Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Day 18 and 19 - Laos: It's Another World

On Day 17, i left Luang Prabang with a French couple in their 60s, a Swiss guy living in Alaska and 2 guides from Tiger Trails to do a 3-day hike in the Laos mountains (only 1300 meters) to villages.

As we reached the 1st Khma village (27 families), sounds of nature filled the air. The birds chirped in the sky above the turkeys, who boasted their feathers next to the baby chicks, who waddled in a group behind their mother, who brushed past the sleeping dog, who ignored the massive, snorting pig, who scrounged for food next to 2 piglets. The cows grazed peacefully nearby, clanking their bell as they trodded along, until the children chased them into the field toward the river.

The children outnumbered the adults 10 to 1 and their joyful laughter spread along the hilltop as they played, GASP!, without technology! A naked boy scampered by, rolling a tire with a stick. 2 boys climbed a 15-20 meter tree to pick tamarind. Kids jumped rope with tree ivy. A group of girls, wearing worn and dusty mismatched clothes, wandered around, 1 clutching a doll, another hunched over from the weight of her baby brother grasping his arms tightly around her neck.
In the evening, everyone ate around their respective fires until both children and adults returned to the communal mat inside their straw huts to sleep at 8pm.

The morning routine started at 3:30am. I did not get a glimpse of this life until 6:45am because I stayed indoors to try and escape the foggy and brisk 5 degrees Celsius temperature. Our host family had caught 8 rats. She sliced the rat stomach to remove the intestines,

roasted the rat on a stick, brushed the charcoaled hair off, washed it, and then roasted it again.
Our guide bought us a larger rodent type animal from the family next door to roast for our lunch. I learned Rodents have very little meat and very thick skin. The thick lemongrass sauce masked all flavors and I lied to myself that I was not eating R.O.U.S (Rodents of unusual size..Princess Bride reference) as I dipped my sticky rice into the tasty sauce.

The second Hmong village was larger with 72 families. They had access to a road and some houses had solar panels for electricity in the evening.

The children were also shy, but all guards were dropped once a volleyball appeared and a makeshift soccer field was erected with goals designated by broken tennis shoes. The Swiss guy, Andy, and I joined and after an hour, we desperately hoped a dinner bell would end the game. We left the boys running around with boundless energy on the field.

Meanwhile, a few families had converged into our host's hut for communal cooking. The men took turns as they pounded their wooden axe into a crate of sticky rice.
The woman sat nearby, waiting to collect the sticky substance and roll it out into pancake sized patties inside of banana leaves.

"Its another world", the French Woman said aloud in a thick accent as we left the village.

A life back to the basics: Slow-paced movements. Ingrained routines for survival. Rough, dry hands and feet from hard labor. Care-free playing children. Strong connected communities. Innovative uses of all materials.

Yes, it's a different world here.

Despite hiking with Tiger Trails, there are tigers few and far between.  possibly as few as 30 wild tigers ;(

NEXT STOP: Chill day in Luang Prabang, ending the evening with a Lao Cooking Class

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