible to watch. Later that evening I told her I noticed and apologised as we hugged it out. She’s an angel.)
The tuk tuk pulled up outside of Nana’s and a hoard of half naked, bare-footed travellers began filing into it. Being bare foot was no abnormality for Emma, she walks around EVERYWHERE with nothing on and yet she has had no injuries. We stood up, raring to go, and made our way to the vehicle buzzing for a lazy afternoon. I hardly made it 3 metres from the hostel before tripping up over loose pavement and carving a chunk out of my big toe. I was so pumped on adrenaline that I continued to the tuk tuk without fully checking the damaged I’d done, that was until someone sat inside made a horrific noise. I looked down and there was a huge bit of skin just hanging out like Nearly Headless Nick’s head. I (kind of) ran back inside to find myself a plaster to cover the damage and on my exit from the hostel the tuk tuk driver stopped me, shook his head and told me that I shouldn’t go. I very sternly told him that I WAS going and that I WILL be careful. My personal paramedic, Emma, wrapped up my toe whilst concerned tubers were telling me I could wrap my foot in a plastic bag so it didn’t get wet.
The river took its sweet ass time to carry in downstream but the first stop was a short and sweet float. Music was blaring from the speakers aboard the bar barge and those who set off before the four of us were already making the platform bounce with their rhythmic jumping. The biggest challenge for all the tubers is getting to the bars – luckily men with a long and a bottle attached to the end are on constant standby for the drifters. He launched it across the river, makes everyone grab on and pulls them to shore. The first time the rope was thrown in my direction I completely missed it and began bobbing away, my eyes widened in fear and the guy quickly began reeling in the rope to try again. Success. It was hard to keep my balance with a dodgy toe and a bar that wouldn’t stop swaying but I limped over to Effy, the tour leader, and salvaged a plastic bag to protect my foot. The four of us had agreed we weren’t going to get ridiculously drunk (we were still suffering from the night before) so it was 1 bev at each stop to keep us tame. Kai, a ginger British lad, was on the aux which meant that the playlist for the entire day was straight outta or inspired by England’s music scene. There was a bit of Dizzie Rascal here, a hint of The Manor there… and then, just as people began gathering their tubes to get back in the water, Kai dropped Tour by Macky G. I turned right the fuck back around made my way to the dance floor with a determined face’’’.
Sweat dripped down my brow and my chest was heaving after I fully sent it on the dance floor to Macky G. I saw saw Macky G last year in Austria when I was visiting Dominik and Thomas and it was one of the best nights of my life, any time I hear Tour I just lose it in nostalgia. I have to find a way to rave with those two again because they’re two of the soundest people I’ve ever met. I sank my ass right into the centre of the floating donut, linked onto Lieke, Emma, Lena and Aaron (a really lovely Australian dude) and began the next leg of our three part journey down the river. We floated and floated and floated yet the second bar was not in sight. After 30 minutes people began to get agitated. Every minute wasted sailing down the river was a minute wasted drinking beer and dancing. Aaron took one for the team and slid into his donut and began pulling the 5 of us down the river by frantically kicking his legs. It didn’t last long. However, a loud chug of an engine and a man on a boat came to save us from our slow beer-less torture by telling us to hold the fuck on and dragged us to the next bar. When we arrived it wasn’t long before I was approached by so many people to ask what had happened, one woman even said “hey, you’re crazy foot lady!” I was secretly very chuffed with that description. I had a cider in hand and within seconds Kai dropped another Macky G banger. I slammed my cider on the table, clocked eyes with a girl name Helena (who was also on my level for DnB) and got low as the song kicked in. Aftershock by MG ended and I noticed that Kai had been watching me and giggling to himself so I called him out. “No no nothing, it’s just funny to look out and see all of these other girls sat down trying to look all fancy in their bikinis then there is you, having the best fucking time with a plastic bag on your foot. I love it”
The remainder of the day continued much the same – bevs, ciggies and hardcore skanking.
I learn a couple of very valuable lessons the following night.
Lesson No.1: be up front. I’d slept with a guy a few days before and even though we were getting on well afterwards I could feel something in the air. He’d kissed me sober and in public once or twice but there was something niggling in my stomach. As sad as it sounds, I’ve become an expert knowing when a guy isn’t interested anymore. Guys don’t tend to tell you that they’re not into you anymore they just slowly retreat into the bush and don’t come back. Or they make up some bullshit story. The past 5 guys I was seeing fizzled out on me and it really knocked my confidence, especially when you see them reappear on the dating app you met them on.
So, this guy. I approach him at the bar and I’m like “I get this vibe from you that you’re still gutted about not getting with the other girl.” His face twitches and that was the give. He absolutely wished it was her and not me that he’d slept with. “Yeah, you’re right… is there anyone else here you wanna fuck? Go for it”, weird flex that he’d then go on to encourage me to get with someone else but OK.
Lesson No.2: it will not be “the best sex of your life”. He might puff his chest out, grin at you through charming bright blue eyes and tell you he promises to make you orgasm but it’s a trick. Instead, he’ll ask you what you want, ignore it, go down on you for 2 minutes, use his dick as though he’s whisking an egg and refuse to slow down even though you asked him 5 times. Then, get this, when you’ve finished he’ll say “whoops i broke my promise”, stand up and then vomit out a 3 storey window.
Lesson No.3: some guys might seem careless but they actually have huge hearts. After the 20 minute shit show in the dorm room above the pub I sauntered back down to the bar where everyone was still drinking. Yeah, that proves how terrible it was… I left at 11:30pm came back down at 12am. I scanned the crowd for the group and saw that Emma and Lena were chatting with Pat and Tom and Lieke was chatting to a guy at the tables. I looked out onto the street and saw Joël sitting alone on the curb and he looked a little glum. I parked my bum next to his and asked him is he was okay. He wasn’t. The first thing he says was “I don’t want to speak English right now” which was totally fine, we just sat there for a moment and I put my head on his shoulder. I don’t know what erupted inside of him in those 2 minutes of silence but his heart opened up and we began talking about the romances we’d both had during our travels. His heart is a larger heavier stone that has sunk a lot deeper into the abyss of feelings than mine. I was engrossed by every word that came out of his mouth. Each awe-stricken description and nostalgic filled memory painted this beautiful image of a girl in front of my eyes. My eyes began welling up with tears, I was completely overwhelmed with 1. How he was talking about this woman and 2. how he’d gone from love/hate bullying banter Joël to this emotional heartfelt human. He calls this woman everyday and he really misses her, they’re very much into each other on the same level, it’s lovely. He asked me about Max but, unlike his situation, we don’t talk any more. It hurts a little because we used to have really intellectually stimulating and funny conversations, but it’s okay these things happen. As tears streamed down my cheeks I put my head back on his shoulder.
“I really want a cuddle.” Joël murmured.
“Same.” I replied.
“I think we both need a cuddle right? We can go back and cuddle.”
And that’s what we did. We wandered back to the hostel, I grabbed my blanket and we both wrapped up like burritos, fully clothed and fell asleep. Both aching for someone else to be in our arms.
P.S (I stood in someone’s vomit before I got into Joël’s room. Always wear shoes after dark, kids.)