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Coleen’s Travel Diary

Monday, 14 Feb 2011

Location: Phonsavonhn, Laos

MapFrom Luang Prabang, we took a minibus through the most treacherous mountains - even worse than Peru. It was 6 hours of constant switchbacks with no barricades (and people puking out the windows) and the distance was just over 300 K. Even though we were seated in the very back, we made it without being sick! The scenery was breathtaking in more ways than one. Along the way we went through many small villages that were very interesting.

We expected to be taken directly to Mulberries silk farm, but we were dropped off in the middle of Phonsavanhn. We were immediately approached by a Laotian gentleman who volunteered to drive us right to the farm and refused our offers of remuneration. Just another example of the kindness of Laotians.

We were greeted at the farm by the most wonderful young woman named Boua Vene, who adopted us as her parents. We stayed in their guest house and were woken up each day by lovely singing of the woman living below us.

The silk farm was the most incredible experience for Coleen. She woke early each morning to pick mulberry leaves to feed the silk worms. She even held one!

Then the rest of the day was spent in the reeling room with a most gracious and patient instructor. Throughout the day, tourists would drop in at the studio and would invariably ask if it was all right to photograph Coleen reeling silk coccoons. Imagine!! At the other extreme, one American woman asked Coleen to get out of the photograph because she didn't look Laotian.

One afternoon, a group of ladies (weavers, dyers and spinners) surrounded Coleen as she was spinning, and sang and played instruments. They are the most incredibly joyous people, and even though they couldn't communicate with words, it was clear that they could communicate through other means. The women were very accepting of Coleen once they realized that she was serious about studying the art of sericulture.

While Coleen was honing her reeling skills, Terry went the plain of jars, which are ancient sites containing large stone vessels, which to this day are surrounded in mystery. What was also unknown was that the Viet Cong would enter Laos and would hide near these sites. There are many bomb craters around them.

MAG (Mine Advisory Group) have cleared these sites and have placed markers where it is safe to walk. To this day there remain many areas that still are mined. In fact, Boua Vene told us that when she was a child she picked up an unexploded ordinance and took it home to her parents. She was very lucky that it did not explode. Her parents were both solders during the Pathet Lao times.

It was extremely difficult to leave Mulberries, with tears flowing with Boua Vene telling Terry how sad they were that Coleen was leaving.

When we were about to leave, a young man presented Coleen with a Laotian traditional reel that he had made for her.

We hope to return one day!