As Pi Mai wound down, we passed our squirt guns on to the kids down the street, bid goodbye to Luang Prabang and launched ourselves into seeing more of Laos.
We were always coming to Laos. We missed it last time around and lost count of the times we were asked in backpacker conversations, “Are you going to Laos?” always accompanied with a hand and over the heart and a swoon. What’s more, we consciously decided to come here at the hottest time of the year in order to see Pi Mai, or Lao New Year, whose festivities include the building of sand stupas, parades of monks and beauty queens and a procession where the golden Phra Bang himself, the famous Buddha for which this town is named, gets squired around town on a special fancy carrier. There is a lot of ritual washing at this time of year, a spring cleaning so to speak of houses and temples and Buddhas (including the Phra Bang through a big funnel) and because no one objects to getting wet at the hottest time of the year, the rituals have expanded over the years to include a lot of general water throwing and mayhem.
My brother and I love to read. We can’t imagine a world without books! We were amazed to learn when we were researching Laos as a place to stop, that some kids in Laos have very little access to books. Some have never seen a book before! Big Brother Mouse is an organization here that works to publish books in the Lao language (translations and original stories, both) and then bring them to kids in rural villages all over Laos via one of their Book Parties. We decided as a family that we wanted to sponsor one of these book parties, and since we were planning to be here we got to attend the party we sponsored to see all the kids get new books!
It was with mixed feelings and Willy Nelson singing in our heads that we crammed our belongings back into our backpacks last week and got ready to hit the road again. The kids, more firmly dug into school and new friends, tilted towards sadness and reluctance, but we adults, living a weird idyllic-but-strangely-disconnected half-life, were itchier to get on with it. Get on with it we did, and plunged into some hard travel, flying four hours to Sydney and then another ten to steamy Bangkok (before we even pulled up to the gate I heard a woman say to her friend, “I can feel my hair frizzing.”) The kids were satisfyingly grateful I booked a hotel with a pool.
In Mount Maunganui, I go to Mount Maunganui Primary School (MMPS). I’m here for the first term of their school year. Because the seasons are reversed here, it was late summer in February when we started, while it was mid-winter at home. I am in year four, what my friends back home would call “third grade.” Read more
In my early hiking days in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with my high school boyfriend’s family, I thought you had to climb up something for the hike to be worthwhile. But I’ve come a long way since then, and when Vance came back from walking around Mt Ruapehu and reported it as interesting, rugged and blessedly quiet after the madness of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, I was intrigued. Though I had my chance going solo a few weeks ago on the Lake Waikaremoana Track, I was jonesing for something a little more challenging and thought the 5 night, 66km route might fit the bill. There may have been a touch of “anything you can do I can do better,” but also I was restless. With the weather less settled the kids have been particularly hard to budge on the weekends, and knowing that the time of less comfortable travel is coming we’ve let them indulge in graphic novel reading on the couch. I, however, wasn’t quite ready to move on without one more hike to get New Zealand well and truly out of my system…for now. Read more
There hasn’t been a lot to report around here lately, absorbed as we’ve been by our low key routine; school lunches, kids to school, a little housework but not much for this teacup sized place, a few groceries, a walk on the beach. Our only after school activity is Della’s Tuesday afternoon surf class and if all after school activities included an hour where you could sit on a gorgeous beach for an hour reading, looking up every once in a while to watch your daughter catch waves, I wouldn’t be so crabby about driving to them. I’ve been cooking a lot, but keeping it simple because ingredient mix ups continue to plague me- I cannot find unsweetened chocolate to make the chocolate buttercream of my cravings, or white marshmallows for a batch of rice crispy treats (the bags always, insistently, contain white and pink both) Thai basil for my favorite stir fry and even a request for a chuck steak for this simple recipe left the butcher scratching his head (I need a translator app for cuts of meat apparently.) I have been taking advantage of our quiet after school window to get the kids more involved in the kitchen, chopping cucumbers, mixing up apple crisp topping, stirring the sauce for homemade macaroni and cheese, our most important ancestral recipe. The kids for their part are happy with the slow pace; an after dinner bike ride around the neighborhood or frisbee on the beach is plenty far afield for my homebodies.
In the week after we moved to our second house in Mt Maunganui I got so very comfortable in my new routine- packing lunches, maybe running an errand or two, maybe taking a walk up the Mount or on the beach, definitely having a gin and tonic (made with the artisanal tonic syrup we picked up at the Hawkes Bay farmer’s market) while making dinner and listening to NPR online- that I was a wee bit grumbly when it was time to pack my backpack and head out on the 4 day/3 night Lake Waikaremoana Track all by myself.
There are so many flavors and ways to organize a big chunk of time abroad, we were dizzy with the possibilities when we started planning. It was fascinating to read how other people had done it (in books) or were doing it in real time (via blogs) so we followed the progress of several families rattling around the world and shamelessly gleaned ideas and tips. A contact through my daughter’s summer camp led us to the Demers, in the midst of ten months of travel with their three daughters and, maybe because of their similar ages, reading their entries made our own upcoming travels feel much more real for Della. She watched for their updates eagerly. We were astonished when we saw they were stopping for a school term in, of all places, Mt Maunganui, New Zealand.