PHOTO ESSAY: A ONE-DAY TREK IN THE LAOS COUNTRYSIDE
Hi. My name is Daniel. And these are some photos that I took when I went on a one-day trek through the Laos countryside with a company called Tiger Trails. I was joined by three lovely chaps: Stefan from Germany, our local guide Ken and Shariq from England.
It was an eight-hour day walking through green covered hills, into semi-remote villages and then back to our starting place via a boat on the Nom Ou River. And everyone loves a boat!
The story begins in the sleepy little town of Nong Khiaw. Each morning the town awakes to a blanket of low-laying cloud, but then by noon, the hot tropical sun burns the mist away.
If I didn’t know any better, I might have assumed that the river flows of coffee sweetened with condensed milk. But I can assure you it’s just plain ol’ water with a bit of red dirt from the hills.
We walked beside many fields of rice. If you look closely, from the outline of the fields, you can see a man with a big nose looking towards the house.
Or maybe that’s just what I see.
This was our friendly guide, Ken. He was born and raised in Nong Khiaw, so I trusted him to not get us lost or to wrestle a tiger should it decide to attack us. I was impressed by his fashion sensibilities - he wore a black G-Star jacket, even when the sun was over head. From him I learned that just because it might be hot doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be stylish.
Ken also spent the entire eight-hour hike in flip-flops. Here he is hovering above a stream. His feet don’t actually touch the rocks. The Laos people are known for their ability to levitate.
We reached our first village (Naluang) around 11 AM. There was a school building project happening. The adobe bricks were made of mud and straw. Oh yes, and love. If you ever build a school, make sure you use a lot of love or else you never know WHAT could happen.
The buildings of Naluang had the typical Laos architectural structure, built on posts with bamboo, walls of woven leaves and wooden shingles. I wanted to poke my head into them all. But that would be rude. So I didn’t.
Just when I thought maybe we had reached our awesome quota for the day, Stephan whipped out his lion named Heini and posed with the Red Hot Chili Peppers! These two German wildchilds have traveled overland from Moscow into Southeast Asia. How nice it is to travel with a good friend! You can see his Germanish blog here…
And for the sake of honesty, I have to clarify that these red hot chili peppers are NOT actually the Californian rockband that you have grown to love. They’re the type we use for cooking! But I think the people of Laos might prefer this variety of peppers. Although I have no contemporary statistics to support this theory. Sorry.
Onwards we marched!
At one point we came across some ants munching the head of a dead snake.
I’m hungry, too, just looking at it! Thankfully we were close to our lunch destination!
We arrived to the village of Ban Pha Yong at approximately thirteen hundred hours. (That’s 1 PM, right?)
I was pleased to see my host organization for Laos, Big Brother Mouse, had being doing literacy and book-appreciation work in the village.
Books are good shit.
We were all quite ready for lunch! It consisted of potato cakes with onion and cilantro, an herb/veggie omelet, a pumpkin-peanut mash and, of course, an ample serving of black sticky rice.
I ate with my hands because I like to keep it real.
We met the village chief and I played peek-a-boo with the little kids.
But they looked at me like I was a man with his head on fire.
And since I have a red beard I found their reactions to be quite appropriate.
After lunch, the journey recommenced. We walked out of Ban Pha Yong like a gang of cowboys strutting out of a wild west town. But instead of tumbleweed rolling in the wind, a couple of pigs waddled by.
(NB: I would have preferred to us a more culturally appropriate analogy, but I’m still learning about Laos stuff!)
Finally the hiking portion of the day came to a conclusion and we tumbled into a rickety old blue boat and sailed off into the sunset.
But wait! I’m not actually finished the story yet!
On the boat we had a wonderful vantage point to view the landscape of Laos. We saw many things, such as naked children jumping into a creek and naked water-buffalo sunning themselves on the sandy banks.
I kinda wanted to get naked and jump in. But that would have been weird. So I didn’t.
And finally – and this is the real ending – after a delightful day, we arrived back to the bridge at Nong Khiaw where I stood that very morning and took the photo of the village in the mist. Life is full of circuitousness.
I like to end with the image of a bridge because it is rich in symbolism. What does a bridge represent? What does it mean to be upon a bridge or to cross over a bridge? What is this bridge actually connecting?
What is this photo essay actually connecting? Is this photo essay a bridge? Am I a bridge?
Maybe I am.