All we wanted to do was cool off. We had no intention of drinking for five hours.
At the parking area at the bottom of the falls we ran into a German guy speaking Lao to the guy selling admission tickets to the Nam Dee waterfall. We felt a combination of envy for his fluent conversation with the local and embarrassment for our own limited language skills. He settled in for a long chat with two traditionally dressed village women. “Well, I’m sure he doesn’t do that in every country,” I remarked, hoping to make us feel better (it later turned out that he had been working in Laos for three years.) Up the trail we were looking for the waterfall but found only a trickle leaking out of a pipe.
It is the dry season, after all. With a bit of perseverance we continued up until we heard and saw a decent little waterfall. Further up the rocks there was smoke from a simmering fire and a few folks hanging out. We got the hand wave to come up – a sort of arm out and palm down wave that could be interpreted for go away. So up we went, and upon meeting the waving guy, were presented with a little glass full of beer. Cheers! Then a refill. We sipped a bit, thanking him for the drink. “OK, finish,” he says abruptly.
He brought us up to his picnic and threw down a giant jungle leaf for a seat. His friends, a guy and two girls, were up there with a nice picnic spread of noodles, cucumber slices, sunflower seeds, and some fish that had been grilling on the fire.* And a case of Beerlao chilling in the stream. Accepting their generosity, we settled in and ate the delicious food with ad hoc chopsticks from cut bamboo. The whole time our three ounce glasses were kept full, a chunk of ice in there keeping temps under control. “Cheers,” sip, “OK, finish,” the refrain repeating itself time and time again.
The Lao way, we were told. Mack, the guy who first brought us up, is an English teacher at the local business school, and we got along just fine. He even invited us to come teach an English class on Monday.
We grilled Mack with a flurry of questions, many about his former monkhood. It turns out that many children who can’t afford school flock to the monasteries and the life of a young monk where they can get a free and full education.
As the hours and empty bottles piled up, Abbey and I were readying ourselves to head out, feeling pretty well buzzed. The two girls who didn’t speak much English motioned at the empties and then at me. I realized they weren’t joking when they handed over 100,000 kip, enough for another case. So dutifully down the waterfall I went, and back up again. Another couple hours of “OK, finish.”. Finally we crawled our way down the waterfall to our bicycles and our five mile ride home. We paused in a field for the sunset before heading home and to bed early, a bit of the Lao way now under our belts.
*To cook fish over a fire:
Dip in water and coat in salt – it protects against burning
Shove lemongrass down throat – protects against bad smell. Thank me later
Cook and eat.