We have two guides: Bien and Mr Boun, the former speaks enough for both, the second makes everything happen
. It is somehow a really well sorted couple. Bien is young, coming form a small Khamu village, but had some access to schools and thanks to some previous work experience is quite fluent in English. He has been exposed to the modern world and is spending his daily time into it (at least the version of it that you can have in a small-medium village in Laos), but he still has a strong connection with the ancestor traditions. He loves to speak, about everything. He looks like a happy joyous person.
Mr Boun (that me and my sister have name -called MacGyver) doesn't basically speak with the exception of answering to Bien when asked to. Silent and efficient he can light a fire in less than 2 minutes and have a complete meal prepared out of plants cut on the way (comprehensive of the pottery!!). Not impressed yet? Have you ever tried to carry 12 eggs wrapped together in a banana leaf in a bag on a path for three days and never break even one? Being a former hunter he is used to move in the forest and definitely he knows how to do it with a natural firm touch. In addition for all the time we spent together, even if he is always a step ahead, we could feel that he was constantly trying to anticipate our needs without ever asking.
The combination of these two guys, so different even if coming from the same background, was a gift that incredibly enriched our three days trek!
The plan was quite straightforward, start walking at 9 am each day till a village (reached usually around 3/4 pm). The lunch was prepared in the forest with what the forest was offering us: rattan, bamboo (both of them in my mind linked to furniture rather than to food), galan (kind of ginger), wild banana (flower and trunk but not the fruit), and other herbs that I even can not recognize
. Banana leaves as table, dish, spoon and hat. All around a mixture of the traditional Laotian stories and curiosities. "Do you know anything about the way the frog won the jumping challenge with the tiger?" "No, Bien, tell us" "And what about the old man that was carried in the forest to die alone, and managed to remind to his son the meaning of life in front of a fruit tree?" "Don't know about it neither" "How big is the biggest airplane you have been flying with?" "Bigger than your village" "Do you know about this plant? It can help you when you have diarrhea" "Have you boiled enough the water this morning, Bien?" "Ca va?" "Ca Va, Bien". "Do you know that in Lao you can be arrested if they catch you with a small wife?" ""What is the meaning of "small wife"?" "The wife that your real wife doesn't know about" "No Bien, we don't know" "Oh yes, then is your wife that has to decide when you get out of jail" "Bien, don't play too much with the other girls, it is dangerous". Mr Boun in front, Bien after him, my sister as third, and me at the end. "Can you eat the ants, Bien?" "Yes, the red one are good, we eat them stuffed or raw" "Do they bite you while eating them raw?""Can not bite you if you are biting them". Well, fair enough. considering how much insects were biting us in the meantime.
Walking, talking and laughing and then suddenly the village (well not that suddenly, Bien was updating us each half an hour about the type of way and the time to destination). But still...suddenly the village. The two we visited were quite different, of course a bit the houses (wood or bamboo) but most of anything else the life. An Akha village and a Khamu village.
The Akha village was full of kids that were scared by us, at first.
The adults were not smiling and to be honest not even looking directly to us. "Bien why they don't look at us?" "It is considered impolite". You don't feel really like taking out your camera after this explanation. Luckily the kids are always curious, in any part of the world, and the technology is always on the forefront of their interest! "Wow!! Have you seen that the falang has a small television with his sister in it?" (the translation is a free interpretation). The Ipod Touch is definitely my best key to the people (worked just fine with adults as well in previous occasions!). First show them who you are: "This is my mum, this my father, and this one, can you recognize? She is over there, she is my sister". Of course they can not understand what i say, nonetheless I speak, continuously explaining everything "Do you see? You touch here and it starts to take movies or pictures" "Here some music" "Do you want to try?" Look, it is easy" "I know you have seen before cameras, but have you ever seen how a camera works?" "Come here. Look. This is the lens, this is the body, here you can unscrew, here is the zoom, here you look inside" (This one was really difficult, none of them wanted to watch into the ocular) "Ok, I watch, look, if I watch and shoot at my foot" "Look, here is the picture of my foot" "Do you want to try?" "No? and you?" Just couple of the kids were actually so brave to use the camera, but, you know what: I don't know how many other times in my life somebody that has never used a camera will take a picture of me, blured of course, but here it is!
Step by step the kids accepted us and with their laughs introduced us to the adults. Can not say that the adults were really involved in our games, but suddenly they were smiling too. I don't know how much time we spent playing around (and teaching a bit) but have to say that the kid that took the first picture of me took some really good one afterward (to be honest i also have a doubt about which one are mine and which one are not)
. The day after in the morning, the wife of the chief of the village (that was hosting us) just made a sign with her head, when we got closer she put in my mouth first and then in the mouth of my sister a small bit of a chewy piece of meat. It was a really natural act, and strangely when we tried to take the food from her to put it in our mouth on our own she didn't allowed us. It reminded me my grandma, many years ago. I discovered few minutes later that the kid that took some of the pictures of this entry is actually her son.
The Khamu village didn't had kids, just couple of 15 years old guy in addition to the adults. The village is to small and far away from everything, so the kids leave on sunday evening to go to the closest school and come back on friday evening. It is a strange feeling, not to see any child. However the adults here are much more open to us, they smile, come around and ask Bien (belonging to the same ethnic group they speak Khamu, also Mr Boun). Here a duck for the dinner (well, first need to kill, wash, and cook) and here are the two wooden sticks for the dessert. Actually we had to go first hunting our dessert: crickets, called in local language "rat". You prepare a certain number of the branches of a certain type of plant and make some knots on some of the leaves. At 6:30 pm, not before and not after you start playing your wooden sticks: "Tac, Tac, Tac, Tac". Then as soon as the crickets arrive you catch them (isn't as easy at the beginning but after a while I learned it). Even my sister has to try it! And amazingly we both agreed that it was good (may be more with some beer as aperitif than as dessert being served with salt)!!! The dinner was all about this (well the duck was delicious!) but our face, at the first cricket and then at the second and at the third was the main event for our hosts (and really funny for us too)
. Just short time after dinner, sleep (not much to do without light).
The morning is a full set of standard work in a rural village: feeding animals, milling the rice for the day, washing yourself and the dishes, cooking the breakfast, preparing for the day in the rice fields. Everything seems to fall in the right place at the right time with the right rhythm. Every single gesture has been perfected over years, to hide the effort. Everything seem so natural and at the same time so strange, to a urban sapiens. What if they cut badly themselves while doing one of these daily works? The closest medium sized villages is 3/4 hours walk away and doesn't have any hospital. Everything seems so natural and at the same time so far away from my life. I tried for a while to weigh pros and cons, which one is better?safer?happier? Then I looked at Mr Boun, silent as usual, I gave him a nod, and he unexpectedly smiled me back.
I love to walk. I believe that walking allows your body and mind to perspire not only the toxic substances but also the bad thoughts, the sorrows, the knots that we can not usually untangle in our daily life. It doesn't mean that I do not suffer the effort of moving around my body (and also a big backpack!) up and down a path, I actually do suffer and sometimes I would just like to seat down and find myself in a hot shower (or cold, considering the heat and humidity of the region). In the end I just accept it as part of the deal: you sweat, get dirty, fall, suffer from mosquito bites (and not only) to gain a new view on your problems and a regenerated body. However in a the trekking in a foreign country, there is a plus on top of everything, it has always given me the chance to enjoy unusual nature and to experience stunning human contacts.