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rowan’s Travel Diary

Friday, 01 Feb 2008

Location: luang prabang, Laos

Mapit is pouring heavy rain and all the tourists are either on the internet or drinking coffee in the cafes. the town has two main stretches where all the guesthouse, food, etc. i bought a whole fish on a skew that had been barbequed on a grate over a large metal bowl filled with coals. it was stuffed partly with lemongrass making the meat sweet and perfect. traditional lao food is sticky rice, which goes back 1,100 years of more. you eat it with your fingers and it doesn't leave any residue. its a white rice. the textiles here are woven on looms under the stilt houses in most villages. each area of laos has patterns specific to their area, colors, and material. lots of silk and hemp.
i visited a village famous for its orange pottery, wood/ash fired in an underground kiln. no glaze. i sat down with one of the men and felt the clay, it even felt fresh if you can imagine clay feeling that way. it is dug from a pit right behind the "studio," and none is ever wasted. it is outdoors, also under the stilt house. by far the cleanest, most dust free studio i have ever seen, and filled with pots. the wheel head is made of wood, about 2 feet wide, big enough to throw 30 pounds of clay or more since the largest pot was made of at least that. a tall, open cylinder, like the base of a djembe drum. the pots are made like this: put a small pancake of clay on the wheel and spin it. trace a centered circle in the pancake and cut away the extra. make a fat coil, 1 inch diameter, and while the wheel spins add it to the base. then add another coil on top of it until the wall is as high as the potter needs. use a thin, wet rag to smooth the walls and thn them out into whatever shape. i dont know about air bubbles, it seems like all the squishing while putting the coiles on got them out, because the clay was not wedged before starting. all the tools are made from wood, very rustic looking, basically a stick that had the right shape for the job. worked very well.
from that village we walked two miles to another through jungle and farm land, passing loads of water buffalo, and small thatched huts until reaching the river and crossing in a boat back to luang prabang.
the rain is just the right time to catch up on writing since friends and family all want more and more, please tell me everything, they ask. everything is more then this keyboard has the ability to handle. there is hardly any repetition in travel life and each day my eyes touch whole stories worth of experience. its over stimulating at times. i think i released a lot of that type of feeling yesterday by running myself tired up a small mountain next to the waterfall you see pictures of. i took off my shoes so that i wouldn't slip as easily on the clay jungle ground and huffed and puffed until the top where i ate a big piece of pineapple and mango with my hands, very juicy and delicious. then i waded across the river and ran down the other side. for a part of it i put my shoes on and i started slipping all over the place so i took them off again. i dont know if there is a shoe as good as feet. at the bottom i went swimming in the blue water and by golly was i happy! waterfalls are beyond the most wonderful place to be. especially ones you can swim up to and even behind! this one also had a rope swing, but im not keen on those; other swimmers dropped and laughed and i just did some made up synchronized swimming moves.
near the river along the path, the lao government has donated land to a bear and tiger rescue center. they have built 2 sturdy fence enclosures around an area of the jungle for 20 bears and one tiger. these animals were rescued from poachers trying to sell them for their medicinal parts. the gallbladder of bears is removed for the bile which is used in chinese medicine and the bones of a tiger is an aphrodisiac. in all of southeast asia there are bear farms where the animals are kept in small cages and forever attached to catheters excreting bile. black bears of southeast asia are heavily threatened, but the tigers are basically extinct.
i love hearing people speaking so many languages all around me. many french, german, and isreali people.
im hoping we can hire a boat tomorrow to go south on the mekong river through some remote areas of lao. the river is so peaceful and has a huge advantage over bus travel. hopefully can get to vientiene, the capital, that way! only twenty more days of this trip left, it seems too lose to over. but my mind has been thinking up many new lesson plans for my students, and i am excited to teach soon. i cant wait to see more of this country though, more of the people and their traditions.
my clothes are taking days to dry with the cloudy, sporadically rainy weather. the dormitory had a man staying with a horrible sleeping disorder of scratching and grunting, keeping me up all night. the crafts and textiles here are so brilliant, unique and so cheap that i have to keep myself from overflowing my backpack with scarves, pillow cases, blankets, purses..... i want to buy presents for everyone, but it is impossible to carry! hiring a tuk tuk to take us places is so much cheaper then going with a tour, and hooking up with a tour that needs more people and will charge much less to fill the extra seats is also nice. im keeping my money bag with me always and sleep with it under me, under my matress at night. a good thing because they'll have to lift me to get to it, hahaha! overly protective, yes, but so many people lose things and i dont want to go to any embassies right now.
whoa. gotta run