The grass is greener…
The next day, we set out earlier to try to hit up the Plain of Jars sites two and three. After only a few wrong turns we made it to site 2, parked our bike (there was only one other bike there, presumably that of the desk guard) and approached the extremely bored looking desk attendant. He didn’t speak any english but no matter, it was pretty obvious what we were there for.
We wandered over to the area with the jars and it was absolutely more magical than the first site. The site was filled with trees whose leaves the light filtered through, changing from minute to minute, and as we wandered around, each new turn surprised us with a new arrangement of these ancient monuments.
Eventually we had wandered for about ten minutes (down a clearly marked with MAG bricks) path without seeing any more jars or an end to the path. Jason remembered reading about a an easy trail, suitable for families, that linked sites 2 and 3 so we presumed we were on this and decided to see where it led.
The trail winded along the ridge line of hills and through copses of trees. The scenery was SO SO lovely. Whenever we had told people we were going to Laos, we always heard “OH! It’s so beautiful!” and sort of dismissed it as the same as any countryside that could be considered beautiful. But the hills of northern Laos had some extra enchantment and I think it was related to the green color that imbued the land.
After both individually thinking it, I tentatively said I thought perhaps the green of the plants in Laos was different than other places we’ve seen and he quickly agreed that he too thought it was somehow greener green here. It’s unanimous*, the grass is greener in Laos.
(this picture has NO color editing. Besides a crop, it is straight out of the camera)
So after at least two hours of walking we had not found the next jar site and the MAG brick pathway was still going. Whoever thought this was a “short” hike that was “great” for “kids” has perhaps Laoatian definitions of “short” (similar to it’s opinion of green) and super human children.
(Also, magenta dirt. True story)
Nevertheless, we continued on, figuring we MUST be close to the missing third site. And then we reached a fence. There was no discernible trail continuing on the other side of the fence and more importantly, no MAG bricks in sight. We watched those videos. No thank you, blowing up. We wandered up and down the fence line, on a well tread path, nodded to two farmers, watched them dwindle in to the distance, kicking ourselves for not trying to ask them where the third site was or if we were close. We wandered some more. We crossed the fence and wandered through some poor farmer’s rice field filled with his cows (sticking very carefully to places where there were footprints…). We backtracked, looking for the slight white glint in the grass that would tip us off to the next brick.
(our favorite field of cows)
We were pretty desperate. We had come all this way and had basically decided we would try to get a ride back to site two (where we had left our motorbike) once we found the third one (IF we found the third one) because we were tired, rain was imminent, and it would be dark by the time we got back. Oh, and if we wandered around too much we might explode. But we lost the trail!
AAGGGHHHHHHHHHH almost sufficiently describes the frustration and worry we felt.
Jason had noticed this strange formation of stumps on the fence line, which he pointed out and I cleverly ignored. After exploring every other possibility, Jason came back to this weird arrangement and climbed over it to find…THE NEXT BRICK. OH, JOY! Such RELIEF we felt finding the trail again and being able to continue. The bamboo stumps were meant to be STEPS, and for those of you who want puzzle video game experiences IRL, this is about as close as it gets. Video games aren’t as fun, though, when you and not your onscreen doppleganger legitimately might explode.
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So on we went, through another farmer’s field, and eventually we reached a village. There were some huts and a school building and some turkeys. We saw an old couple cleaning their porch (for a very loose definition of porch) or something and tried to politely interrupt them and ask where we might go. They apparently understood something because they pointed in some direction that led us eventually back to the bricks and ooooooon we went some more.
Finally we see the entrance to the third site! Again, elation!! And even better, the site entrance is flanked by a hut serving food! OH, YES. We sat our exhausted and relieved fannies down and ordered up two of the house special (chicken pho, surprise) and some waters. If we were in a video game, this is when our health bar would refill. While the group of ladies watched Lao soap operas on the tiny television, we slurped our noodles and tried to figure out a way to get out of walking all the way back. No English was spoken by the attendants and our “hello” and “thank you” in Lao wouldn’t quite cut it.
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A van pulled up and out poured several men. This was our chance, we thought. We were waiting for an opportunity to approach the group and then the van pulled away. Urk.
The men left (somewhere?) and so eventually we had to approach the ladies. I mimed the best I could that we would want to have a ride back to site two and she did a REALLY GOOD mime of not having any idea what I was talking about. But she kindly kept trying to understand and eventually (perhaps shortly after money was brought up) we seemed to come to an arrangement that she would call her husband who would bring a motorbike and we could ride with them back for USD 10 each (also, can we just take a moment and appreciate how much can be communicated through mime? AMAZING!). USD 10 is a big deal in Laos but we were so grateful that (we thought) she understood and so tired and not wanting to be stuck hiking in the dark, and also USD 10 is not that big of a deal to us, that we agreed. While her husband was on the way we hiked the short distance up to site three which was perched on top of a hill. The views were lovely once again and the jars were more densely configured than the other sites. It was like a little forest of mysterious stone pots.
So we returned to the food hut just as the husband pulls up. Joy. A bit of confusion when I thought we were all three riding on his bike but after laughs for all, Jason and I got on the husband’s and wife’s bike respectively. We puttered through all sorts of pitted, muddy, dirt and gravel roads for about 30 minutes and began to grasp why it wasn’t so unreasonable to charge us $10. We also began to grasp how terrible the suspension and engine was on our rented bike (the speedometer on ours that didn’t go above 40 should have been a clue…).
Finally, finally, we pulled back into the parking area of site two. The attendant absolutely lit up when he saw us coming in. It was wonderful for us to have someone so happy to see us return! We don’t get that often on our travels. He explained to us (again in mime) that he was waiting and waiting for us to come back. He wondered what happened to us since no one ever takes that long to see the jar site. Did we get lost? Wander into a hole? He was bewildered and worried (Easy to mime :) ). The lovely husband and wife who brought us back explained their side of the story (presumably) to the guard and many laughs were had by all. The silly tourists, the kind-hearted bike owners and the worried guard. The story was repeated several times between the guard and the bikers and hysterical laughing surrounded us so what could we do but laugh along.
It was pretty funny. We’re pretty sure the three of them invited us to have drinks with them at the site two food hut but we were so tired and intimidated by the language barrier (and also our bike was due back) that we quickly declined and headed off back to town. I rather regret not taking them up on their offer, now; it seems like it could have been an even better ending to the story. But such is the way of things and we had a plenty good story already.
Epilogue: We made it back to town as it was becoming dusk and just before the deadline for our bike rental was due. The owner welcomed us back and gave us back our passport and sent us on our way without ever inspecting the bike for damage. Hah. That explains why it was such an ill maintained bike. :)
*with an n of 2
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