Sunday, February 7, 2010

Laos Day #3 - A Restful But Another Busy Day

27 January 2010 Wednesday - I enjoyed a 12 hour sleep, Duang ended up sleeping 14 hours - no matter where you are there is nothing as soothing for sleep than than the sound of gentle rain on the roof. In Luang Namtha it is even better because the rain keeps the roosters quiet. I always thought that roosters crowed at the break of dawn - it is true, but from this trip I learned that they also crow at 1:00 A.M., 2:00 A. M., 3:00 A. M. - anytime that they choose. It is a little annoying but adds to ambiance of staying in a woven bamboo cottage over looking the Namtha River - a sort of Lao village experience but absent the requirement to bathe in the river like the real villagers.

I got up at 7:30 A. M. 7:30 A. M.? 12 hours of sleep? Yes! The sun sets early and there was no TV in the cottage. Just like when camping, you tend to follow the sun in the hours that remain awake. I had an excellent breakfast of pancakes with sweet condensed milk on them. I enjoyed a glass of fresh orange juice - freshly squeezed just before I was served it. Just like in Brasil, fresh orange juice is squeezed from several oranges and is not poured out of a wax box, out of a frozen can of concentrate, or poured out of a plastic bottle. It is 100% real juice - one of life's pleasures for sure.

I remained in the combination dining room-reception area-tour booking office and worked on my journal. So many different and interesting things have happened that it is an effort to maintain the journal but it is necessary to capture the moments accurately. Maintaining a journal is also an effective means of slowing you down as well as getting you to relax. As Duang sleeps, I use the "down time" to write and in the process my body is recovering from the previous day's efforts.

On this morning Mr. Thone, The Boat Landing's General Manager joined me at my table. He speaks excellent English and was involved in the early formation of the Boat Landing Guest House and Restaurant in Luang Namtha. He was extremely helpful in making arrangements and advising us about the area. After bouncing around and smelling exhaust gases from our "taxi" all day the previous day, I had come to the conclusion that our planned day to the market at Xieng Kok was just not feasible. I didn't know about Duang but I knew that I didn't and perhaps could not stand another 2 hours additional travel each way in the back of the small truck from Muang Sing to Xieng Kok. There was a Toyota tour van parked in the parking lot while I was speaking with Mr. Thone. It was very similar to the vehicles used to transport up to 11 tourists on guided tours in South East Asia. Mr Thone indicated that I could hire the van and driver for the day. The cost would be $130 USD for the day. I thought about the cost and hesitated. I then thought about the probability of returning to Luang Namtha in the future, the costs involved in returning and so forth. I then decided to go ahead and hire the driver and van. Duang joined us and we had a long conversation with Mr. Thone.

Upon our arrival at the Boat Landing Guest House and Restaurant, we had noticed an orange camper, I believed it is called an "Overland" in Europe, parked in the parking area. We didn't pay it much mind believing that it had something to do with the nearby vacant government building used for boat tours when the river runs higher starting in June. The Namtha River was approximately 4 meters (12 feet) below the elevation of the guest house facilities. From watching people cleaning and playing in the river, it appeared to currently be about one meter deep (3 feet) maximum. We learned from Mr Thone that in 2003 the river had rose so much that there was 1.3 meters (4 feet) flooding the facilities. The rainy season makes a very big difference in the river's height as well as flow.

After awhile I noticed that there were people staying inside the vehicle. Eventually a man and a woman left the van and entered into the restaurant. It is strange but you seem to be able to quickly assess people just by observing them for a short period of time especially if they are unawares. Duang and I saw many tourists who seemed to have bad attitudes. We both came to the conclusion that these people were "jai dai" - nice people with good hearts. As we headed back to our room to prepare for the remainder of the day, they said "Hello" to us. We stopped at their table and quickly were engaged in very animated conversation. Jurgen and Helga are not tourists - they are "travelers". When I worked in Malaysia, a bunch of us guys would head out into the countryside on our only day off from work often not really knowing where we wanted to go. We developed the philosophy that we were "travelers" - travelers go places and do things that "tourists" don't. Well Jurgen and Helga were definitely "TRAVELERS" - they left Germany 6 months ago and DROVE to Laos on their way eventually to Australia. They had traveled through Turkey, Iran, India, Pakistan, Tibet, and China. They plan on traveling another year. As we spoke with them of all things as well as matters great and small, our initial impression of them was reinforced. Besides being extremely interesting people, they are very nice people. We informed them of our plans to go to the market in Xieng Kok the next morning and invited them to join us for the day. They accepted and wanted to know how much the trip would cost so that they could share the costs. I told them the cost but told them that whether they came with us or not we were going to do it. I told them that they could pay only what they cared to and that I was not going even count what they pay. I did not want to taint our friendship based upon a judgement of how much they would help. I kept my word and I am content with that.

We went to our cottage and picked up our gear for the day. We had hired our taxi and driver from the previous two days for the afternoon. We picked up our lunch at the hotel restaurant - sandwiches and home made banana bread wrapped in banana leaves - no wax paper or plastic to clutter the environment. Since the leaves were biodegradable, there were no qualms in tossing them over the side of the Taxi truck as we bounced along once more on a dirt road headed for another village.

Our first stop of the afternoon was at Soptud Village, a Lanten settlement. Part of the dirt road was being repaired and we came upon a large compact roller parked on the side of the village road. Small children were clamoring all over the large machine pretending that they were working. A friend of mine back in the USA involved with worker lawsuits sometimes comments on the lack of safety equipment shown in some of my photographs - such as no safety harnesses, and no hard hats. Well this crew violated even more safe practices - no sturdy work boots, no safety glasses, and for one little boy - NO PANTS. On this trip we came upon many young children, mainly young boys, without adequate clothing. Fortunately the weather was warm during the day although night temperatures went down to the high 50s F (14 C).

One of the villages that we visited was a Khmu settlement called Baan Sopsim. As so often occurs on our travels, interesting things were going on in the village just about where ever you were willing to look. We stopped in the center of the village in front of some women with their daughters - busy embroidering and caring for babies. We quickly attracted some of the village children - curious and to a certain degree cautious of foreign visitors. For most of the children it was not very long before their curiosity exceeded their caution.

We heard noise from across the road and we crossed over to investigate. Underneath a low thatched lean-to structure attached to the side of one of the homes, several Khmu men were busy fabricating knives and spear guns. It was so interesting that I will dedicate a separate blog entry just to the "village blacksmiths".

The remainder of our afternoon was spent in visiting a forest cemetery and silk weavers in the Thai Dahm (Black Thai) village of Baan Pahsak. Again there is too much information and photographs to share in this edition of the blog and will be subjects in future blog(s).

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