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Beyond Our Conestoga

The continued trek of Coffee.

LAOS | Sunday, 14 March 2010 | Views [639]

Eric and I fell in love with the coffee in Malaysia. Cheap and good. Started becoming somewhat addictive. Good morning drink and good afternoon pick me up after some hot walking and touring in the sun. In Thailand, the coffee wained as it wasn't that good, as unique, nor as cheap as they capitalized on the many droves of European Tourists. They complained about how bad the coffee was, but still kept ordering it. I don't get it. I guess they also kept searching for 'good coffee'places (meaning, European style little coffee shops), not the local drink stalls.

In Laos, coffee kind of went to the wayside. Not as much of it. More hot ovaltine, pawned off as coffee. Quit hilarious. On our trekking adventure, every morning we got two drinks, served in bamboo stalks 1) mint tea, yum ; 2) hot 'çoffee' ovaltine. The exception came in central/southern Laos. We went up onto the Bolavan Plateau to the town of Paksong. Here, coffee bean farms. Large co-ops of farms. Funny though that we couldn't find much of the local coffee served. The coffee that was served was bitter and steapped way way too long (probably all day). We finally went to a co-op where all they served was their 3 types of coffee: Arabica, Robusta Natural, Robusta Washed. ALl grown their. Very good. And served Euro style meaning no sweetened condensed milk. Where it was roasted, I don't know. I think that finding that answer would be an insight as to why we couldn't find the coffee locally much.

Here we learn that Bolaven coffee is one of the most expensive coffees in the world and can only be bought in the US. Coffee lovers out there--is there validity to that? I don't know. No wonder we couldn't find it. They got way more money exporting it, so why sell it to the very few tourists that come? We were among maybe 5 other white tourists we saw the 2 days we were in the area.

Amazing to think that this expensive coffee was processed so simply. How much of us really think about our 'éxpensive' imported brands of things and what processes they trully go through. These were small farms. Huts the families lived in. Well, there were a few larger euro style mansions I guess you would call them here (french style). Who lived here I don't know. They were in the town, not on the farms. Must of been the exporteres themselves. The money backers, the brains of the business. Although I do know that American and French organizations helped the farmers to join in a co-op to help each other make better profits.

But the beans appeared to be picked by hand into rice bags. Dried out on the yards, along the streets on tarps. We watched in a family's back yard as the mother, father and son worked with the beans. All they did was take the dried beans, pour into an old 'dehusker' run by gasoline the father continually fed, and back into rice bags. The mother every once and a while strolling over to taste the beans. All this done barefoot, walking all over the beans, gasoline dripping of the side of the rusty machine, dirty hands. Not that this concerns me really, just interesting perspective of an 'éxpensive' product.

We tried the raw bean. Not roasted at this point, so good experience to try the product in the raw. CAn't say I loved it, but it didn't offend me. I mostly chewed it and spit it out. I guess it is the purest form of caffeine though. No way some of it could of been cooked out.

It was here that we also tried renting bicycles. The owner just laughed at us. He didn't understand why in the world we would want to bicycle if we could just rent a motorbike. We believed it was the same phenomena of when people first get cars, they want to drive everywhere. They use the motobikes everywhere here. 2 blocks, why walk? Our plans for the day included about a 28km roundtrip route to see the sites we wanted to. Perfect for a nice ride, especially since we are in the higher elevation. Although the sun is out and hot and burning of the skin, cooler than other lowland places we have been and will be.

He rolled out one bike that was missing a pedal and not exactly straight tires. He searched for a second but than said his son had taken it to school so he only had one bike, so he would give us a deal on a motobike. No, we opted to walk for the day. He shook his head in udder confusion as we walked on our way.

We priced out our options. Tuks, tuks and walking and motobike. When you account for the price of petro in addition to the rental, not even sure he had helmets available, and the limited area we needed to cover, we decided we would walk part way and catch a tuk for the rest. Ended up being a great day as we walked the part no tuks went. Paid for a tuk ride down to some waterfalls and were able to hitch a ride back up. Our hitch was quit amusing. We flagged the pickup. He agreeed no problem. The locals paid for tuks, so this makes us think the only reason we were able to hitch was because we were tourists. The local was happy to help as we were going where he was. We crawled in the bed only to discover the two things he was hauling. Rolls of barbed wire and a matress. I chose the matress.

So our transportation on this trip so far (in response to a much earlier question on the comments from the blogsite) include: planes, trains, automobiles (taxi), subway, light rail, elephants, oxen, bicycles, motorbikes (rented and moto-taxis), bus, bus, and buses, mini-bus, small bus, local bus, vip bus, tuk-tuks (too many to count), jumbos, hitching, pickup 'buses,' slowboats, longboats, ferries, rafts, what am I forgetting?

We have heard stories and witnessed too much about motobike accidents in Laos. The hospitals are wretched here. The first thing you do when renting a bike, is find out the quickest way, just in case, to get to Thailand and to Bangkok specifically for a good hospital. One tourist told us of his most recent accident the day before and trip to the hospital. When he talks about stray dogs and blood and shaved hair from "surgeries" everywhere, not a pretty site. He wouldn't let them inject him with anything as much as they tried. Luckily he was conscious to tell them so, although he said some painkillers would of been nice. They met him at the door (because someone phones ahead) with a stretcher and IV's and such. He was x-rayed and He thinks he broke his foot but as he was returning home in 3 days, he had it bandaged and would see a doctor at home.

We have seen a few locals with IV's outside of the hospitals. Just out and about. One was a child being held by the mother just standing on the side of the road. The other was in a truck. Someone was standing in the bed in the back holding the IV that wound it's way through the door window to the front seat. Why are they not still in the hospital? oh, the hospitals we have seen? Well, they are just about the size of a house in the US.

We have rented bicycles though on a few occasions. Quit hilarious actually. Third time we did (first time in Cambodia), we managed to do alright. The bikes actually rode straight, didn't drag on the brakes, they did stop when the brakes were squeezed, the handles stayed on, the bikes were about the right size-Although i don't think Eric will ever find the right size here- and probably most importantly, we didn't get all scrapped up in the hands and no flat tires. The bikes available here are road cruisers. But that is not to say that the roads and paths don't call for a dirt bike really.

So back from a long diversion from coffee. In cambodia, the coffee has improved, but to be honest, not sure where it is coming from. You choose, sweetened condensed milk or milk. Dairy has lacked severally on this trip and we are finally entering a realm of it. Unless you specify the type of milk though, you will get condensed. Our only calcium seems to have been from the bits of ice cream treats that we have. We started getting soymilks and yogurts when we could to help feed the calcium cravings. Now though, rather than coffee, since it seems too average here, we are drinking as much fresh squeezed fruit juices that we can. Orange, watermelon, mango, banana, lime, lemon, sour sop, papaya, pineapple....

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