Wednesday, March 5, 2008

January 23-24, 2008: Trek of Life

We started a little early, drove out to a roadside village. The villagers we were going to be staying with were there, selling a type of bark that the Chinese would buy and use for medicine. Most of the 97 villagers were there, women, children, men, elderly, animals..... they all leave before sunrise and make the 4+ hour strenuous hike out of the deep valley they live in, into the rainforest, along the mountainsides, and back down to the road. They do this many times a week, usually to sell a variety of crops and such. We passed first through the roadside village of Ban Namleu, where a very small group of the Lanten people live. We hiked for a while up the hill and into the forest, where we could here the voices of villagers collecting young bamboo in the bamboo forests.... We had lunch, then hiked a while more to the village, which is right next to the Nam Ha river. We hung out, took some pictures, and basically just felt weird, like an intrusion. Some of the elders were at the village, watching the animals and the youngest children. It was impossible to communicate with them, other than elementary sign language..... I like showing the kids my pictures. They seem to enjoy looking at them. Our guide, Sai, and our river guide who brought the boats down the river for us, Khan, made us a great dinner. Sai took some time to join in the kataw game a couple young villagers were playing; a game similar to volleyball, without using your arms or hands. Wim and I joined, and caught on.... not quickly though. It was really really fun. Darkness fell as the villagers returned -- we didn't really hang out together; most or all the villages have built for farang a larger-than-any-other-building-in-the-village guesthouse (there's a couple pictures of their school, it's the one with the flag pole in front of it -- our guesthouse was probably bigger). Yeah, it was just a single room bamboo hut with a bamboo floor and roof, but it was plush compared to anything else in the village. And they had brought in a SWEET porcelain toilet: like we were royalty. The villagers seemed to not really care about us, or seemed used to farang staying there on their tours.... which made it an even weirder place to be for a white-ass foreigner. But when dinner was served, we were joined by some of the elders and chiefs of the village. Through Sai we conversed, describing our feelings about their world and trying to portray our ridiculously (compared to) and unnecessarily complicated worlds, sharing drinks of 'happy water'...... it was a magical, emotional, moving and humbling evening. The next morning, after a very nice, warm, comfy, cool nite under our mosquito nets, we awoke and hung out a little with some of the villagers and children. It was wonderful. We took off from there, onto the river, our stuff in drybags, and our expectations absent; just pure excitement. Then, like 10 minutes down the river, which was really shallow the whole way (some pushing/pulling of the boats, lots of getting stuck), we get into an accident and Erica gets trapped in the river under a tree. It was really ridiculous and a stupid accident, and she was shook up. But after rearranging the teams of boats, Wim and I battled our way down the Nam Ha to the Nam Tha, through the protected forests of the Nam Ha wilderness, while the girls had safe journeys with our guides. We stopped in a small village that was smaller than the one we stayed in, I forget the name. The women wore traditional clothing, the people made paper and purses and baskets, the children played with the most simple of toys, dragging rocks and each other around in the dirt. We bought some cool paper and other things, donated for their school and were on our way. We made it, a fun, long day. I would recommend it to everyone. Get out of the bubble, and get in someone else's.... someone who has nothing compared to you -- yet has so much more in so many ways. We entered the worlds of the Khmu and the Lanten people rich spoiled Westerners; and left Ban Nalan Tai village humbled and appreciative.

Photos & Copyright by Jeremy Hohengarten 2008
For editorial use only.

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