Aug 29, 2009

Nong Khiaw / Tiger Trails / Fair Trek

The bridge at Nong Khiaw Riverside Lodge seemingly resting on bridge.

Last winter while wandering through northern Laos I spent the night at Nong Khiaw (Kiao, Keeow, etc) a river crossing town on the Nam Ou above Luang Prabang. I wasn't walking well so my big excursion was a stroll over the bridge and looking at town from the other side of the river. Nong Khiaw seems to be split by more than the river, the west side seems older and where the major portion of the houses are as well as the bus stop. The east side has all the newer river bungalows and I think a different name, Ban Sop Houn.

Pill box on west side of bridge

There was a trekking company in town with it's doors open and no one home, there was even a side entrance from my guest house. I usually stop in at any trekking company while I'm in a town to say hello to the guides. They're a great source of info about the local area and usually speak good English. I made a mental note to myself to stop by later and see what was up.

I'd read a warning online from the owner of the Riverside Guest House that Muang Ngoi Nuah, the tourist destination upriver and the small Hmong villages close by do not have ATMs. I guess some of the people headed to this idylic roadless Shangrila are caught unaware by the lack of machines spitting cash. When I hobbled over to the restaurant lobby the owner seemed pre occupied with the internet connection which had been out for 3 days.He probably makes a lot of his income via prebooked tour groups and desperately needs the internet. In any case I put on my best lost tourist look of despair and asked if any of the Hmong villages had ATM machines. After a couple more minutes of small talk he asked me if I were really serious. I really do sound as dumb as I look.

Veiw of Nong Khiaw from Riverside Lodge

If anyone stops by the Riverside please perpetuate the stereotype by asking if there are ATMs upriver. Check the price before ordering much in the restaurant. Flashpacker territory.

That evening I met the young manager of the local Tiger Trails office, and also a guide who had come down from Luang Prabang to check things out. I talked to both of them for a couple of hours. The young manager appeared to be in his young 30s. Good English, self assured, business like. He was 21, a very mature young fellow, one of those people whom you meet and think to yourself, "this guy is going to go far in this world".

Tiger Trails / Fair Trek / Nong Khiaw

His story as best I remember is that he had been taking people out on walks on his own initiative when a couple of satisfied customers mentioned him to the owner of a Trekking company in Luang Prabang. The owner went up to Nong Khiaw, they went on a couple of excursions together and worked out a few basic itineraries. What most interested me was the walk they took for a few days in the Hmong villages in the hills east of town. When I was there no one other than the owner of Tiger Trails and his now local manager had done this walk. I am still very interested.

I read on their web site that they now have a lodge in one of the villages and are working on a store to sell local handicrafts.

Aug 23, 2009

Lao Ethnic Handicrafts Store

It would be difficult to spend much time in Laos and especially in the houses and villages of the Lao Seung (upland peoples) without developing an appreciation of their handicrafts. Obscuring the line between what is utilitarian and what is beautiful I bring the uneducated view to handicrafts. I usually buy what can be used as originally intended anyway.

Above is the entrance to the handicrafts cooperative in Vientiane. It's right next to the post office and across the street from the morning market on the South side. Map is below. On the map it's called "Hmong Market" for good reason, most of the stalls are owned by Hmong people and most of the patrons are Hmong. Many overseas Hmong go there to buy ethnic clothes to bring home and wear at festivals. There are also a lot of forest products to buy, the horns from small deer, tusks from wild pig, porcupine quills, plants and animals, powders and potions.

There are also a heck of a lot of clothes and crafts from other ethnic minorities but you have to know what you want and find someone to sell it to you. Most tourists wander through without buying so the shopkeepers don't bother trying to sell anything to you. The lack of tourists also makes for nice shopping experience. I think the first price offered was good, I didn't bargain. The quality was much greater and the work more authentic than at the morning market. Many items were the same as you would see in an upland village, except brand new. No pillow cases or duvet covers. Prices were a fraction of across the street. Things are displayed Asian style. Large piles or hung from the ceiling seemingly haphazardly but really grouped in a systematic order so that the required item can be found quickly.

Above a small bag to carry stuff that all Lao people see have called a tong. This one is Akha, woven like a fish net from the inner bark of some tree or some other naturally occurring fiber. We have to go to the post office down the street to get our mail and sometimes I wear it while pedaling the bicycle. My wife makes fun of me, grown man wearing a pocketbook and all. I bought it in Vientiane at the store in the photo up top.

The basket above hangs beside my computer to catch letters and small screwdrivers and markers I don't want the kids touching. It was made by the Lanten people and I bought it in the crafts coop in Muang Long. Now there is a bank where the coop used to be and a woman runs it out of her house. The bamboo is darkened by being hung above the fire, this hardens it or keeps it from rotting or something, all people seem to hang bamboo stuff above the fire for some time, the darker the better.

Notice the different weaving around the bottom, and also just below the top. I figure this would be a great "go to market in the morning" type basket. Baskets keep greens from being crushed. The Lanten make good stuff.

This sticky rice basket is Lanten also, my wife just recently started using it, remarking that the weaving is very good. Again notice how the weaving changes bottom to top and also a star shaped pattern across the top. I bought these also in Muang Long but had forgotten about them for a couple of years.

Lastly this is a tong made for sale, probably after export, it has a zipper which I haven't seen on the ones regular folks carry, also it's very small, so to be sold as a small purse for women. I think it's Yao by the red pom poms, but I'm not sure, never spent any time in Yao villages. The fabric is hand woven cotton, grown on the side of a hill somewhere up north no doubt. The dye no doubt the natural blue black stuff everyone seems to fancy. The embroidered designs are intricate and with tight stitching. This tong belongs to Thipalada who is modeling it, her first pocket book, she puts lots of things in it. I also bought this at the cooperative in Vientiane.

Aug 11, 2009

Craig Luebben dies in Cascades

From the Denver Examiner (click for link)

"We were in the process of setting up a short haul to put Luebben on a backboard and a litter. Just as we rigged the helicopter Willie phoned and said that Craig had died. He had been complaining of back pain and loss of sensation to the legs. We were all shocked because he had initially survived"

The quote above was from his climbing partner Willie Benegas

A guy I crossed paths with briefly twenty some years ago died from falling ice last week. He was local to an area of Colorado roughly an hour away. Sounds as if he had some time to collect his thoughts I hope.

Photo by Craig Luebben

The circumstances where I crossed paths with Craig are kind of unusual and maybe that's why the name rang a bell after all the years. Craig took the photo above, it's of me, we came at best within 50 meters of each other. (I'm in yellow and blue, my partner Randy is in red)

Craig and his partner had a fairly big lead on us that day, we were on Yellow Wall and Craig was on Pervertical Sanctuary, both climbs on the Diamond Face of Longs peak. My partner, a fellow named Randy, and I were climbing very fast and in a few pitches we were almost level with Craig. It was then that he shouted across, took the photo above, and I got his name and the town he was from. From there it was pretty easy to track him down and get a copy of the slide. Remember at that time all photos were taken on this thing called film, there was no such thing as digital.

Craig was very excited to be climbing that day, probably he was happy to climb most days. He shouted of the great weather, the rock, our speed, and so on. A very happy fellow on a nice day in the mountains. After telling me he'd send a copy of the slides if they were any good we didn't see any more of him. I got cramps above in a hand crack pitch of Black Dagger (I think that's the name, memory you know)

It seemed unusual to be making conversation across a hundred and fifty feet of air that way, with thousands of feet of nothing below and above. The Diamond being a fairly flat wall gave the impression of a world turned ninety degrees on it's side. We saw no one else on that side of the mountain.

Craig had just developed a kind of expanding tube chock to protect wide cracks and was known around the inter mountain region. They are the lightest wide crack protection to this day. Craig wasn't simply a wide crack climber. He pretty much did it all. The Diamond tops out above 14,000 feet and is slightly overhanging for it's entire thousand feet. When combined with it's 600 foot of approach, east and slightly northern aspect and the technicality of it's climbing the Diamond gives committing free climbing in an alpine setting.

Craig if you're reading this from on high and you remember, I'll leave you with the same request I gave to Charlie on this blog. Save me a cold one I'll be right there. RIP