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The Mekong river winds a natural border between Cambodia and Laos. In the Mekong sit tiny islands, slightly off the beaten path. One of my favorite places in all of SEA was one of these tiny islands called Don Det. There are no motorized vehicles and the generators hum the power into the few restaurants and the internet cafe after sunset. In the dark, swinging in my hammock, I light candles and listen to the roaring silence. Too dark to read, too peaceful for music, I settle in and count the quivering stars.
[simage=2807,160,c,left,] My favorite room in all my travels was on this island. It cost me about $1.60 a day, with hammocks that had been cut into three to reduce costs I suppose. I had to balance precariously, legs corkscrewed and shoulder blades jammed in. I more balanced on it than squeezed into it, but I was used to not fitting things in Asia. My fetching Amazon-ness haunted me in this land of little people.
My first night there, I tucked my mosquito netting in and invited slumber. I heard something crackling and got up to investigate what sounded like a fire. This island is full of old bungalows that are as tinder dry as a popcorn fart. I traced the sound to a pile of fresh sawdust sitting on top of my pack. Termites were making a grand feast out of the beams holding up my bungalow. I considered that if this shack were to fall, I’d be deep in the Mekong with all my electronics.
[simage=2786,160,c,right,] The next day I was welcomed by a huge spider hanging out on the wall. In all my originality, I named her Charlotte. I figured she could deal with the termites, and that this room was big enough for both of us. I negotiated with her… “Hey bella, as long as you stay up there I’m super cool with you being here. But if I come home and you’re gone and I have to tear everything apart to find you, we’re gonna have words” She agreed and we lived happily ever after…well, for a week. Every night before bed, the last thing I would do is flash my headlamp and look for her (giant) green eyes blinking at me. In the morning, the first thing my sleepy eyes landed on was her in affirmation. I came home one day to find a carcass on the floor. I had a flash of regret, thinking she’d died. Nope…what the hell…she’s still up there… Did she kill her mate? On closer inspection, I found she had shed her skin. Awesome, the Herculean roomie is growing so fast that she’s molting. The ants had her shell devoured in minutes. Isn’t Mother Nature efficient.
[simage=2799,160,c,left,]There was crazy Brit ran a bakery in town, when he wasn’t looking for someone to eat a monkey with him. (random, there’s no moneys around here) Every day at noon the line up would start as he pulled his warm goods from the oven. Lunch was thrown into the basket of my bike and I would head off for the day. Waterfalls, sketchy bridge crossings, rugged footpaths leading to nowhere. I would explore all day. Upon return to my shanty, I’d meet up with friends to watch the sunsets with a Beer Lao. A parade of neighbors came and went, most people staying on the island a day or two. Their response to my being there for a week was one of bewilderment. “Why would you stay a week? There’s nothing to do here” Exactly.
[simage=2805,160,c,left,]Don Det isn’t the kind of island that you interact closely with the locals. They build us shacks on their waterfront farmland. They sell us candles, t.p. and bike rentals. But they keep to themselves, conducting their lives around us as we were another form of livestock that pays their bills. It’s not the cultural experience that I get when I’m invited into peoples homes. But it’s also the best way to preserve their indigenous nature. It’s a beautiful, peaceful spot, suspended from reality in this gently moving water. But don’t go there…you’d hate it.