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Beyond Our Conestoga

Some Observations.

LAOS | Sunday, 14 March 2010 | Views [648] | Comments [3]

If you can't tell already, I am playing some catch up on the blog. GOt the time and got the connection. I can't help but wonder. Who are you out there I see reading the blog as I post?

CHildren in Laos from our observations were so happy. People here weren't rolling in the dough by any stretch of the imagination, but they all seemed content. Not so much here in Cambodia. In Laos, Money seemed to flow as it needed to/from family to family, business to business. Capitalizing on the tourists wasn't too rampant for the most part. There were a few pockets of course. Everyone seemed so kind as well. They always, I mean always said hello to you, even as they spotted you on a bus as we drove through a village. The children and sometimes adults yelling hello in the local language, maybe even in English. The adults though most of the time, if the bus came to a stop to pick up/drop off someone or something, or just to make a pit stop or maybe the driver got thirsty would do their best best to try and sell you something. You almost didn't have to bring snacks or drinks on a long ride, because you always had window service at the stops. Your options maybe not too broad, but food and water none the less. Mango, Papaya, sticky rice, grilled chicken on skewer, quail eggs, hard boiled eggs, baguettes (in the rare towns that had them-thank you France, water, pepsi, chips, banana fritters, who knows what else. These experiences only came on local buses though. The VIP buses and tour mini-buses, although they might be a/c and get you to where you're going, you'll pay maybe double the price and not get the experiences we were.

And the trash, man oh man the trash. Everywhere. Garbage cans? What are those? These local buses were soo trashed after a long days ride. Egg shells, fruit skins, plastic bags, puke, bottles, rice, bones on the seats and on the floor, nEvermind what they bothered to take off the bus--out the window. Streets littered so much. In the drains, in the yards. There isn't education here at all about waste and the effects there of. Coming from places especially like Portland and Singapore for that matter, here is such a dramatic change! How wonder how involved a non-profit project in cahouts with the Laos government through a Waste Management Education Program would be?

Even on our trek early on in our visit to Laos, our guide opened our eyes. We were in a small hut crowded around the fire that he was cooking diner over when he threw in the empty plastic bag into the trash. We both jumped as the black fumes starting coming up. Our guide seemed confused. We tried our best to explain how bad this was and I said I would pack out the trash, I don't want it burned here. He said it didn't matter. I didn't understand. I questioned him. He said what's the difference. You pack it out and put in the 'trash' in the city, it will still get burned. All the trash gets burned, not matter what it is. Ok, I can't change a whole countries way of waste management through not burning this one plastic bag in front of my face, but I don't want it burned here, now, while we breathe it in. He still didn't really understand I think, but he packed it out. Well, actually I assume he did. I didn't see what was in the fire for the hour in the morning he cooked breakfast while I slept, in the same room.

Our trek, I never have given any details about it. This was a three day, two night trek in the Nam Ha National Park outside Vieng Phouka, Laos. Our guide was 'Pang.' He spoke good English. Enough to communicate, but enough to learn as well. We traded language help for our three days together. It was Pang, Eric and I only. Very nice. The trekking was nice in terms of scenery, but the trip was more interesting in terms of what we learned from him as well as where we slept. Each day we arrived early-mid afternoon into local tribe villages in the mountains. The first was quit large actually. We walked and watched and played and washed up with the villagers. We slept in the çheifs home. The chief had a small Petzl headlamp. A gift from a westerner. Bamboo hut with a raised bamboo platform to sleep on. Dinner was cooked and eaten in the hut as well. Our guide did the cooking, with some help from the chief's wife. I know Eric got a kick out of watching the whole process. We ate together with the chief, with our hands in proper Laos style. When we were done, then the wife and children ate our leftovers. Had I known this was the circumstance, I would of left more behind. The wife and children also cleaned up everything afterwards. We weren't allowed to help. I know the guide service we went through was very reputable and paid the village for allowing our visit. I guess there is a service to this payment. Pang also treated the chief very well.

In the beginning, Pang paid a villager in the town we started out trek to carry out food up until lunch. He ate lunch with us and took the leftovers back home. Pang then packed in the food for the first night and the first morning. Lunch he cooked in the mornings and packed in banana leaves picked from the forest. Our second diner was the more interesting. Pang told us the second night would be in a much smaller village, about 12-15 people. He only brought enough food for the first night and would buy food from the villagers for our second night. When we arrived, the village was empty. Just like a ghost town short of the farm animals roaming all over. The homes were boarded up. He started un boarding them. I questioned him. Is that ok? It felt like an invasion. He assured me that it is ok. THey have a prearrangement with the villagers and pay a fee to 'trek' people in. He only opens up the 'guest' hut he tells us. Upon looking inside, it was obviously for guests. nothing but a fire pit and bed platform, some wood, two mosq. nets, and a few pads and blankets. No one lives here daily.

He continues to tell us that this is the beginning of rice season and the villagers must be out planting their fields, about a 3 hour hike from there. He says they will stay there for a few weeks before returning. We dont ask and he doesn't say, but Eric and I can't help but wonder...what about food? We arrived rather early in the afternoon to this village. I was looking forward to an afternoon with the villagers, but actually had a very very pleasant time in this remote mountain village just day dreaming and napping and writing and walking and bathing in the small stream at the bottom of the hill. Dreaming of what life here must really be like. In a way, it was more 'true to life' to be here while the villagers were making their livelihood. Late afternoon, Pang opened the chiefs hut and collected some cookware (just a pot really, some bowls and a water pot and cook spoon) and some rice. He collected some wild cilantro, more banana leaves and few others spices from the forest and says ok, are you hungry yet? 'Time to catch a chicken.'

What? You're going to catch a chicken? "Yep. I will pay the villagers next time i come, it's ok." And off he goes. He first feeds all the chickens in the village to get them all to come. He searches a small one out, no need to kill more than what will feed the three of us. Before I know it, the chicken's head is snapped and he has it hung. He says he doesn't like slitting the throat. Eric follows him off as he then plucks it and guts it. We learn then that Chickens eat chickens. Not too picky of an animal. Our diner was quit good...and filling. Wild cilantro--awesome!

After Diner, as the sun goes down, three villagers, all woman, wonder into the village. Apparently someone we crossed on the trail earlier told them we would be there and they have returned to make sure everything goes smooth. They keep their distance. Much different than the other night. They don't eat our leftovers, but the elder woman does clean up after us. She did come over and stand in the doorway and we just eyed each other for a while. She just as interested in what i looked like and what I was wearing as I was of her I think. She brings a stool for me to sit on, as opposed to the crouching on the ground  I have been doing. That is about the only interaction we had. The villagers speak a different language than even what Pang speaks, not Laos. The chiefs in the towns seem to be the only ones that speak Laos, with whom the agreements are made. She must be the wife. Her clothes dirty, like all others, but she has a nice jacket on and a gorgeous very large silver pendant necklace. I wonder if this jacket came as a gift like the headlamp.

We learn on our trek that the town of Vieng phouka, where our guide lives will get power come middle of the summer probably. This means no more power outages at 9 oçlock at night. On an earlier post I mentioned that they are on generator. There was especially no power in the villages mind you. ACtually, a few huts, especially the chiefs, did have solar panels. Amazing. Gifts from the government I think. A way to keep them off the grid.

As we leave by road after our trekking complete from Vieng Phouka several miles down, we seem them working on the power lines toward the town. Pang says his first purchase...a washing machine!



What a nice surprise to find all these posts! Thanks for taking the time to write in such detail.

  Nancye Mar 15, 2010 1:57 PM


Also enjoyed the detail of your "adventures" Keep them comming. Throw in a few pictures, if you can.

  Jim F Mar 18, 2010 8:06 AM


You have more nerve than I. But love reading abut your adventures! Be safe.

  Ann Honaker Mar 19, 2010 6:57 AM

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