In April of 2013, Erika and I were fortunate to visit Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. It has and will continue to take months to seek through my favorite images from that time. I really do love the stories that go with the images and am going to take time to really tell each one as it goes. Getting to travel each of these beautiful countries was such a blessing that we will never forget. The business of wedding season has made it difficult to find time to prepare these memories to share, so thanks for your patience. There will be much more on Cambodia and Thailand soon (hopefully). For now, we’ve each taken time to write out a few memories that we really wanted to share.
ERIKA: Joe and I have both done our fair share of international adventuring, but mostly centered in Latin America, where we could communicate easily, and knew what to expect (more or less) regarding customs, trade and travel. While I spent a summer in Indonesia when I was in highschool, I knew both of us were in for plenty of surprises and had a lot to learn. We were both so excited to experience these cultures, to travel with each other and to see the place where some of our good friends have called home for the last two years.
JOE: During our first day, Erika and I had the opportunity to learn the layout of the city. We were blessed by Megan and Tad’s bikes and used them to our advantage. In these days, we saw some of the temples, the old national palace, the famed french bakery and just got to know the town.
JOE: With one day of rest behind us, we were whisked off with Pencils of Promise staff members to northern villages. Here, the community engagement team was do their community day activities. Because the families work in the rice fields most of the day, the events are held at night. They are to build relationships between the community around the topics of hygiene, nutrition and other tenets of the PoP program. It was really fun getting to know the team on our trip up to the villages (well, except for my motion sickness).
ERIKA: I loved watching Joe interact with the kids and parents in the village. The old adage “Pictures express a thousand words” rings so true. Joe was able to engage with everyone, running and swooping around with his glidecam, then showing the video clips to the cluster of kids who gathered to see what this crazy man was doing. Their shyness was completely abandoned and they started clamoring to be in the shot, giggling, pushing for more. Joe did not need to know the language to make friends, and it was so fun to watch.
JOE: Having a van full of strangers is always odd to show up on your door, but when you throw in a few white people, things are even odder. It took us a few minutes, some fun with a glidecam and some songs before we could break the ice. The best I could do was run around with my glidecam, making videos of the kids and showing them the footage. They never really got used to a 20mm lens being put in their faces, but everyone was excited to see their own smiles on the LCD screen. Then, the PoP staff finished their planning sessions and showed why they are so good at what they do. Each staffer had an incredible knack for connecting and making people really love learning together.
JOE: After returning from the villages, we rode motorcycles out to the Kuang Si waterfalls. On this ride, Erika drove us. I’m going to brag here for a second and point out that she hadn’t driven a motorcycle on the road since her accident 4 years earlier, but chose to get back on the bike on a dirt bike, in a developing nation, with a gangly guy on the back, ON THE DAY THAT THEY THROW WATER ON PEOPLE AS THEY DRIVE BY. Isn’t she awesome?
JOE: The photos of this waterfall were so beautiful, they’ll get their own post. Stay tuned.
JOE: The reason we came to Laos when we did was to celebrate Pi Mai. This is the buddhist new year that celebrates, among other things, the coming of the rainy season. In that, the buddhist adherents wash the buddha statues. This then moved to washing the buddhist monks and has completely devolved into washing absolutely everyone with water or even food dye. It’s your 9 year old birthday party on steroids.
The peak of this party in my mind was when we piled into a friend of Megan and Tad’s truck to ride around and throw water on people. In this, I found myself standing in the middle of a garbage can full of red-dyed water, surrounded by 15 other people and throwing buckets of water onto unsuspecting passer-bys. This moment goes into my bank of most awesome travel moments and is just another reason why it’s so great to get out and see our world.
JOE: At the heart of Pi Mai was the parade. Thousands of people descended on the center of town to march, through water, and celebrate the new year, shouting Sabadi Pi Mai or “Hello New Year.” I really loved seeing old ladies participate in this. I’m really a sucker for wrinkles, but whether they were participating in the fun or washing monks because it was a deep part of their religious beliefs, it brought joy to my soul.
ERIKA: One of my life bucket list items was to ride on an elephant in nature. Megan and Tad took us to a beautiful elephant preserve outside of Luang Prabang and I got to fulfill my dream! It was amazing. We pat the leathery, rough skin of an elephant in the yard and listened to the rather terrifying cavernous crunching of palm branches as she ate her breakfast. After wandering around the preserve, drinking coffee and marveling at the size and beauty of the surroundings, we went on a ride. We each got to sit up on top of the head of our elephant and nudge it along with gentle pushes by our feet. Riding through the water on the back of that elephant was such a surreal experience and one I’m so glad we got to experience!
JOE: Every morning, the Buddhist monks walk the streets for their daily alms. It is very humbling to see people being taken care of by their neighbors. Obviously, there are the tourist moments (of which I am totally guilty of participating), but I loved seeing adherents take care of their own. These were students and men from all around, being cared for by their neighbors. It made me think about how we care for ours.
JOE: With that (and about a thousand other stories), we boarded a plane for Cambodia, Siam Reap and Angkor Wat.
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