Aug 31, 2010

LP's walk in Phongsali


Yao breakfast at Ou Tai
I'm reposting this to change the name on the link to protect anonymityIn response to a photo of some young Lao Sueng women, whose ethnicity I was unable to pin down, I got a comment and then an email from a French fellow who has walked the length and width of Phongsali province, mostly off road.

We both had photos of the same town high on a ridge above the Ou taken from the same spot. LP's photo was taken four years earlier before metal roofs. The trek he describes was done in the fall of 07.

Original in French here, http://voyageforum.com/v.f?post=1495745 you need to cut and paste to go to the post, I think there are is stuff in the link that isn't html.

I should add, LB does all his walking without a guide, but, and this is a big but. He can speak many minority languages and has spent a good portion of his life studying these people. He has an intuitive sense of when things aren't going right as well of all the complications of being a foreigner in these different villages. He is probably more knowledgeable than many of the local Lao guides I have walked with. He travels by himself, but I'd suggest you not do the same, I'd go so far as to recommend that you don't.





Ban Nam Phou San Gao January 7, 2007

Same town in 03 from a scan of one of Lionels photos.

French to English translation Show romanization



September and October 2007

In 2006, in the far north of Laos, the first trip of 34 days, alone, on foot and without a guide in the mountains of the fascinating province of Phongsaly (summarized> ICI), allow me to do some bearings.



Back on the scene in 2007 to direct me, alone again, and walk very slowly towards the extreme ends of the province. After this time 40 days of walks and all the nights spent in guesthouses, it is the memories that I propose to summarize here. Just time to learn a little more about this amazing enclave isolated from the world, and even the rest of the country.



So, among other anecdotes or facts observed there in the company of mountain ethnic minorities: the shamanic healing rituals in Ho and the Hmong; rice cultivation in the forest slope, a bewildering day sailing on the portion the wildest of the Nam Ou River, a ritual sacrifice of a goat, five pigs, two chickens and twelve chickens in a village Akha; harvest of opium and "art" of smoking; feet reduced d "grandmother" Chinese ", a stay of four nights in one Akha village for much leave time for villagers to tame abroad and vice versa; houses of ethnic Hmong home to more than fifty persons; the heart of the very isolated nature reserve Phou Den Din merchants itinerant Chinese hair, a meeting with the very discreet and minority ethnic Sila, a cross-border trafficking of butterflies to senseless trappings of Akha women; geysers of sparks during a Buddhist festival, the first presence of a Falanga, a White Western, in some villages for over 15 years, and quite probably the first tourists ever since.

Days 1 & 2, The wages of staff
Day 3, Transport (1)
Day 4, Transport (2)
Day 5, Transport (3)
Day 6, the opium addict Tai Lü
Day 7 Exuberance Akha Women
Day 8, water scarce
Day 9, shamanic healing rituals in Ho (1)
Day 10, shamanic healing rituals in Ho (2)
Day 11, shamanic healing rituals in Ho (3)
Day 12, Winnowing rice and rodents
Day 13, Addiction to opium
Day 14 Water Pipes (bang)
Day 15, altars to "spirits" Ritual & Healing Hmong
Day 16, navigation, hunting, fishing, nature and traditions
Day 17, Parure Women Ho
Day 18, Merchants hair itinerant Chinese
Day 19, Public Resolution of conflict
Day 20, Late Census
Day 21, Leeches & Buffaloes forest
Day 22, Smoking opium (1)
Day 23, Wild Honey
Day 24, Akha cuisine, ovens and cookstoves
Day 25, Illness
Day 26, Sacrifice: goats, pigs, hens and chicks
Day 27, the egg parting gift
Day 28, Rice Shelling
Day 29, Spirit River
Day 30, the French retailer of hair
Day 31, Ethnicity Sila
Day 32, miscellaneous
Day 33, Day rockets
Day 34, Rice Cultivation in the Mountain
Day 35, the opium harvest
Day 36, Parure Women Yao
Day 37, Woven cotton
Day 38, Untitled
Day 39, Traffic butterfly
Day 40, First falang for sixteen years
Day 41, Smoking opium (2)
Day 42, Untitled
Day 43, Last Step
Day 44, Transport (4)
Day 45, Transport (5)
Day 46, Transport (6)
Day 47, Sun-sum and noodle soup
Day 48, A temple

Days 1 & 2, Vientiane, the official's salary

An opium smoker stands, outside, in the corridor of the temple which faces my decrepit hotel, across the narrow alley between two buildings. Although a tarpaulin stretched around the mat to protect themselves from view, he does not know that I alone can still observe the task and distinguish his slightest gestures, the small balcony of my room on the second floor . It does not seem to be a monk because his head is shaved, but in any case be sure, the Buddhist monks tolerate, and even protect.

In Vientiane, the small capital of Laos, some brand new hotels appear from time to time, but mine is seriously deteriorating. A swarm of mice colonized closet storage equipment household that faces my room regularly and one of them commits dangerously down the stairs and finds himself stuck with no way on the middle tier. By cons, for once, for a hotel of this category, cockroaches are not too many in the bathrooms.

Arrived at home Sunday evening visit to the immigration office on Monday morning to drop off my passport, and again this afternoon to get my visa extension. The official who received me seemed ruthless. Because this is the first time it makes me fill any form for writing this administrative operation, not the least, and that no one gives me even after filing my identity document, no receipt no proof. In short no less paper, not the slightest record of any approach. Then, leaving the place and left there my precious passport and my forty dollars in legal fees, I'm afraid that later on my return, I found an official "zealous" ... and venal. I am average in the afternoon, arrived here more than thirty minutes ahead of schedule agreed. Just entered the squalid condition of premises, my staff came up to me and welcomed me with open arms, as if it was unwise to do I turn first to one of his colleagues. Without history it gave me my passport heavy with some buffers, it was already in hand. Clearly, he was waiting for me, myself, even watching my arrival, it seemed his only perform tasks of the afternoon. Then, these forty dollars then I think I know how very short path they have taken, they will complete an official monthly salary of just under twenty five dollars.

Then, in this casual town, after those few exciting highlights corrupt bureaucracy and waiting long trek north: strolling, visiting markets, food, rest to recuperate, recover from jet lag.
Day 3 Luang Prabang Transport (1)

Started for three days of heavy transport to the far north, toward my fascinating province of Phongsaly. The program for this first of them, eleven bus on a road paved, but incredibly mountainous and winding, to complete the 380 kilometers between Vientiane capital on the other, this historic and regal, beautiful city Luang Prabang charge apparently magnificent ancient Buddhist temples should be preserved very I visit one day, another time perhaps.
Day 4, Oudomxai Transport (2)

The 200 kilometers away from Luang Prabang Oudomxai performed normally in about six hours, but we have this time necessities thirteen. Very big break in the gearbox and that our drivers without tools compelled to challenge the few passing vehicles to give to the key required for a mechanical repair attempt. We lost or broken a bolt and a large bolt, a bolt immobilized up a big gear. Then, for five hours, tinkering, and we listened to the entire bus, and in its every corner, trying to remove the bolt in replacement. But nay, you can not find the same model. Then, very naively, we dare to try the bolt ... wood, carved with a machete in a dry branch gathered at the roadside. A piece of wood in the gearbox! And that would fire immediately. Poor guy, you're pitiful, it becomes laughable, stop to take you for cadors only because they dared to tell you a bus to yourselves! And finally acknowledge that your failure this time is total, but nonetheless admitted after two attempts of wooden bolts. So we resigned, but a little late to call Oudomxai, so they sent us a new bus. Waiting at the roadside near the gear box and ripped a huge and thick tired of burnt oil spreading. I am not the only tourist in the bus, there are also two Japanese, they perform a kind of world tour and, having already passed through Africa, they carried in their luggage a few musical instruments percussion. They animate the wait, and do well everyone laugh.

Day 5, Boun Neua, Transport (3)

Long journey to the north, the newest portion of paved road ends, giving way to an ancient track, defeat, rocky, dusty. Ten hours of tossing, and bursts of suffocation. Despite the splendid scenery, rugged, wild and green, there are times when we would really be elsewhere.

From time to time, walking along the track with their hood on the back, one or more women from various ethnic Akha. First come, around Boun Tai district, Oma Akha Akha Luma and then further to approach that of Boun Neua, the Akha Botche. They are almost always dressed in traditional finery characteristics of their ethnic group, all different and always surprising. Tunics colorful patterns of quilts fabrics and sparkling jewels and several pieces of silver money (the old Indochinese piastres and equally ancient Chinese dollars) used here as a decoration on the busts and the hairstyles that are delusional talk. These districts Boun Tai and Boun Neua to date absolutely not visited by tourism as too difficult to access when you want to win the high mountain villages and isolated they hide, they also contain a wealth an incredible cultural diversity and one day, again, it will stop there and then walk them for a few weeks.

Day 6, Ban Moukhang, the opium addict Tai Lü

Finally there is, almost! After three long days of bus, there remains today a time of transport to make, but again slow, shaking and very dusty. From here it's not a bus but a songteaw (a van with the rear tray, open on the outside, was built with two benches and then topped with a roof frame and sheet metal) which makes the term a single day on this latest vehicle track north of the province. Descent to the village of Ban Sone Neu, inhabited by the Tai Lue ethnic group which we will return. But it is still a little farther in the countryside, from where is the start of a path that I'll actually start these trips in my way at first, because basically I ' have no set itinerary specific to the heart of this fascinating and so far hardly seen, Phongsaly province.

The first village to join is that of Ban Moukhang inhabited, and probably some other nearby villages also hope that through a little later, the Akha tribe. There, it is a territory of Akha Nutch, probably the Akha ethnic group whose women wear the most amazing and "delusional" trimmings, impressive coats and dresses which will be described later. Ban Moukhang lies to the east, just over five hours walk from here, where the latest transport dropped me. But this village I know because I'm already past last year. I was even held for three days, "selected" because they come here to lose in the stream nearby one of my two precious sandals walking, then stopped me at the time to venture further and m it forced him to turn around. As I also already know so well the path that leads there and that is one of the few in the region to be, but with difficulty, however, motorcycle, I decided to go on a scooter. It is only to convince a few farmers in Ban Sone Neu have this type of vehicle to carry me, a fee negotiated fairly but firmly.

So last year, I already saw the disrepair of the road and that, far from it, has not been arranged at all. They are always on one side the same entire portions collapsed into the ravine and the other side, collapsed from the steep side, even over many large trees, lying open across the path and accompanied by soil and scree pebbles. In many passages it is necessary to walk, sometimes lifting the scooter over the obstacles. On other, rolling over bumps or ruts in the mud, or the sight of the pit close, it serves the teeth!

It crosses a walker, a man just returning from the village of Ban Moukhang and resting along the trail. During his short conversation with my driver I can see clearly a few words, including these: "I return Moukhang Ban" and "opium". This man is Tai Lue, not ethnicity poppy farmers and very little consumer of drugs, he must procure from the mountain, where it rightly deserves.

In the Akha village of Ban Moukhang, I reported about eighty pictures, made last year. Distribution and heckled a little "surly", as you would expect from the Akha, populations temperament slightly "unruly". Then each image disappears in a few minutes, all are buried deep in the folds of the tunics women then amazing removed in the households concerned. Of course, as usual, it is important not to expect thanks and expressions of strong emotions whatsoever. A little joy and surprise, that's all. The pictures, they will be inspected at length later in private.

The morphology of the village has changed a bit since last year. At that time, any new phenomenon in the region, I had already noticed that the corrugated iron to replace the roofs too quickly perishable and require extensive work of implementation, establishing itself more and more villages , even the most remote. Now a little over one quarter of the forty houses are equipped cons only two last year. What are corrugated cheap, lightweight, yet all carried on their backs on the 27 or 28 kilometers separating us from Ban Sone Neu.

As expected, the villagers of Ban Moukhang does not include any of my approach. They do not agree about the reason for my return a year later, in their miserable village which presents to them irrelevant to an outsider. The tourism concept totally alien to them, even unreachable. Then the conversations related to the reasons for my presence here is going well. For them, I am necessarily motivated by a professional approach, or monetary interest in any case, and they can not grasp. Photos rebates? I have demanded any money, this is also their action is very surprising and incomprehensible. Shortly after I arrived in early afternoon, they even warned the nay ban of my presence, the village head, I had not even met yet, three days here last year. He came to see me, I just asked, but it quickly returned to its activities, moderately reassured. In short, I can not too m'éterniser here.
Day 7, Ban Soulivang, Exuberance Akha Women

Departure early morning Ban Moukhang. From here it's the unknown for me. This year I took a map of the region, scale small (1 / 250, 000) and especially outdated, dating back almost four decades. But it is interesting to indicate the locations of rivers, the importance of terrain and position, it is true randomness, a few villages, those who have not transmigrated or disappeared since the publication of the document.

The sight of my card last night caused her little effect in Ban Moukhang: whereas last year, three days in the Akha village, nobody asked me to reveal my passport, the chief came back to me see at night, ask for ten minutes after I had dared to show off my geographic documents to a few men gathered in my house for the evening. At that time I again reassured about my intentions neutral, peaceful and disinterested, but I am now told: I never reveal that card to the people of the plains region, the populations most paranoid and suspicious vis-à-vis the abroad, but now, given their reaction observed here, very carefully to the Mountaineers.

The next village east, to two hours of walking, it Sone Ban Tai, again population Tai Lue. These all villages Tai Lue, so I can already guess, before doing that it will fall to the bottom of the valley, beside a stream relatively large, and that all houses will be built on piles. Once there, lunch break, fish and freshwater crabs. From here, there is enormous potential for walking, there is plenty to choose directions to take: continue with this track which has now been reduced to relatively clear flight path but close and definitely not monitor or motorcycle, but to identify the condition, the discrete paths steep earning the heights and valleys adjacent to other villages of Akha people, and perhaps Ho.

After the village of Ban Tai Sone, to join the Ban Soulivang must again walk for two hours to climb this time and, for the tiny but beautiful village of arrival, it is said that little effort was made in largely worth it. Twelve or fifteen houses, all wood, bamboo and thatch grass are "hooked" on the hillside. The forest surrounds them and not a single building material manufactured, not a single corrugated none has yet succeeded. It is an Akha village, with then again, there strolling the same stunning female figures.

The "nebulous" Akha living in northern Laos has several very different ethnic groups. There are Luma Akha, the Nuqi the Pouly Nyai the Nutch, the Oma, the Pala, the Kopien the Botche the Tchitcho, Chapo, the EUPA, etc.. Due to a large and fierce desire for independence and continuity, all these groups have maintained cultural identities and strong and do not mix socially at all between them, never, under any circumstances.

It was nice to have been widely noted, the traditional garb of women Akha Nutch as always surprises every time. First is the wide blue trousers indigo, almost black, largely hidden by the long tunic same dark color, which covers almost the entire body but open on the sides from the waist. These textile materials are made entirely by women, from cotton grown by themselves in patches of cleared forest, near the villages. Their Confections require many steps and very long. Here, once written, a brief description of the painstaking work:

"Women work much cotton. I think there are only stages of cultivation and harvesting of the plant that I missed. The flowers are then cleaned, dried and strung, using a small wooden device made by men: they are inserted between two rollers tangent operated by crank and the seed, too large to infiltrate to turn it off then. The fiber obtained as wadding is then beaten to the arc, to be aired and distended, and then is shaped into spindles, locks in six inches in length which will be extracted at the top, the miles of wire needed. Women often have few these strands and their tops in a small pot of bamboo attached to their belts, they can and spinning cotton at the lowest available time of day and do it very often, another walk. Then composition of "bundles" wire, several methods before installing hardworking son of string on the very basic loom. then long hours of weaving shuttle, then dye, then cutting and embroidery, whew! "

The cotton fabrics obtained are thick, heavy, durable and flexible at a time. Those long dark robes are decorated with some embroidery, mainly on the sleeve ends, and rectangles, or strips of patchwork fabric, usually sewn at the bust. The ornaments are relatively coarse but colorful, made from textiles and son blue, yellow, red and green. But the most significant awards, also sewn on the chest, consist of sets of coins of money from various sources and sometimes two or three rectangles, a disc or a rosette, also silver and engraved with symbolic motifs. But there is primarily the exuberant coif.

The rotator Akha women Nutch is initially in a small vertical structure of bamboo placed towards the back of the head and covered with a black piece of cloth falling behind the neck. Around all this and more broadly of the entire head is adjusted a number of different ornaments: necklaces of many fine colored beads, others small spheres or silver cups, and chains of the same metal and a few tassels or small wool tassels in bright colors. Some other small metal objects "intruders" are almost as added each time, provided that they have an appearance close to the money: small key lock, nail clippers, large needles, etc.. Can be hung on both sides of the cap, then pretend as if suspended from the ears, two more heavy silver chains. These, composed of large interlocking rings, down to the chest and are joined by those lower extremities, again by a string of fine pearls. This heavy "necklace" is most often worn on the chest but sometimes also "belong" in the back, in order to perform more comfortably and without embarrassment some work (plowing the fields, cutting wood with a machete, etc..). Finally, the latest jewelry is heavy silver bracelets engraved until two or even three sometimes carried by the wrist. All these elements of silver (excluding coins) were made by craftsmen in the villages by blacksmiths. Many are old because traditionally passed from mother to daughter over several generations. The money from the metal comes from the small bars that pay generally the sale of opium, which we'll talk. Finally, to complete the table jarring surprises and still fascinates the young moms lactating move frequently within a short.
Day 8 May Ban Nampong, water scarce

The walk of the day should logically lead me to the village of Ban Khao Nampong, but Ban Nampong May that I finally succeeded. I'm done "tease" confuse these decorations in steep terrain. But mostly, I did not have to choose the right direction at a certain junction, or more likely, I just did not notice, not spotted the said junction, so narrow and discrete as are the trails here, too little debt and violated and therefore perpetually tends to disappear under the vegetation to return. The coveted village of Ban Khao Nampong was two or three hours walk to the south-east.

The Akha village of Ban Nampong May was similar to Ban Soulivang left this morning so sparsely populated and also that using natural building materials. But it is still a bit more altitude, perhaps a little too much so because of the sudden there is no water. In this period, spaced three months yet still the heart of the dry season, only one tiny source is available near the hamlet. It feeds a small water hole, becoming earthy when it is shaken too. We wash them, drawing them into small bassinées which is then sprinkled. And then, women and young girls come several times a day to fetch water, the hood was responsible for five to seven tubes of bamboo about three to five liters capacity each. Too little water and then one day soon, most likely, there will at all. So this village, like other times, transmigrate, will have no choice but to move to an area better equipped. I made the allusion to my father's home, making him simply noted that there had "not much water in Ban Nampong May. It approved, air vexed and resigned. The problem appears real and worrying.

Who knows why, the Akha of Ban May Nampong are not particularly welcoming. There is not much today shaking hands warm as other days not abuse cautious gestures toward the visitor, and then invitations to drink a glass of water in homes, yet ritual normally around here, are not so many elsewhere. And then there was the money. Everywhere, in every village, it obsesses them always a little like the wild men Akha but here there is a little more emphasis than elsewhere. But now as always, all hints and questions for final hidden purpose of estimating the amount of my personal fortune allegedly evaded by quickly jokes and nonsense. And so I hesitate to simply refuse to respond, to make clear, without ambiguity, which I categorically refused to talk of "money".

The women, are the glittering metal of interest, as the three coins hundred Lit that I show him ostensibly tied together and hung as a pendant to my little bag. They willingly pareraient in their tunics and their crazy hats, however, already loaded with chains and cups of silver, of various currencies in cash or worthless, pearls and some objects "intruders". It was a good idea to prepare myself for this little pendant object immediately because it challenges women and girls. Acting like a magnet, it becomes a good way to seal the first contact, a good excuse to leave approached by them. The coins, which the Akha women are very fond, I keep some in reserve in my bag, as small gifts or other occasions certain situations. They are worthless pieces, from Chinese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Burmese and European, but it does not matter, only that they must be white, color silver, sparkling.

Day 8 May Ban Nampong, water scarce

The walk of the day should logically lead me to the village of Ban Khao Nampong, but Ban Nampong May that I finally succeeded. I'm done "tease" confuse these decorations in steep terrain. But mostly, I did not have to choose the right direction at a certain junction, or more likely, I just did not notice, not spotted the said junction, so narrow and discrete as are the trails here, too little debt and violated and therefore perpetually tends to disappear under the vegetation to return. The coveted village of Ban Khao Nampong was two or three hours walk to the south-east.

The Akha village of Ban Nampong May was similar to Ban Soulivang left this morning so sparsely populated and also that using natural building materials. But it is still a bit more altitude, perhaps a little too much so because of the sudden there is no water. In this period, spaced three months yet still the heart of the dry season, only one tiny source is available near the hamlet. It feeds a small water hole, becoming earthy when it is shaken too. We wash them, drawing them into small bassinées which is then sprinkled. And then, women and young girls come several times a day to fetch water, the hood was responsible for five to seven tubes of bamboo about three to five liters capacity each. Too little water and then one day soon, most likely, there will at all. So this village, like other times, transmigrate, will have no choice but to move to an area better equipped. I made the allusion to my father's home, making him simply noted that there had "not much water in Ban Nampong May. It approved, air vexed and resigned. The problem appears real and worrying.

Who knows why, the Akha of Ban May Nampong are not particularly welcoming. There is not much today shaking hands warm as other days not abuse cautious gestures toward the visitor, and then invitations to drink a glass of water in homes, yet ritual normally around here, are not so many elsewhere. And then there was the money. Everywhere, in every village, it obsesses them always a little like the wild men Akha but here there is a little more emphasis than elsewhere. But now as always, all hints and questions for final hidden purpose of estimating the amount of my personal fortune allegedly evaded by quickly jokes and nonsense. And so I hesitate to simply refuse to respond, to make clear, without ambiguity, which I categorically refused to talk of "money".

The women, are the glittering metal of interest, as the three coins hundred Lit that I show him ostensibly tied together and hung as a pendant to my little bag. They willingly pareraient in their tunics and their crazy hats, however, already loaded with chains and cups of silver, of various currencies in cash or worthless, pearls and some objects "intruders". It was a good idea to prepare myself for this little pendant object immediately because it challenges women and girls. Acting like a magnet, it becomes a good way to seal the first contact, a good excuse to leave approached by them. The coins, which the Akha women are very fond, I keep some in reserve in my bag, as small gifts or other occasions certain situations. They are worthless pieces, from Chinese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Burmese and European, but it does not matter, only that they must be white, the color of money, scintillans

Day 9, Ban Takhao, shamanic healing rituals in Ho (1)

Practice of a bygone era, the grandmother of my foster home has reduced the feet, they were blindfolded during their growth during childhood and adolescence, and the atrophying. The result, they are stunted legs, halved, measuring no more than twelve inches in length, now wrapped in "socks" bandage and small moccasins tailored and tapered end. Amazing place to observe this curious because it seems to me that this practice was "reserved" for the girls of a certain aristocratic and in no case to farmers, more marginal, and mountain here (minority ethnic formerly expelled from China and considered at the time there as wild), who must have all their physical faculties. My grandmother was so disabled, it moves slowly and balance, already a little disturbed by his advanced age, sometimes seems precarious.

The village of Ban Takhao, ethnicity Ho, is located in the heart of the province of Phongsaly. Having previously, before accessing it, learned it was a kind of crossroads-town in the region, I was expecting a population density greater and the presence of some infrastructure worthy of its status as perhaps be one or more fountains decorated cement, possibly also some houses in this same material, surely a small shop selling basic products, etc.. But no, there's nothing all that Ban Takhao village is sparsely populated and eventually preserved very, very traditional.

Mud houses, mud walls, armed with wood, thick crumbling but nevertheless a high of only about five feet, but walls topped with flattened bamboo and woven them round up the roof. The space fronting on two fronts each household is enclosed by a parapet of stones of all sizes, stones and rocks very roughly arranged between them, rather just stacked, but preventing any incursions of animals (pigs, buffaloes and cows) near immediate housing, inside of them small and they are being sheltered as well. Not like the Yao, Hmong, or sometimes even the Akha, where pigs can then, from time to time, attempt an incursion inside.

These are the same stones of all sizes, which form the paths of the village stepped on a hillside. The smaller ones are scattered in rubble, then very large fit together, forming steps as helping to overcome the runoff of water, mud puddles and dung mixed.

Forty houses up the village, and it is therefore very much spread thatched roofs that fall down to the mud walls, providing large canopies under which you can sit outside, away from sun and rain and which are installed looms women. Here at least, thanks to the stone parapets, pigs can come and agglutinate in turn, with men, as often observed among the Yao.

The cattle, buffaloes and cows and pigs, wander at leisure in the village on the steep passages, or are based on small areas adjacent to houses paddocks. The villagers of Ban Ho Takhao buffalo have among the largest I have seen so far, massive beasts, round if they are observed from the front and decked pairs of horns monumental. But most of the cows, a breed hump on his back, grazing the bottom of the village, the only pre horizontal, perhaps one hectare, it was possible to obtain in the region.

For it is only relief, low (rarely exceeding two thousand meters) but steep, steep. With a few tiny plains here and there, there is not an acre of flat land. It goes up or goes down, always, inevitably, that one is in the forest crops in the villages, especially on trails.

Poor me, for lack of vocabulary, until I did not even know how to beg the nay ban, the village chief. Gap now filled, is now into his house that I go first and foremost upon arrival in a new village. This reassuring, I see, all the villagers, and that I am formalizing my visit. And now I show him almost every time, at least where I feel necessary, my visa and then making myself clear to everyone that I am a visitor, tourist, and in no case "worker". For that question, "Are you here to work?", Will inevitably put me right after the other, more important, which is "Are you quite alone?". After this presentation of my benevolent intentions, as the felt of each situation, I may try to reveal my cards and my books and ask people on my next travel options.

Ho is the "Chinese" and their language is unrelated to those of other neighboring ethnic groups. Adults and children practice daily and then I can not even guess, with a few words usually identified, topics of conversation. Like all groups, men usually speak a little, however Lao but not women, so often they are forced to translate some of my remarks with a man.

Twelve people live under the roof, grandparents, two young son and their wives, other children and grandchildren. Five or six times since last night two men, whose great-grandfather of my household and another outside it, have made "prayers" against some big sticks of incense is consumed and other ritual objects kept in the hands (paper bamboo, bronze bells, large animal claws, bears very likely). It is long, haunting and very monotonous words or songs, recited on your uniform, "muttered" instead. This lasts each time between ten and twenty minutes. Some of these spells occurred before the small altar to the "spirits" of the house, others face one of two pretty and young mothers whose baby she is carrying in his arms during these "ceremonies" seems seriously ill . During these last, the papers are burned bamboo, bells are agitated in support of diction, and finally, the bear claws are "caressed" cons different parts of the body of the child. Both men are shamans, they seek a cure here. These ceremonies are not disrupt the timing of other events and activities of the house there are not very willing attention, each pursuing its activities and conversations, whereabouts does not mean ceasing. In case there is no interest or attention respectful silence.

10 Day Ban Takhao, shamanic healing rituals in Ho (2)

Because the very young mother of the house is incredibly beautiful, chubby round face surrounded the large turban of the same design (we will describe another day the elegant dress of the women Ho), because the grandfather and the children are adorable; because the village is beautiful, because the food is excellent (there is not two or three dishes, inevitable among Akha, probably seasoned with fish sauce fermenting in bamboo tubes and feeling truly at carrion an advanced stage of decay), because it is a source close to the house (and there is no need to go wash, follow a trail impassable, muddy and slippery, descending the bottom of a valley) because my bed is only located in the main room, because, although I am sure to pass through other villages in the coming days, I know very little Ho, for all these and other reasons, I decided to stay a second day in the village of Ban Takhao. I just apply with my grandfather in assuring him that tomorrow, for sure, I'll go. Spontaneous joy of children!

Amenities at the source. Some children, once they understood my intention, before me. The girls in turn, is a little farther they watch me and for many adults it's doorsteps or indoors through cracks and boards disjoint, or bamboo walls very openwork forming as lattices. In short, still a bit more restraint and discretion in Akha example where it is often up to a hundred people or more who come form a wide circle around the contemplative grooming.

Women and children Yao, reported streams, carry water to the shoulder yoke, two buckets placed outriggers at each end of the yoke, solid but flexible "rod" flat cut into the thick wall of a big bamboo tube. The Akha, between the fountains and rivers and village, carrying in five to seven large bamboo tubes about four inches in diameter and eighty centimeters long, arranged vertically in the hood back. More surprising is the technique adopted by women Ho village of Ban Takhao: they draw water from the source and perform a single but very long bamboo tube with a diameter slightly greater than those of the Akha and sometimes up two meters or more, in length and must be able to contain at least fifteen to twenty liters of fluid and is then transported sideways on the shoulder to the house.

Babies are often put to sleep in a wicker basket of bamboo, which serve to bring different materials and foods fields or forest. They are sometimes placed in a wicker stool just returned on the ground, then they risk nothing because they may leave on their own. Troublemaker spite me, it happens from time to time by reason of my presence, while all eyes and attention focused on me and that we forget the rest for a few minutes, it occurs an "accident": a baby falling from a height, a pig or a cow making a foray into a rice field or garden remained open, chickens reaching reach a shelf in the kitchen, a cooking fire growing dangerously, etc. .

The nay ban, both chief and leader of my family, the father of two young children it seems, is away from home. It is in the field and all have assured me yesterday that he would return late in the day. But it has not reappeared. By cons, because the village is relatively large (he met forty households), we explained that there were here three nay ban, three village chiefs. But they should probably prevail each of "functions" of different roles, administrative, or other ritual.

This morning, two women arriving from outside the village have traveled, each loaded with a huge bamboo basket on her back. Shouting first words in the aisles to announce their presence and then entering some houses, they buy animals captured or killed by the villagers. These were mainly different kinds of "squirrel", redheads, blacks, flounces, very large, and also turtles. They then went away in other villages north-east to where I too am going to run later.

There is still a "prayer" for the sick baby. This time accessories consist of three sticks of incense and some big black hair just pulled on a pig crossing and that it does not seem particularly selected or chosen. The whole is then coated with a few rectangles of paper and bamboo waved before the child. But this time it's a woman who s'atèle to the task, the "prayer" is chanted in five minutes. As always, the uproar surrounding non-affected is not. The incense sticks manufactured are used in the village, they have nothing in common with those, tiny, aromatic, we sometimes use to flavor our interior West. They have a diameter comparable to that of a pen and measure more than fifty centimeters in length. Once in a Hmong village, I attended their preparation, it is a dry pounded bark enters largely into their composition. Burning, they emit a thick smoke which mingles with all other stagnant inside the homes, those homes mostly cooking and also those water pipes constantly kindled men. The smoke blackened the walls, beams and thatch roof, objects, cobwebs invasive and never removed, thick layers of oily soot.

11 Day Ban Pingxang, shamanic healing rituals in Ho (3)

Wake up at 5 am 30. It rained last night. Just to move around the village, it becomes dangerous. The mud is pervasive, to thresholds of houses. In the alleys should try to jump from stone to stone, but large muddy passages require to go down, then he must resign.

Last night there were still "praying" for the baby near the second outbreak of the house, located at the foot of my bed. I myself am then installed a time to be a ringside seat to the "show". Ritual around an egg. There is always the big sticks of incense, but here are planted in the ground. Then the egg, which is broken into a bowl of water. Using a soft green grass and it handled delicately in yellow, we go back so you can scan in all directions, from all sides, but without the drill. A few moments of talking and lively and informed comments were concentrated between the shaman and the wife of the "prayer" for the pig hair yesterday. It then adds a few pinches of tobacco, one yellow, fine and silky than men smoke in the bangs in the huge water pipes made of bamboo which we'll talk about the latest hits. Then some chopped herbs and a little salt and rice wine are in turn added to the "preparation"; again stirred with the grass, again we scrutinize and comment on the mixture with animation. Then you throw everything out, it's over. All this took place once again to the mother carrying the sick child.

This morning several men and women visiting my family. "Prayers, incense, but more sophisticated than other times. While it is already in the house, a new altar was improvised, hastily erected on a wooden chair. There are deposited a small pot of bamboo filled with grains of corn, a small cup of alcohol, another tea, small "flags" made of wood and bamboo paper, feathers and chicken feet and dried sticks Incense planted in a final container, made of bamboo and straw containing raw rice. Other "prayers" were recited by another man whom I had not seen a single time in the village. It manipulates a kind of pendulum, a metal bar and ornate suspended by both ends, with a strong cotton thread. Again, the scene seems nobody cares, as ultimately quite banal.

In Ho, everyone seems very cautious, very attentive to each other. Babies go arm in arm, those younger girls to those of grandfathers. In my case, I perceive that each of my gestures are observed and that it even tries to anticipate my desires and needs.

Very quiet, except during its sessions "prayer", the grandfather of my house shaman speaks only at night. Now very old, it does more than a few chores, between sessions of water pipes. In the afternoon yesterday, he has gone to seed corn, slowly, very slowly, but the return of my wanderings in the village twenty good pounds had been obtained. For cons the evening, when some of his old buddies have joined around the home, he can run, like all other men in long, slow and above all, stand. Yesterday evening, however after two nights here, some parts of conversations, I guessed, were related to alleged reasons for my presence here.

I leave this morning. I suspect that the path will be difficult, uncertain, and it is more than probable that repleuve during the day. But for now, at 7 hours and always for the baby with a pig and a chicken is sacrificed, feast in prospect. Ritual, pieces of meat are presented to the improvised altar just a few moments ago, and again, obviously, "prayers" were recited by my grandfather shaman. Then everything becomes clearer. While us men we Gorgeon of Lao Lao, the local rice wine, especially strong here and taking a greenish tint, some women gather and prepare items inside a bag. Since the meetings of shamanism have obviously not worked, the young mother and her baby, then a young man whom I could discern the relationship with them will finally leave for the hospital Saly, small capital city of the province of the same name. Many people recover some money to the young mother, for sure, they will remain there several days and nothing is free, nor the transportation to take place even if at foot on the third term, or shelter, or care and medicines, or food, or hospitality and smiles as a mountaineer in plain, like a Romanian Roma in a French town, do not expect attention to at all times, should expect nothing from others.

Now he should go, to the next village to Ban Pingxang. I just spotted on the map, there are two rivers to cross and it will go up a little in the hills. Although some of them make me understand that the path will be difficult of recognition, no man seems to accompany me. Then start one. Four hours of actual work, then breaks unrecorded. The heart of the province of Phongsaly, we can not get around on foot. All streams, rivers and streams, regardless of their importance to cross a ford. Very steep valleys, green, dense and moist and animal life appear in large numbers. I started to worry after half past three, because for once, all the men interviewed in Ban Takhao seemed to agree on the duration of the journey and all assured me it would take me no more three hours to reach the next village. It is the eternal vagueness of the information themselves villagers, without real need to know with precision, never check. The trails were muddy and slippery but beautiful landscapes in small showers and between the layers of mist. Dense forests completely covering the hills, steep mountains averages.

Upon arrival in the village of Ban Ho Pingxang I did not even have to beg the house of a nay ban since a man tells me immediately the house of one of them. There the second man, living in this house, I point the finger first, just met before and who sent me here. I express my incomprehension and he finally invited me to drop my bag inside, resigned, looking distraught. I then realized the two men are leaders, but my unexpected arrival has disturbed, they then rejected the "hot potato" ... But now, reassured by the presence of at least one adult, thirty kids arrived, then other adults, too, some are content to watch me for a moment before turning around. But when the assembly is stabilized, it's time to introduce me to recite my usual speech: "I'm alone now I come to this village and I want to go back to that direction, I am French and 'm here to walk, I have already made this journey in seven days from the village of Boun Neua, I will leave tomorrow and I want to spend the night in your village, is this possible? etc.. "

I approach fairly easily Ho. The men especially as children, at least initially, all flee from my sight. I express to them, now as always, just my intentions while revealing my visa, but they appear anyway not able to decipher correctly. Because if not here, one of the first questions for me, anyway after the inevitable first one designed to further ensure that I am alone, is asking me if I'm here to "work". That question, I have already said but I see it again several times each day in this isolated area, seems to be paramount, even seems almost worrisome. When done well to make sure I'm alone, it is everywhere even more important. The fear of the emergence, following me, a group would do four or five other foreign real and is huge because it's certainly a situation they have, without preparation, hard to master.



January 27, 2008 at 8:47 · amended by 321 June 2, 2009, 13:14
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12 Day Ban Phoulikang, Winnowing rice and rodents

Eight children and young people and five or six adults make up my family Pingxang Ban. In the morning, as everywhere, it is young girls and women who rise early to very early times from 4 hours 30 minutes start to perform domestic tasks. When the boy of seven years, this morning it was chopped using a machete "to do anything", the plant that is now eating pigs. The girls, after husked with a pestle to balance which we will return, winnow rice, several times and for long moments. For this village seems to have a serious problem with rodents of all kinds. The girls rice winnow, ie clean, sort, dispose of its inedible and dust, is "trimmed" droppings of insects, mice droppings and others. The winnowing process is done on a van, a large circular plate made of woven bamboo. Three to four kilos of rice grains just pounded it to say, peeled but mixed in their enclosures (sound), are deposited. The maneuver is usually done outside, near the hens will watch the crumbs lost, but sometimes also inside the houses, dusty and a little more. The rice is several times and gestures precise and elegant, designed in height and there the lighter particles of sound and dust tend to deviate from the path and fall outside the van on the ground. But the droppings of rodents, almost the same size and density as rice, must then be removed one by one by hand. Another sign of true abundance of rodents in the village late yesterday afternoon, two falcons were placed on a dead tree located within the precincts of the village. This has caused some unrest among the few people around me then.

In the course of yesterday there was some uncertainty when the directions to take to the trails to choose at intersections. As I said earlier, I had just sensed from the village of Ban Takhao but men do not seem too worried that I left alone, is ultimately without using any villagers I have made the journey up Pingxang Ban. Yesterday evening however, there from the meal, a man agreed to accompany me today, next to the village of Ban Phoulikang. As often among men who accept my markets, is an opium addict. What is ultimately not surprising because these men, unfit for most of the heavy work of clearing fields and forests, see here the relative ease to make two or three under. For it is well understood that I pay every time my companions and it also explains clearly, without ambiguity or taboo, he needs this money to buy his drugs. He came to see me this morning at 8 o'clock, but simply to tell me that smoking off again immediately and it would therefore be on the road a little later. Arrived there, he does not immediately turn path but, like me, spend the night in Ban Phoulikang so one can actually afford to go quite late.

For now, these paths, possibly because they are among the highest in the province, there are no leeches, no, not a single overview of the past two days. But after tomorrow I will reach the Nam Ou River, the major rivers that criss-crosses the province of Phongsaly. I'll join the top portion of the wildest, most inaccessible to the place from which it is even more navigable upstream as too turbulent and dangerous. Then, just before reaching there the trail goes down a long time, and it is mainly on the slopes of valley bottoms, the vegetation is densest, most diverse, most grandiose and leeches swarm. And indeed, a man just tell me they are waiting for us in number, this will be one of their strongholds.

As expected, women and girls Akha villages crossed it are four and five days were very interested in my three shiny coins Italian pendant that I show him my small bag slung. They coveted the same, they would have gladly added their tunics and caps, already heavily decorated other currencies of various origins. They no interest, however not all women Ho. For in what concerns them, just they parent their blouses, jackets instead (also elegantly decorated with fine embroidery placed around the neck and sleeve-ends) of a few silver bells, attached to the upper end of the closure, neck detail. No, they are what they please, it's such a small string of mountaineering with bright blue colors that I use to pack my fleece jacket. Sure, it would immediately belt, which would double their own, carefully and finely woven.

It continues to rain, mud liquefies. At night, in darkness, only then winds certainly not going to satisfy a natural need much further than the doorsteps, in the manner of beasts, cows, buffaloes, pigs and poultry, very Many wander the village and overnight parking nearby dwellings.

The houses of Ban Pingxang are more sketchy than Takhao Ban. No more wall is made of pise (reinforced earth wood) but all only slight woven bamboo walls. Some also simple and rough planks of wood cut, as always with the people "Chinese" (that is to say, having previously emigrated from China) such as Ho and Yao, in hand, to the simple ax more often. But despite everything, despite its remote location, for roofing less perishable and requires less effort than stubble, some corrugated sheets are far reaching, transported from a flat market.

Some families Ho's most affluent use ponies to carry their loads on the narrow and very steep mountain trails, animals from a small but sturdy breed of Tibetan origin. They are involved to transport mainly rice, rice reported the most remote villages, often with two or three hours walk. So in these rice fields there, isolated, there built shelters more sophisticated and robust than in plots located near the villages because there will often one or several nights in a row, during periods of work "heavy" to do not lose a lot of daily travel time. This will happen in phases weeding (weeding) mainly, then harvest of course, who constitute the bulk of work in the rice fields.


13 Day Ban Phoulikang Addiction to opium

Walking for nearly four hours yesterday in the mud and on slippery slopes. A journey that I was unable to do alone, such doubts would when presented the choice of directions to take at intersections. My guide addict is a good walker. This way all men are addicts but generally tend to prolong the breaks, even if they do not benefit from these stops to smoke. It is a light rain fell throughout much of the journey and the landscape of dense forest elevation took time to look like "magical" in the middle of the wet curtain. Of the whole course, we have met, about halfway between the two villages of departure and arrival, two young girls, carrying two bags of rice on a small horse. At these altitudes, emerging from a fog bank, the scene of the animal not restrained and the previous two young girls in traditional dress Ho was exceptionally beautiful. Fortunately I was accompanied by one of them because otherwise, this place completely isolated and not come, I can not imagine their terror to my view. Two girls alone sent without an adult as far from any inhabited place is surprising is the first time I watch it. This was probably possible only because the region is little traffic, not at all probably traveled even in this season, except occasionally by villagers of Ban and other Phoulikang Ban Pingxang only.

For this village of Ban Phoulikang would be the very last inhabited place in this direction, the country's Ho. That's it, I crossed from side to side and later it will be announced the descent in the valley basin of the Nam Ou River. Men predicting five hours of walking up there, it will probably be making six for me.

In the village of Ban Phoulikang is already decided this morning, I'll stay a second night. This is probably the most isolated country Ho and perhaps even the region, all ethnicities. A summary of the design too. He brings fifteen flimsy thatched huts of bamboo and thatch, only one of my host family has two exterior walls of adobe and it no longer, as in Ban Takhao, the sturdy stone walls identifying each house, but only for some of them frail bamboo fences flattened and very coarsely woven. This is my guide opium addict who has guided me authority because it is inhabited by probably related to him.

Yesterday upon arrival here, right in the pocket money I gave him, he immediately absent, departed to another house, then reappeared a half hour later, a few grams of opium in his hand. He then immediately emptied the entire contents of her bag to shoulder alone smoking materials it contained, then settled on a couch and started to work. It is very clear. I very well paid for his support during our walk. 30 000 kips (2, 30 euros) is too much, 20 000 kips far enough and would have been more in tune with the living standards of villagers in the region. But it was widely argued with his stories of missing opium. He was thirty six years. Yesterday, while walking, he told me he was seriously ill eight years ago and at that time he was even then confined to bed for no less than three months. A very serious problem in the legs "he said then mimed. Then at that time, like others in many and varied injuries and other health problems, he began to "flirt" with opium. Because it is regarded primarily as a drug, only available in villages and is used daily to combat coughs, diarrhea, malaria, headache, etc.. It is also due to morphine in it, the only painkiller available. Although traditionally reserved for seniors to help them endure the pain and other physical disorders appearing in approach and in old age, accident or illness are actually also occasions in which the younger people also succumb to drugs , addiction final. These people then become totally and permanently unfit for heavy work, abandoning their families extra work but also spending because they will try to give them their essential and costly doses of opiates daily. Other villagers also by mountaineers will eventually engage in the opium off disease without definite reason and all ages. But we can largely assume that many among them is the progress towards poverty, ignorance and the growing insecurity about their future, which increases their confusion, the undermining and then tend to favor the opium among them. The spiral then begins running, the consumption of opium, a real cost factor is cost, de-capitalization, the process of moving into poverty is accelerating.

Another category of people who eventually engage in opium, but for their part unintentionally, is that of women. It is in the poppy fields during the harvest of the drug, which will be discussed later in detail, they will "contaminate", by skin contact of the substance on their fingers as a way of other yet more perverse and subversive of intoxication. They, however, perhaps because of superior wisdom but also probably greater awareness of their vital role in the survival of their offspring are able to remain active enough to perform routine tasks parallel meeting of their smoking, taking place then mostly in the evenings, after long and tiring days of work. More than men, they meet several times during these sessions and for abroad, the performances of three or four women, lying curled on a mat, oriented in the same direction and smoking are all simultaneously at each both surprising and disconcerting. These sessions are smoking absolutely taboo for the environment, we do not hide it, they are everyday acts, gestures as usual others. Finally, it is also sometimes given to see a parent "with" a few puffs of steam opium at a young sick child, usually made of strong hints cough tuberculosis.

My guide addict yesterday, since shortly after the meal this morning at 6 hours, has quit, and that until the mid-day. He, too, I warned that I would stay here for a second night because he had already proposed to continue to accompany me to follow my path, at least five or six hours' journey to the next village that of Tay Natchang located so low on the banks of the Nam Ou River. For now, despite my delayed departure, he seems in no hurry to return to his village, then tomorrow, wish he always accompany me or does he decide to turn around?

The village of Ban Phoulikang is positioned on the last hill just before a "summit" on a large circular area of red earth, of perhaps five hundred feet long, steep and heavily cracked deep fissures caused by the abundant flow Rainwater that occur during the monsoon months. There are scattered over large "cottages" of bamboo, a fortnight. Not a single material outside the forest has been to build them but the only plant: bamboo, wood, thatch grass, leaves, rattan and other types, etc.. Below there is a shallow but very sunken valley and surrounding peaks green, home to very large trees preserved. As observed in other villages also located in particularly high, in particular those of Yao, he is surrounded by any fence of external protection, which suspected that the incursion of wild animals in the villages high is less likely in the valleys.

Unlike Ban Takhao there are three or four days, we no longer any women wear heavy turbans decorated the periphery of decorative embroidered badges. Only now simpler and certainly less bulky turbans, black, or vulgar damn colorful fabric manufactured. Too bad because there, in Ban Takhao, I have realized that a photo of a woman decked out in this crazy traditional headdress, was the beautiful mother of the baby sick. But there is always the smocks and aprons paintings in bright colors, blue, green or pink, which take all their chips on the outside to fund rainforest or areas of red soil.

I have seen on my map, I located approximately at the border of the vast nature reserve of Phou Den Din which extends from here on all sides is the last province of Phongsaly then a territory still larger in neighboring Vietnam. There is only the primary forest on ninety-eight percent of its surface and there is almost no path to enter them. Contrary to what I thought until very recently, at least two villages, the Hmong population, it would draw it would have found refuge. Two Hmong villages very eccentric, people that I suspect even if existing high latitude in the province, located almost one hundred kilometers as the crow flies from the nearest other place inhabited by the same ethnic group. Here it is imperative to go, probably in two days to reach the first of them. I also learned that the Hmong of these remote villages were among the best in terms of efficiency performance, cultivators of opium poppy in the region point to spend more time working culture that that of rice. Signs of "savagery" and proper preservation of the area, I've never seen previously also in other villages, as many relics of animals hunted here: skins of deer and antelopes of forest , these horns, feathers of various birds of prey, tail unidentified mammal, animal teeth, they often brought in decorations, pendants in the necks of young boys, teeth and claws of cats and bears, claws large prey as well.

I am a little surprised frail appearance and dilapidated village of Ban Ho Phoulikang but yesterday a man told me the story. His village, the most isolated of the right bank of the Nam Ou River, will transmigrate. In one year, under the "encouragement" from the administration, all the villagers will leave for the neighboring province but distant from here, that Oudomxai, located further south. There they find while nearest large plains, roads, the capital of the administration so that most will then watch a little bit of their actions and "encourage" more easily, for example, to abandon opium cultivation. It is the policy of the authorities towards the ethnic minority hill, for several years, to relocate, to make them more "manageable". The pretext of such displacement is usually the goal to acknowledge the mountain to destroy the forest with their traditional crops on fallow shifting cultivation, while it is now proven that in the region it is not because peasants involved in a cyclical fashion, several years apart and almost always the same wasteland, the forest then ample time to regenerate it. This morning I try to ask other people about this transmigration announced, none appears to reverse these revelations, but neither wanting to get information beyond measure in this regard. It is like a nuisance, a taboo, the subject seems difficult. In any case, reach Oudomxai, no load to carry and no livestock to drive it three days running and then a heavy day of transport. But then, in conclusion, that justifies the state of disrepair on the village because it maintains no longer much more than some heavy work are no longer made.

My second day in Ban Phoulikang unfolds over the visits of several houses adjacent to mine. Receptions, while everyone has now had much time to be informed of my arrival in the village and my conduct peaceful and disinterested, still relatively warm, even if they are single women who are in homes with children.

The water point is located above one hundred fifty meters from the village, which oozes from the ground a little and scarce source. As at May Ban Nampong five days ago, the water now too rare here poses a serious and dangerous problem. No doubt the announcement of the transmigration village also cause this phenomenon, but certainly it must also be a good excuse for most of the authorities to carry it out. For the mountain villagers, mostly of traditional culture semi-nomadic, are perfectly capable, without assistance, and especially not the authorities, and provided especially that allow them to discover themselves, to choose these large areas untouched and uninhabited province, another earth home more conducive to their survival.

Occasionally adults relate to the forest, in addition to heavy trunks felled with an ax for men or hoods charged with bamboo shoots and other plants for women, huge clusters of tiny berries, seeds rather that children eat immediately, having just transferred into a container and then salted. It is very acid in taste, truly inedible for us Westerners, and is undoubtedly of sugar that should accompany it, but there are none here. But it is also clearly a cultural issue of taste and "purgative instinct" that they use them. Because this is not the only foods such as seen in the villages. Indeed, regular mountaineers but also lowland Lao, eat berries and other fruits of this kind, that is to say, not fully ripe, then taste sour or very sour. Their role is certainly offset the constipating effects of huge quantities of rice consumed each day and every meal. But I found that many villagers in the region for four or five days that I am, are only two meals daily, six to eight hours in the morning and between sixteen and seventeen hours in late afternoon noon.

Among people "Chinese" (from China) of the region, Ho and Yao mainly masters of the ax handle, the wood supply of cooking fires is reported from the forest by men for heavier trunks. These are portions of trees that were killed earlier in the clearing of forest patches in order to obtain each year a new fertile arable land (these are the crops on fallow shifting cultivation which we will return later). These logs are then cut and split, always with an ax in the village by the expert handling of this tool and it's a real sight to see at work every blow of being with great dexterity and efficiency. But wood is also a daily basis and quantity reported by women and girls returning from the forest hoods overloaded less large pieces of wood, but long, heavy and bulky bundles of branches while exceeding high above their heads .

In this season, often in families, many people, young couples and older and children here soon able to work the fields, are absent, gone to work for several days in a row in the rice paddies of the most remote villages , usually at least two or three hours walk from them. I do not know exactly how these work now consists of fields. Perhaps it is, after the rice variety grown and the location more or less high and exposed plots and therefore their condition more or less advanced stage of ripening, one last weeding or already the beginning of the harvest. But a man has also made an allusion to "hay yaa end" to "poppy fields". Here is perhaps the last finishing plots, or seeding, or perhaps already a first weeding, until the harvest will be in February or March.

A year in Akha village, had purchased a stunning coin which women, girls and children from these ethnic groups traditionally plenty parent their clothes, jackets, caps and hats. It was a silver coin of one dollar and Indochina with the Akha were using, yet until recently, exclusively in all their trade "heavy", ie those from opium. The particularity of this false coin rather clumsily casting pure silver was one of its sides was struck by the words "French Indochina" while the other was "República Mexicana", proving that kind of gray market fraud of these objects had previously had held. The Ho, they are not fond of these awards in cash money, but some children, where not a scratch or dent animal, bear, however sometimes hung around the neck. For them, it is almost always old pieces of Chinese bronze and without value, for those with a perforation in its center. Here a kid in a door which one side is actually hit with Chinese characters, but while on the other it again "French Indochina" that can be read. This is also false, then, is anyway too small to be of bronze.

In all groups mountaineers, women get up early in the morning around 5 am at least 30, but quite often even earlier. They immediately rekindled the embers of the home before making the first big task is to pick up the daily dose of rice in the granaries, row houses or town (as in some villages it is agreed that all rice granaries, built on stilts, will be grouped a little outside the village, so in case of fire general, the harvest of the year's most important asset and vital here, at least be preserved from the flames). Paddy (rice husk) must then undergo a small series of operations before being consumed. It begins with the loot to the shell, then winnowing to get rid of her completely inedible and even poisonous, finally rinse and then cook. Several other tasks, culinary or otherwise, are performed in parallel: caring for children, cooking food for pigs, and other various and varied that I do not always distinguish in almost dark morning and my late sleep. Then men and boys are raised. The men immediately go about their personal activities, the actuation of their particular water pipe, while women continue to be active in the house to finish preparing the meal for example. The men were then generally eat first, the food will be warm or even cold when it will then turn to women. They eat quickly before going to their new activities in the home or its immediate vicinity, the source for laundry or for fetching water, or in forest harvesting.

Here, water is abundant in the small creek located below a portion of which being thin is headed in two or three places in the "gutters" made of bamboo half allowing you to easily collect the same in high containers, in large bamboo tubes designed to carry. In contrast, the Ho have also made a specialty channel, always using bamboo splints, not even a trickle of water from a source located above the village, around reservoirs in multiples just outside of "kitchens" of some houses which consist of large hollow tree trunks. To this place then coarsely perforate the wall of bamboo and we can thus draw directly from inside the house-gourd ladles full of water. The village is then covered by a whole network of these precarious half bamboo tubes rotting and fading, delicately bred up using poles of the same material, to keep them out of reach of pets.

As a wire to extend the machine uses thin rods rattan parts sometimes more than fifteen feet in length. Like bamboo, interest and quality of this primary material consists of the fiber very soft and somewhat brittle, continuous and perfectly straight. Less flexible than cane (hollow) world when once charged and split with a sharp blade, bamboo, the material king here, becomes boardwalk, rods, links and thongs all widths and thicknesses useful for making objects and buildings miles useful in everyday life: baskets, baskets and boxes, enclosures, decks and walkways, furniture, walls, spinning wheels and other accessories designed to work the cotton trap birds or other animals, tools varied, musical instruments, storage tubes, trays, mats, pipes, rafts, etc.. A complete and detailed list of all its applications and potential uses would be too long, even overwhelming.

In the early afternoon of the second day in Ban Phoulikang I also went wandering among the eight or nine houses composing half of the village but arranged a little apart from others, those located west of the largest crevasse crossing the village from end to end and which receives the bulk of the flow of rainwater. But here people, not all familiar with my presence in their village, do not invite me all spontaneously. However, I can force them a little gesture from "authority" of my own initiative rather sit under the eaves of their house, but only on condition that this is not a woman or child who only held there.

When my guide yesterday, in that moment he made his reappearance on the outside, looking opioid and finally preparing to return to today's village of Ban Pingxang. Too bad it was effective and it would not have displeased that this is again he who continues to guide me to the next village of Ban Natchang Tay. For tomorrow either, even more than yesterday, there is no question that I leave alone because I already guessed the particularly dense vegetation as uncertain as too narrow and unfrequented path will cross during the five hour trip to Nam Ou River.

But for now, back in my house, we'll eat a little earlier than usual so that my guide has time to complete its journey back before nightfall. A young girl came to relate to the outside with another household, a dog's head smoked. These men, as often with the (rare) meat available, which will then cut the cooking. I just hope that there will be a few pieces of fried and the whole will not only boiled. Because the pig, when there is almost always the same: that is, more often, simply boiled with herbs that the kitchen, sometimes still, but rarely, fried in fat the same animal, and that's really good. End of the meal, my guide has assembled his smoking materials and preparing to leave. With the dog's head (just finally boiled ...) there's also had a leg that I had not noticed before. This is my guide-addict who has inherited the foot and that was hard for many minutes in each quartered claw before every bite entirely up knuckles.



14 Day Ban Natchang Tay Water Pipes (bang)

Stomach as souvenirs of the country Ho. Difficult to know where they took home. In unboiled water absorbed sometimes? In the dog meat smoked who had a barely perceptible but undeniable smell of carrion? In the use of dishes that are always just washed but just rinsed and used commonly by all? In hand contact with the mouth, they too often in connection with objects contaminated? Who knows ...

This morning I recruited my, my rather new guides. One of two young fathers of the house was first proposed to accompany me, I announced a price and he simulated the indignant. Then another man jumped on this opportunity and accept my 25 000 kip (2 €) as compensation for five hours walk planned. Bargain, starting immediately. It begins with his house but soon went there, change strategy, it is ultimately his mother and another son ... and a pony to accompany me. The horse, for eighty cents more, can carry my bag. Rare bargain, there is not a moment's hesitation, I can more easily enjoy the countryside and also watch my feet, that is to say, look after a little more efficiently leeches that should be present in numbers to go for lust.

Fabulous trails, the more significant as the rain finally ceased since yesterday afternoon. It runs along the ridges for more than two hours before going down into a valley and to rise again, to new. From time to time we stopped to pick mushrooms and berries, to graze the horse to get rid of leeches by careful inspection of the lower body to drink water and cool off in streams, smoking in water pipes left available at the roadside, abandoned there by others and, at the very last of those stops before the final descent, to mow grass horse and make that big bundles itself will, for the mother tells me that you will not find any more down in the hollow of the valley and that there is no other plant will be edible for the beast.

Only mothers who smoked in water pipes trail, not his son. These pipes, too bulky to carry when traveling, are actually manufactured on site and left there, and then used by all smokers of passage. These are brief, unadorned and built in less than five minutes using only a machete. They are still used even if they are old and sometimes they begin to deteriorate under the weather. There's almost always one or two of available abandoned there by others on the resting characteristics of paths: the top of climbs, crossing point passes near sources of drinking water under the broad and large trees particularly Sheltering in or rather under, each small shelter built on stilts rice.

A water pipe, called bang here is a big bamboo tube seven to ten centimeters in diameter and about sixty to eighty centimeters long. This large tube is pierced, obliquely, and about six inches from its base, a second bamboo tube but much finer. The tightness of coupling between these two elements is performed using simple earth clogged. The distal end of the tube secondary hardening in the water at the bottom of the large main tube while its upper end is where the hearth is deposited tobacco smoke. The mouth and a cheek full of smoking are joined at the mouth of the huge thick tube and the tobacco is burning. The inhaled smoke before and go through the water, very audible noise "gurgle" is heard all along that takes action. After a few seconds, that is to say after one or two long bursts aspirated the ashes of burned tobacco are ejected from homes blown off by a very short end of the mouth. But at this stage the very large lead pipe contains a lot of smoke that continued to suck while partially blocking the fireplace, now empty of tobacco, with the palm of the hand. The volume of smoke produced and absorbed at each suction is impressive, unrelated one, low in comparison with a single cigarette. Finding its origin in the southern provinces of China, nearby the bang, the water pipe is used throughout the Phongsaly and has been adopted by all ethnic groups who inhabit, they live in mountains and plain. It also occurs, but very little, however, in the neighboring province of Oudomxai then anywhere else in the country. Each household, without exception, has one or two, sometimes more, and almost every man of the house or just visiting there, use abundant and very frequently, always carrying in a pocket a few grams of




15 Day Ban Kalangtoung, altars to the "spirits" Ritual & Healing Hmong

Here at Ban Tay Natchang in this type of Tai Lue village as ever installed on a river, with rice it eats almost exclusively fish, mainly kebabs but also sometimes boiled. Then deposited into the dish unique and common, we peck the crumbs that is seasoned by soaking in a pot of bamboo container crushed peppers and salt mixed. Fish is what I like least here because they are cooked and dried over not so much taste and are so loaded with tiny bones, before venturing to swallow a mouthful it must be snack time. It is also sometimes frogs, cut with machetes and then boiled, entirely consumed, head to the ends of the feet. Each mouthful is a surprise because in the semi darkness of the interior permanent homes, they do not choose the songs we "capture" the tips of chopsticks in the common dish. So today, what would have really liked is an omelette. For the Mountaineers do not consume eggs, except in some very specific ritual occasions, I had no chance to benefit from these ten days spent among them. Early this morning I wanted to buy some to a woman but there were too serious doubts about their laying date. So fish, frogs and frustration, especially since yesterday evening I saw two beautiful pieces of pork, two heavy pieces of fat through the small square in front of my house. I should still monitor what they are landed, I could now try and approach interested!

This morning I left the village of Ban Tay Natchang in somewhat hasty and even angry, and I am so glad to have found the mountaineers including, certainly, I feel much more comfortable. But meanwhile back at them for stories far richer and interesting, here in bulk some events, without much interest it must be confessed, that took place yesterday evening and this morning in Ban Tay Natchang before my departure. It's Saturday night, a sound system is installed at the center of the square, the small area of sandy soil that is released just in front of my house home, between it and the two fountains in the village cement. The ramshackle wooden benches are placed all around, here and there, forming a circle about twenty feet in diameter. The sound system is powered by a small turbine placed in the river and a few tens of meters of electric son mended link. A tape player, amplifier, two speakers, heavy equipment, bulky and old anyway. Then a light bulb, placed just above all, hanging wooden post planted in the center of the square and the circle thus formed by about three percent of the villagers. The sound does not work, it must then go inspect the turbine for thirty minutes. Then that's it, there is current. But the speakers scream, screech that sounds discordant and distorted, electric, shrill, intolerable, even though the tape is not already running. Forty five minutes of adjustments are needed then to try again, we get sound, but infamous, strident and howling. Too bad, it will be satisfied. It then introduces, in five minutes, fifteen young school girls and boys as a little ridiculous spectacle of synchronized dance. Then, also in five minutes, it was the turn of the repetition of a song. The result is lamentable, laughable even, and it is obvious that this is, at least for the dance of the first test and there was no more rehearsals before. Then everything is explained, the reason for this gathering and the festivities: an official is visiting here today, he arrives Phongsaly, the capital of the province of the same name further south to four or five hours of canoe then half past one runway. He and some men of the village are also taking place around the circle, not on wooden benches, but in the "gallery", that is to say on children's chairs, plastic face of a bench which then serves as a table. One of the young boys and a girl are in charge, in turn, serve their lenses Lao Lao, the terrible local rice wine, and also glasses of hot water, indispensable when you do not have d a little food to get every sip of alcohol violent. A man makes a speech, he tries the microphone, but goddamn it, it screams, it's unbearable when he speaks aloud. They listen a little, we applauded, then do not listen any more, then we still applauded again, and on several times. Music, sound is horrible, garish, it's more noise than music. The thirty students then performs somehow his lamentable and grotesque spectacle just repeated previously. Then they dance to the sounds of noise spewed by audiotape. On the lam wong dance, traditional dances of Laos Plains, a little ridiculous perhaps a look of Western observer. Young girls may be eleven to fourteen years who has been given the instructions, carefully, just invite Official Phongsaly and "significant" features the men of the village chiefs and others, dance. For once, it's a shocking difference in age between partners of each pair of dancers, older men and girls children. Then other dance too, but not young, teenagers or old men who should be the only absentee, with the baby of the evening. The tape never starts in the early chapters and as is tradition, one dance each time before each one returns to his place, men on one side, girls on the other, only women are scattered. The potential of this traditional music, rhythms and even relatively catchy, never operated. The lam wong, it is danced in pairs placed side by side and moving slowly twirling their hands, far left and far right of the body. All the couples form a circle and modesty compels no one should touch. Then again not listened to speeches and polite applause. The official single, then engaged in a song, using the microphone without music accompaniment. It is located exactly in the shadow of the central pillar, we do not distinguish, single bulb hanging in this pillar lighting instead. But the sound is appalling, another twenty minutes to test a new setting. So second attempt at singing the part of the official, who takes his place in the shadow ... His voice is nothing spectacular, even very poor. To honor him, however, men are trying to excite and to heat up the crowd with "driiiiiiii" traditionally shouted during all songs lam wong. There are tours of Lao Lao circulating among the benches. Between each dance the men travel with a bottle in one hand and a glass of another, and serve at all, mainly men but also women, need buckets swallow gulp. Lao Lao is extremely strong as alcohol besides Saturday requires, for many are already drunk from the middle of the afternoon. They'll all scream in the face of incomprehensible speech, then ask me every time I understand their words, so I say no, then I agree they are based twenty times the same question. Breaths ethereal, haunting sound, excitement, screams, I do feel more at ease at all. That my young guide the horse Ho, who guided me on the road today, made his reappearance, his mother has to share his sleep at this late hour. Claiming lack of money, young men tease him, he goes to buy cigarettes. One of them even tried to search the pocket of his shirt to try to get 2000 or 3000 kips. I then proceed along with his own and discovers two cigarettes rolled up in a ticket of 5000 kips. I feel that I am on the verge of making him lose face, but now at least a nice contrast to my guide, I disappear, too. Later, one of them who still teases me with my personal fortune, I need to compare its relative ease economic status with that of the mountaineers, the condition of the villagers through village last example, that of my guide Ho who really bathe them in abject poverty without name. That, too, that the "quiet" argument. But I am beginning to end be too drunk, alcohol and incomprehensible words, hackneyed and postillonnées hundred times to my face. I took a few pictures, the flash caused a sensation in the audience because it "formalizes" the event even more. Dances in the round, with still leads the couple formed by the official and a girl child. Speeches, cries, Lao Lao tours, dance, tours of Lao Lao, screaming, etc.. Sordid and grotesque feast drunk to the point, I go to bed, at least fifteen meters from the terrible sound.

This morning at 7 o'clock dinner, grilled fish and frogs boiled with rice sticky, glutinous or rather who, by this particular substance, can be eaten with the fingers. The khao niaw, glutinous rice is a rich variety of rice that are found in almost all the plains of Laos, is a bit of national food here and even almost a national emblem. This type of rice can be obtained by irrigated crops, agricultural technique that mountaineers can not practice on their slopes too steep and lack of adequate water systems. The Tai Lue villagers, apart from the other major activity is fishing, then grow irrigated rice, but usually on tiny plots arranged in terraces to the bottom of narrow valleys. But then this morning meal, Ban Natchang Tay, amid which, politely, I say that fish are good. The father makes me confirm and seizes this opportunity to claim no fewer than 50 000 kips! 50 000 kips for the night and poor meals, ten times what I could almost be in favor of leaving in such a remote village. Besides this is the first time you dare ask me for money, for example, never do mountaineers would permit such a gesture towards me. While it is too much, I put my handful of rice on the table, took my bag, fate, recovering quickly in order, returns filing 5000 kips on the table without a word, then go away, permanently. They were well deserved but I have with my only two meals daily for several days, now that I jumped over another. Yesterday, while he pursued the two flaps of pig, I also saw a neighborhood of five or six bananas across the square. This species is the one picked green and then it is still ripe and its flesh is pink. They are excellent, along with some sticky rice that I could apply to another family, this would be a delight and I catch a little shot just missed the meal. But this morning there was no trace of bananas and, after interviewing some people, it does not seem to be others in the village today. I have two tiny stalls, closets, rather, of not more than two square meters each, two families were arranged in front of their houses. There are helter-skelter few packets of cigarettes, batteries, candles, a little laundry, nylon thread used for making fishing nets, some lighter, salt and two kinds of Chinese industrial pastries, like always in these places, showing deadlines consumption largely outdated by several months. Too bad, it will still be a little sugar in the body. Then start to the River. But strong disappointment Natchang Ban Tay big regret as it was five years I dreamed of reaching this village since I had seen him on one of my cards, located inside the vast nature reserve Phou Den Din.

I am beside the Nam Ou River, in the nature reserve cited housing a wealth among its unparalleled biological diversity, whether fauna or flora. In the latter, even hundreds of species not listed. For what is the best known mammals include cats, panthers, leopards and other large wild cats, possibly even a few tigers, several species including black bear and the Sloth, gaur and forest antelopes, some Kouprey, wild oxen, proved the existence of at least two small colonies of wild elephants, certainly a few one-horned rhinoceros which says "Java" and said that "Sumatra", squirrels of all kinds, pangolins and lorises, small pandas, several types of deer including sambar and barking, wild dogs, the terrible wild dogs, boars and other wild boars, macaques and gibbons, civet and mongoose, and again hundreds of other species, and among them, many endemic to the region. And also many large raptors and incredible diversity of other birds, reptiles and amphibians, and countless insects including various numbers of them not yet identified. But most of these animals remain virtually invisible to humans as are wild and stand permanently in these places uninhabited, rugged and inaccessible region, the most dense vegetation, primary forest never opened, totally impervious to the man.

He is now leaving Natchang Ban Tay. I know that further north takes another village, also located on the banks of the River. This one is inhabited by the Lao Seng, an ethnic group of which I know absolutely nothing, especially since it is now very acculturated, minority and has long been strongly influenced by other dominant groups surrounding (the Lao, the Tai , etc..). Still later he would again two villages, their population of Hmong and I have learned about only recently. The two Hmong villages in question are probably the most eccentric and isolated the country and are also located surprisingly high in the province and even across Laos, even very distant from the nearest other region Hmong located much further south.

Three boatmen who stand on shore with the boat, I ask them to take me to the village of Ban Lao Seng Sopkoh. Not residing in Ban Tay Natchang but arrived yesterday from South and preparing to turn back now, they spent the night in their canoe. Their home is still fuming over the pebble beach and even if they have finished, they invite me to eat rice and make me even roast two fish. It only takes a half hour navigation Sopkoh Ban to win, but obviously being one passenger charter boat, costing $ 100 000 kips (just under 8 euros), but the price is perfectly honest because I once sailed a bit further down the river and I noted at the time tariffs.

Because the water level, which then becomes too low, is currently the end of the period of one year or the river is navigable upstream a bit from here, Natchang Ban Tay. But lack of passengers, the navigation is very rare, indeed almost unique, and most boats stop in Hats, a town located about five hours of sailing further south. Between Natchang Hats and Ban Tay, a passenger is organized from time to time when they are numerous enough to have to go there. But even this route is very little done, so that it does mostly not even take place when there is only a small fortnightly market in the region, that of Hats, as the villagers of Ban Tay Natchang rarely have enough products to carry and sell to profitable long term need to get there.

So we went. We are three in the canoe, one of the men behind the engine and rudder, while the other front, often standing balance in the extreme bow, even when crossing rapids, to probe the rocky bottoms at the Using a solid and long bamboo pole and, hand gestures, to identify barriers to the driver: the emerging rocks. I'm in the middle, leaning against one of the two bottom sides of the boat, grabbed them both simultaneously when crossing rapids. The canoe is a respectable size, it could contain twelve or fifteen passengers. Everything is made of wood and the central part is housed in a small cabin, a simple roof of the same material. The set, like all other vessels of this type, is painted in bright colors, blue, red, yellow and green. On some parts the river is particularly turbulent, then it is the teeth and the reactions of boatmen must be immediate and fast as our boat sometimes seems a little frail to face the forces of nature. To avoid risk of capsizing, the strongest rapids are crossed "in force" full throttle. There is sometimes borders very near the big rocks emerging.

Arrived at Ban Sopkoh, I deposited my canoe on the sand and make a U-turn. Wow, I expected a village of respectable size but it is a hamlet of a dozen very miserable huts of wood and bamboo on stilts, some for a truly lamentable state, clinging the slope overlooking the River. Distraught villagers face when I arrived, especially since many men seem absent. There is nothing to do, impossible to ask a question, or rather to get an answer. My presence embarrassed terribly disconcerting anyway. The father takes the tiny shop (probably more for the Hmong villagers in the vicinity as those of the hamlet) who comes to my rescue, even if in practice it's still me who comes to him. There is extra. I quickly communicate some good information about the area, the approximate location of Hmong villages, ways to leave from here, etc.. I even a little schematic map of the area, pointing the time walking and navigation needed to go to different places. For it must be said that for their part, villagers of Ban Tai Lü Natchang Tay I left this morning were so concerned about the existence of the mountain that I could shake them no valid information about them. In my case, all I know is that the presence of wave two famous Hmong villages, located somewhere further north, but would be unable to find the only access routes leading to them. Among them there would be the village of Ban Phak, available in three-hour walk after twenty minutes' canoe. The other would be Kalangtoung Ban, accessible only thirty minutes of sailing.

Here at Ban Sopkoh, there are only three motor boats moored in the sand and one of them seems finally unable to float. Three or four other boats have been carved with an ax and adze, each in a single trunk of wood, they lead the ream and the boom and are intended only for local trips, for fishing. One of two motorized canoes "valid" belongs to my father's shop. The course of the river being smaller in the upstream, they are smaller and built more than summary Ban Tay Natchang because they need this time to be more manageable. In these six or seven passengers only, drivers included, can take place in a single row as very narrow, and there are more small roof. Market honest and quickly concluded with the father, he will lead me to Hmong village of Ban Kalangtoung. Again a second man is needed to navigation, the bow, to probe the fund and indicate the best routes to take, especially the least risky.

To leave Sopkoh Ban, which literally means "the village at the mouth of the river Koh," we left the Nam Ou River to back this major tributary. Even more perilous than the first trip since Natchang Ban Tay just now, it is this time serious splash into the rapids. It feels even more fragile and we cling even more rapid these are still as violent and the boat now much lighter. In a quiet area, a huge catfish (many by reaching tens of pounds, some even surpassing the hundred) shows his back to the surface excitement, the exaltation of my two boatmen.

Farther is broken propeller. A replacement had been carried away. The repair, replacement of the object is carried in the water near a bank and a few minutes. But then you say "Well, it breaks very easily so this thing is, if it occurs on a fast a little violent, I would not give much control of the boat because for sure it will be fiery all ".

The Hmong village of Ban Kalangtoung, I assumed an elevated, like almost all Hmong villages that have not transmigrated. But as Natchang Tay Ban and Ban Sopkoh, he is on the valley floor and is also situated beside a river. By cons, because as isolated (the only other Hmong village in the region, Ban Phak, would be in the mountains, three or four hours walk from here), I had assumed somewhat acculturated. Pleasant surprise, almost all women and many children wear the traditional Hmong, a similar type to that of other groups also visited in the past but still containing some special characteristics, particularly in the shrouds of women who black turbans are made pointed upward, and the sleeves of their coats, horizontally striped green or blue and black.

The architecture of habitats is also typical Hmong. As always with this ethnic group, not a single pilot is used but the houses, with walls made of wooden planks arranged vertically, are laid directly on the dirt floor. The roof, the ends rounded, are thatched. But what is really surprising here is the size of many of these houses, overly long. The one I chose to greet me because I have not measured, no less than thirty meters long, one piece. To this we must also add the large kitchen, placed at the opposite end of the main entrance, and isolated from the stunning single long piece of wall boards. Thirty five meters in total, six pillars of domestic support are aligned with its longitudinal axis. In the midst of one of two very long sides is a secondary door, but that seems to be permanently closed. Arranged on either side thereof and also all along the thirty feet, ten boxs bedroom, some of which are currently closed and even locked, occupy one third of the width of the amazing building or not less than fifty -two people living together. Manufactured nonexistent at most other mountaineers, the kitchen is separated from the huge main room by a wall. But it has nevertheless also cookstoves, three in number and are, as with many other minorities, made up of just three large stones placed on the ground.

Ecstasy and well-being after the mixed reception and especially the sudden departure of the village of Ban Natchang Tay this morning, the Hmong of Ban Kalangtoung receive me with great warmth and sympathy, curiosity, smiling and attentive care. The head of my house is also a shaman, it shows immediately the little "shrine to the spirits" and ritual objects, all arranged in the middle of another long facade, which makes the front row of boxs to sleep; later I'll try to inspect this more closely. Many residents of my house seem absent, most likely in the fields for several days, but there are nevertheless, in mid-day, twenty of them. Needless to try to understand what degree of kinship between them. I was preparing to eat and then, before I finished, two nets, a net-hawk launch and another to ask, then also a mask of view, leaving the house, led by four young men and a child . Hola! Wait for me!

We're going fishing in a small tributary of the river Nam Koh. A net hawk is a large circular net fitted on the periphery of lead ballast. With a gesture learned, precise and elegant, it is launched high above the river and then it opens in flight before falling perfectly deployed on its surface. Just then go fish out of the catch by the center and slowly bring to the surface, which closes during the maneuver, it traps the fish could not escape before it is unleashed upon them . When the net to put it is long and rectangular, also equipped with small weights on one of these lengths but different floats on the other. He was deployed along a river bank and then it drags or otherwise leaves it there motionless, while tipping it over the fish away by violent strikes, using pieces of wood at the surface water. All these operations are sometimes from the banks but most often within the river, where one stands and where it is regularly deep basins, where one can of also swim at ease. But ultimately, most fish are caught bare-handed, diving underwater or by searching the banks blindly. They are catfish and various species of white fish. Then, well, we go back later and there. Sometimes the banks are vast expanses of pebbles and submerged in a little water, they are terribly slippery. I left one of my flip flops, thong in a light mousse and floating too quickly carried away with the current. This morning, it only remains for me more then my sandals on. The flip-flops is important in the villages after a day walking in sandals, it is the feet. Here in the valley, on sandy soils, fine, no worries for walking barefoot, but later in the mountains, it becomes binding.

Return to Village and stroll to many to announce my presence at all. I am invited about two or three houses under the eaves where few people stand. It is still too early to try to make some pictures of villagers. Many boys and men wear wide trousers traditional Hmong exclusively blue indigo here, but sometimes also black. Pants with the crotch falls down, mid-thigh and the length does not exceed the ankles. They are cut so large and wide as often to urinate, men did not lower back but instead just one leg to access their device. The Hmong of Ban Kalangtoung seem much more weave cotton and then use, like Ho, poor canvas manufactured in China. But the real wealth of costumes Hmong is their cut and prepared primarily in very fine embroidery that adorn women, exhibited on the sleeves but especially on belts and cols. These are simple rectangles decorative hanging behind the neck. Little girls in, they can reach up to twenty centimeters in length among older women. They are real works of art each requiring tens of hours for sewing very carefully. On one incredible finesse, they reveal an extraordinary diversity of colorful geometric patterns, incredibly accurate and always very regular, without blemish, cut, sewn quilts, "the eye", that is to say without ever aid of any preliminary drawing. Their only tools for development consisting of fine needles and a small pair of sharp scissors. Reasons always renewed and are charged with a specific ritual significance, symbolic of the Hmong cosmology and recognizable by the various clans of the tribe. Are also richly decorated baby carriers which have often, in addition to embroidery, others with elaborate decorations of scholarly batik techniques. No doubt about it, women are Hmong, with those of other ethnic "Chinese" of the country are women Yao, the great teacher of textile decoration.

The village of Ban Kalangtoung relatively sparsely populated, occupied by only twenty houses which one third are "giant", but is easily spread, scattered over a vast hilly terrain of perhaps two acres, reached the middle of the forest .


Day 16 Ban Nong, navigation, hunting, fishing, nature and traditions

I have not spoken yet, but yesterday I made a pact with my extraordinary father-Ban Sopkoh boatman, who has so far only led so far in this Hmong village of Ban Kalangtoung. It is agreed that back me up this morning at 7 o'clock and then again I commend his service and his boat to go now serving the wildest and very rarely navigated the fabulous river Nam Ou. Indeed this part, until yesterday, I did not even suspect navigable all year. The program, ten hours of canoe upstream through a vast wilderness totally uninhabited or operated until the next village far to the west, that Ban Nong. Heading due west, therefore, to return, near this village, the only north-south runway of the province, he left is now ten days. Price: 1 200 000 kips (92 euros) is objectively a price for such a distance, there is no scam. Besides yesterday, even for the journey from his village Ban Kalangtoung until we had negotiated 150 000 kips the return and the Hmong of Ban Kalangtoung surprised, told me that it would have cost me 200 000 kips . Then, 1 200 000 kips for the shipment of ten hours to come (and this was a real expedition ...) is very honest as fare for one passenger, it does not even seem very expensive.

So this morning, waiting for my father-boatman who must return to me before the "great" start, I visit two or three large gardens arranged just outside the village, below, between it and the river . Each is enclosed by a circular fence of woven bamboo and then flattened. One of them, a good half of its area, about fifty feet square, is filled with cannabis plants, already high from two to eight feet. This is the second time I see cannabis in or near a Hmong village. I do not know what they are now but am sure they do not smoke. Perhaps he is simply working in the hemp fiber, but I never had the opportunity, but now long past time to work alongside them, to observe the possible spot. So the mystery about it.

7 hours, my father and his assistant boatman are at the rendezvous. Really? Since yesterday, they raised the sides of the vessel, ten centimeters, using wooden planks all sawed by hand. This has been their take several hours of work and no doubt it's in anticipation of an eventful journey which promises they were made, then the first concern ... But for now, back to his village of Ban Sopkoh downstream, just where the river Nam Koh joined the Nam Ou. Yesterday it was agreed that I paid in U.S. dollars but since I found it myself is not enough for the transaction, not to mention that I prefer to keep a little reserve in case of blow in this region where the euro is very rarely accepted as the most often completely ignored. But to him, I agree euros. This will be 100 euros, there is then included some of the costs of sailing yesterday and today until Ban Kalangtoung.

Aboard hardware, two large nylon bags with contents as yet unknown, a rifle, bowls, two jerry cans of gasoline, a bag of fifteen spare propellers, another likely to contain food, machetes, ropes, etc.., a sacred volume to the final. The boat is the same as yesterday: a boat of eight feet in length and width of less than eighty centimeters. One passenger is there in front, and up to six total can take place, drivers and included only if they do not carry too much baggage. We start with five men, my father-piroguier fifty-two years, another of about the same age and two young men of twenty or twenty-five years. None of these three men, besides my father's driver, was a passenger, I'm the only one. All four will return here tomorrow and the only reason for their departure is, as we shall see, so many arms are needed for navigation, they all are essential to drive the boat at the end of the journey. Four men necessary? Then second concern ...

I admit that until yesterday I had no idea of any portion of the navigable river, and especially not so late now completed in this rainy season. Check. My father is in the rear, as usual with engine and rudder. Between him and I piled the luggage and equipment, sheltered as best they could under a tarp. Before me another man and then a youth, both armed with a heavy wooden paddle, and finally all before, often standing upright in balance at the bow, the second boy, he fitted the solid pole bamboo to probe the fund and also help to advance in strong currents. Soon, after only twenty minutes of sailing, the tone is set: to bend an elbow, rapids dementia we face. Very big concern, our boat seems suddenly extremely frail. If you capsize in there, there may not be deadly for a good swimmer but all materials will be lost. In my bag, I have carefully packed in plastic sensible objects, silver and paper, but what good because it falls into the water everything is lost, totally fatal to anyone. We rushed, full power, the engine hums and spits out thick black smoke. Me with my big fears, I cling to the bottom side of the canoe. The first boy wields the bamboo pole, at breakneck speed, to continuously probe the fund, to detect rocky shoals, advise ways to help and make progress. The other two rowed like madmen at insane speeds. Sometimes you have to squeeze between huge rocks, these passages are more difficult because the bodies of water is channeled very violent opposing forces of decline. We now understand now why they have enhanced and strongly reinforced the boat that night. I began to sincerely regret the expedition, besides it is in its very beginning. Further, in a quiet area, I plan to offer even the father to turn around but this is tricky because it has made serious preparations yesterday. And then, now begun, so I did not made until the end, I know I keep long regret and enormous frustration.

After about an hour of fast but also smaller areas of calm, a dull roar is heard. At three hundred yards ahead, the huge mass of water falls, descends about three feet of elevation changes over a distance of perhaps two hundred meters. For me it is clear, then nobody can pass to us is the failure and turn assured. Cree surprise of my companions, several minutes of palaver and howled protests from one end to another of the boat are required. To alleviate this, and doubtless also to protect myself, I deposited a wide rocky beach with instructions to walk down further. In case of any accident, it makes me carry my bag and the bag of my father-boatman, who must also contain silver and paper. My father and the man start to survey the river, walking in the immediate vicinity, to estimate what he can to try or not. So I walk on one or two kilometers in total, I jumped from rock to rock which here are often huge and then form high bluffs where I can see a scene that goes a little further. It takes place a little distance from me because I dare not approach the river at this place, but this scene is terrible, unbelievable. The four men hauling the canoe with a rope, standing on the rocks emerging or water, then grabbing it, and struggling against the awesome power of violence that almost overwhelms. It is an astonishing spectacle, seems of another age. In this way they are terrible whirlpool, waterfalls, the "explosion" of standing water. All four have spent incredible energy for forty-five minutes to go forward, inch by inch, two hundred meters. Later the man and two young were also deposited on the bank to further ease the assembly. Then the father has reused the engine again at full power to pass "in force". Here, yes, all the way this operation, there was real danger of death and this time I really regretted having all embedded in it.

They then recovered further, to perhaps two kilometers upstream. This was the most difficult passage, the most terrible and most especially impressive. Later, four others in extreme cases, a rower and I have again landed on the banks to ease the boat but reassuring me about my bag, which in time there could remain in place. In these other passages of great speed, it may still hauling the boat, but most often, and lightweight, the remaining three browsers pass "in force", the engine at full power and oar and pole bamboo handled in frenetic pace. The four men, all in shorts and bare torsos, have extremely muscular with their whole body, muscles bulging under incredible stress. I take my hat, they are sacred feats they have performed there. So, fellow tourists and I would meet again in a few weeks to Luang Prabang and Vientiane, not just more trying to frighten me with your stories of navigation on the so-called turbulent river Nam Ou, we are now increasingly Many borrow, but very far away, much farther south, below even His Hat, where it is wide and comfortable.

In total, all along the route, we will break six propellers. But there are also areas of relative calm where we took the opportunity to relax a little. Everywhere, throughout, on both sides of the river, two fronds, very steep and rugged, green. The giant trees are located a little higher up because, right on the banks, they do not even have time to grow, then they are carried away yet already respectable size, powerful by annual flooding. Nature rich, dense, diverse, intact primary. There is not one human trace along the route. Not a single village, not even a hut, not a single departure path, not a single culture visible on the mountainsides around. On this stretch of the river, no major tributary which could not announce human life, above, in the valleys. Gigantic trees, wild bananas, bamboo forest giants soar in high plumes, tumbling and invasive vines and creepers. Halfway through, on narrow pebble beaches, just down the slopes, groves of palm trees, exactly the same as those that produce oil, such as those seen for example in large plantations of Sumatra in Indonesia but except that they are dwarfs, high two to eight feet so that only those cultures do reach fifteen or twenty meters. This is the first time I see this type of tree in the country, probably only present here due to a microclimate suitable for their growth.

There are no major tributary even then, only a few streams. It stops there two or three occasions. The father and another man took the opportunity to scoop, inspect and tinker with the boat that is presented is the least we can say with strong physical constraints on this route. We, meanwhile, we start fishing in the creek. Several small fish, the size of beautiful sardines are caught by hand while others hawk net. I bathe in water holes, sometimes to two meters deep. Thirty fish were caught, failing to transport container, it will fill the pockets.

Then off again. They are, alternately, areas of calm, then more rapid. It still breaks a propeller, and its effort to fight against the current. The boat part "sideways", it gets a bit in the control of force of arms, two oars and the bamboo pole. But it ran aground, some violent, against two or three rocks emerging. Again, momentum stopped, it should lighten the boat then get in the water level rises just above the waist but the current is already violent, and try to reach shore by clinging and taking Building on the rocks. Scared of being away.

In quiet areas it takes time for the boat to inspect the banks shaded sandy and muddy. In doing so, my boatmen often emit cries of surprise in front of areas of disturbed earth and other signs of wildlife. But we will not see them approaching, felines, warthogs, monitor lizards, deer and antelopes, and many other species of mammals and reptiles, because our engine is too noisy. But I understand that the rifle cartridges big shot who was flown here is not intended for slaughter animals naked or scaled land, or birds. It is for huge catfish and catfish that sometimes show their backs to the water surface. We saw two animals of several tens of kilos, but none were shot.

We stop for lunch. A priori the menu will be a part of five kilograms of glutinous rice cooked away in the traditional pot of bamboo baskets and fish just caught, seasoned with salt, pepper and MSG mixed. But no. Two of my companions, equipped with gun, deep into the forest, the palm of dense trough by pouring a small stream. Twenty minutes pass. Bang! A shot and now after our two little buddies back in charge ... of a young deer on the shoulders of one of them! Hunting, fishing, nature and traditions. The expedition on the Nam Ou River, in his wildest part is definitely amazing and full of surprises. Several large banana leaves are harvested and then deposited on the biggest rock, the flatter too. The animal was immediately cut up in twenty minutes and with only a machete. A fire was lit when we arrived. They boiled and eat the most perishable parts of the animal, offal, tripe, liver, heart and lungs. The broth is brown, opaque. Salt and monosodium glutamate are mixed with crushed dried chili and everything is placed on our "table", two banana leaves placed on the ground. It dips balls of glutinous rice, we gave, a lot, too. They also eat, grilled on skewers, some of our fish caught that morning. One of two young men, most resourceful, made in two minutes and no concentration, "prayer" while depositing on a rock nearby a little rice, a few pieces of meat and three large sticks of incense that 'He left a bag and then burning; still animist ritual, it probably intended not to anger the "spirits of the forest" to have taken an animal.

It starts again, it left behind some banana leaves soiled, a home still smoldering and the biggest rock instead of dripping blood. Fantastic Voyage in the zone totally uninhabited and probably never even traveled on foot. Only two "walls" green and birds surround us. No trace of man more than a half-hour points of departure and arrival. Here, the first sign is finally a small tributary that leads. Nothing else but it certainly announces a valley inhabited upstream. In any case, the only cause for joyful animation among my fellows. Then, the second sign indicating the nearest arrival is a fisherman on his boat rowing, this type of vessel is a single piece of wood cut from a single tree trunk. Then another a little further. They squat on the tiny edge of the rear end of their fine canoes if they do that going face nets or while standing in equilibrium at the same place they are fishing net to hawk launch. We, two or three hours of arrival, we asked three long nets in areas of calm river and along the riverbanks. They are the ones that were contained in large nylon bags loaded initially, nets about five feet high and thirty or forty feet long, with meshes much larger than those of hawks nets to launch. They will remain so throughout the night and would love to attend their notes the next morning.

The third sign indicating the end of the journey, two Akha women seen on a trail overlooking the stream. Five of us and watching them, no longer guarded the bottom of this zone of calm river. So, really funny situations and funny especially after the violent and stormy passages incredible crossed before, it has miserably failed in the middle of the stream. Here it is very broad and too shallow, indicating that it is, it will definitely not at all navigable upstream for motorized watercraft. The hull of our boat scraped the bottom of gravel and we had all come down with water to his knees only to drag to the last navigable corridor.

Once arrived in Ban Nong is for us all, one last swim in the River. It is washed, it removes sand grains that are housed anywhere. But the warning has already been given: A Falanga, a stranger arrived by river. Already that there should not be more than ten per year who only go by truck or minibus on the adjacent track, and again without ever stopping, then for once one comes to see that. Big surprise for everyone, admired as I feel good, very friendly atmosphere and because I am somehow under the protection of the hero-boatman who carried the boat from Ban Sopkoh. That where we come from, everyone guessed immediately, without having to ask ourselves about this, since there is no other place inhabited between the two villages of departure and arrival. My friends are still several questions, some of which concern me.

Then all five will be staying in the house of a father's knowledge. Again, the feast of venison and fish. All large pieces of red meat were soon on our arrival, sold to villagers. And drinking Lao Lao, the rice wine. Tired, I am drunk quickly end. The two young people who do not have to come here often for their entire lives, want to slum it. So we'll see Phou Sao, young girls, who sold the shop in China. I pay for beer, much more expensive than the local Lao Lao. The beer here, we do not drink often. In 8000 kip (60 cents) a bottle of half a liter, it is not accessible to everyone everyday and especially not such a good volume / quantity of alcohol Lao Lao. In short, they teased a bit phou sao, and they pay sweets Vietnamese obsolete. Then back at home, night on the floor wearing only a thin mat.

Breakfast deer, we gave it eats again. Then they must part. Farewell to the father and three other men. I told them that one day I'll try to give them the photo taken yesterday show that the four of them carrying the deer shot outside the Nam Ou River. We leave all the village of Ban Nong at the same time, moving them towards their canoe, loaded with their equipment bags, I take the opposite direction, going back a bit along the trail passable but branching off on the first path to the starting again 'is that I see. I begin again along the Nam Ou River, high up a high ledge of nearly where we saw yesterday the two Akha women who announced the end of any journey. Then an engine noise from the river, which may be due to my four convicts of navigation on the way home. I am too far, too high, too hidden by vegetation so they can see me. Then I throw them a powerful whistle, they'll identify. I send a farewell Wai, brought her hands clasped against his forehead, they make me all at once. Congratulations and good luck guys, your prowess flabbergasted me, you are exceptional.




17 Day Ban Pakhasou, Parure Women Ho

The Yao ethnic and Ho are "Chinese". The "Chinese" are adorable. It's amazing, unique, arrived today in the village of Ban Ho Pakhasou, I've been greeted by a household when there were not only women and children. Excellent immediate contact with photographs that I show them: they are pictures of other women Ho made once and that I'll put in a few days. But there is competition, they assure me that the costumes of the women living in villages located much further north in the province are "bo ngam", that is to say they "are not beautiful ". They denigrate the genuine. To me they are similar to theirs but it would more precisely the grounds of the turban embroidered badges and woven belts that are not "ngam", not "beautiful". And then, on a postcard purchased in Vientiane Capital, which shows thumbnails of twenty busts wearing traditional costumes features several major ethnic groups in the country, the lining of the woman she would be shown Ho, this time very "ngam" and said it thumbs up.

Upon arrival here in the village of Ban Pakhasou, I begged for a meal, providing today to continue the path to the next village, two hours' walk away, but two or three women invite me to spend the night and not leave until the next day. Meal only took half a day. Rice "classic", not sticky, cold, then boiled in soup, fish, terribly salty.

I think by tonight I will be already possible to make some pictures. Already this morning on the way, so from the village of Ban Nong I met four women that they went there. Ho Women wear traditional clothing daily, but on those occasions where, during a trip to a village that is plain, like all mountaineers, the most beautiful of them they have when they are . I had to beg them, hands clasped, to be photographed together. They finally, all smiling, accepted. Three shirts and black aprons and blue, black and pink for the fourth wife, as many large black turbans or indigo blue, against a backdrop of greenery and beautiful under the light of midmorning.

I really do to stop a night in this village because I have delayed writing my pages, especially because of the epic ten-hour canoe yesterday. Looking back, she already seems a little unreal this madness impression accentuated by many dreams "pitching" performed last night, following the eventful journey. Yesterday evening and this morning at Ban Nong village came by the river, nobody knew I was going back immediately walk in the mountains. To everyone who asked me about my intentions, I assured them that I rejoin the track, bus or truck that happen daily in the early afternoon, the town of Utay, chief town of the district's last north of the province, but I preferred to start walking in the same direction now. Do not bother to make them paranoid and promote their suspicions by announcing my intention was to reach mountain villages most isolated east. Nobody there has not seen my card in the region. Except my father-piroguier last night because I wished him well realized that my approach, my plans for touring in the region, and I knew that good accomplice, he would not speak to anyone. So, this morning leaving the village of Ban Nong I walk quickly from the first path overview, forked east, on the other side of the Nam Ou River. Then I joined the small tributary valley of the thumbnail at the end of the journey by dugout yesterday, announcing that the first sign of life upstream.

My afternoon in the village of Ban Ho Pakhasou I pass to visit several households. Many still look at me with dismay. Outside, kids among all young, scared, flee. Further, in my view, remain stunned on the spot, others melt into tears, which are the youngest, least five years. "When I spent a few minutes, I looked long write. During my travels, as one watches the house to which I head and a few adults in the neighborhood, so arrive early to turn shortly after me. In several houses that I visited, there are two or three skins of deer or antelope dry, but not tanned. It cut out when necessary, strong thongs.

In the first village through this morning, too ethnic Ho and where I got arrested a few moments after the ritual attack dogs rule, a young man helped me develop a bit of plan the region. It has guaranteed me it would be only three villages in this direction, another in the same valley (Ban Pakhasou, one where I'm going to spend the night), then two more later. But here in Ban Pakhasou it myself already announced some additional. This "phenomenon" occurs regularly, the villagers moving to rarely or never for some of them, often do not know enough geography surrounding other villages, however, not so remote that it's theirs.

The village of Ban Pakhasou is located just above the tributary of the Nam Ou River is the river Nam Tok. Two or three hectares of rice terraces have been built on its banks. These may not be sufficient for the survival of the village can be seen also on the surrounding hills, rice paddies and cultivated on slopes that have been mowed so that all those seen during the past eight days to travel around the region south of the river Nam Or were still two or three weeks of being. In any case, here too, in the heart of this small valley like that of the Nam Ou, it was in Ban Natchang Tay Sopkoh Ban Ban Ban Nong Kalangtoung or, mosquitoes are numbers. They are so voracious and aggressive than they are then the only time since I travel the region, I resign myself to use insect repellent to the villagers.

Again, as always in Ho and other people "Chinese", the houses are laid directly on earth, and never, for example in Tai Lue and Akha, raised on stilts. They are either "solid" wood planks for walls and thatched or corrugated roofs, instead be very weak, Bamboo coarsely woven and flattened to the walls, and thatch. In this latter type of house that I live tonight, the house forms a rectangle of eight feet by six.

Here many women still weave cotton, very rustic and primitive looms are arranged within habitats, with their main room. The cotton is first spun entirely by hand, but still had never seen women Ho do, then I do not know what (s) Technique (s) they use for that. It must be said that most do backen well more than their turbans, belts and aprons sometimes, the remaining fabrics to design ornaments being manufactured and Chinese. But among older women, more willing to eventually be photographed, many are always full traditional costume made from cotton grown and worked on site: turbans, gowns, aprons and trousers, these coats are dark blue , indigo blue.

The turban Women Ho is a long, wide strip of cotton folded five times in the direction of the width and length coiled around the head. The set is large, heavy, solid. Those of younger mothers are decorated on their outer perimeter of colorful embroidered badges, fine silver cups and tiny bells made in crafting the same metal. The blouse, usually blue but sometimes green or fuchsia, is carved in the wrong fabric purchased from Chinese markets plain. It is broad and returned to the belt under the skirt. Its closure is made on the side and is equipped with wide sleeves that fall below the wrists, the ends of these simulated by two bands embroidered overlapping, as a superposition of two blouses.


18 Day Ban Khioukhan, merchants hair itinerant Chinese

According to the villagers through the first village yesterday, at the entrance of the little valley, there were some more that three additional upstream in that direction. But he had to understand "three villages of our ethnicity." For here, in Ban Khioukhan, the road splits. There will be other villages Ho further north, but also Akha villages to the east.

But for now, the architecture of the village of Ban Khioukhan contrasts sharply with that of Ban Pakhasou this morning, just two hours walk from here. I would now among ethnic Lolo. The costumes, however, appear identical to those of Ho, but would be Lolo Ho may have arrived here more recently or region different from the Chinese origin of Ho. The houses then are typically Chinese, at least comparable to some of those that can be observed in some campaigns of the Chinese province of Yunnan nearby. Beautiful, almost all built of wood planks sawn by hand or cutting with an ax and adze, then planed and carefully assembled enough of them. Some even moldings, as well as "tops" and hung a few paintings adorn the walls. The floors are tiled instrumented staggered bricks and roofing tiles are glazed earthenware, are only a few sheets. Two or three of them even have a floor with a small balcony. Other houses are still, as elsewhere, most basic manufacturing, wood and bamboo only.

Y arriving to 13 hours, so I immediately tried to invite me to eat in one of the houses but the only grandmother present there at that moment made me realize that it was not possible. The neighbor then called me but his meal was a real test because I was treated to the cold rice and a few shreds of old red meat smoked already sketched and felt incredibly bad. There was not even yet the almost inevitable bamboo shoots on which I could fall back.

The bamboo shoots. Every day in every village, a few baskets full back in the forest. They have nothing in common with small offspring that are known in Europe and are sold in cans of four hundred grams. Those that are gathered here, a box of eight hundred grams does not even suffice to contain one, shoot size is equivalent to a bottle of wine. They are most often eaten fresh, cut into strips and boiled in water. Or, they ripped open, and opens flat with a machete before hanging them exposed to direct sunlight. They look as though, at least visually, to fish. Once dry and hardened, they also cut into strips then boiled and fried in pork fat, then consistency much denser than those eaten fresh, they serve "meat".

Strangely, an Akha woman, only by his ethnicity, is the village Lolo. Undoubtedly, it is an opium addict. It comes from near Boun Neua village crossroads located much further south, where the penultimate bus dropped me off there now two weeks after my three days of transportation from the capital Vientiane. Can not find the reason for his presence here as this I do not know to ask. Alone, but then a lot for the coup, is interested in my few photos of villagers belonging to his ethnicity. Immediately she means me, easy to recognize, opium addicts.

I decided to pursue the path this afternoon but this village is so unusual that I try to invite for the night, but in a different house than where I ate because I want one in wood and terracotta tiles. But many adults are in the fields for the day because it is currently before the full harvest of rice. It finally, after three quarters of an hour, a grandmother who decides to invite me. The mother of a ban nay, one of the leaders of the village and they are hosting the Akha woman, who is finally not alone here since her husband's company. Both addicts are at stages of very strong addiction. They are there, they smoke on a single mattress laid on the ground floor in the main room, right next to the smallest home cooking. Probably also there at the same place, they spend the nights. In this regard the drug, no taboo and no embarrassment against me. After photographing my grandmother to work near the big fireplace, that supports the largest wok cooking, the man insisted that I photograph them also in action on smoking. I really wonder what are they doing here, so far from their village of origin, among a population belonging to another ethnic group than their own, even though two Akha villages, yet another group that theirs is only two hours walk east.

Afternoon, strolling in the village and to its immediate surroundings. Atmosphere truly Chinese on the left bank of the Nam Ou. Already in the first of the last two villages on the way, when I asked a man if I still encounter Ho, here in this village of Ban Khioukhan, he said no, that would be "khun tchin ', that is to say "Chinese people". What are the Lolo and there again Akha east. Until then, so little information about the area being accessible, I was convinced it was no longer so far Akha village in the province. It will then eastward to the Akha villages announced that I will leave tomorrow morning, although my fear is that then, beyond them, the area is very little or not at all crowded.

Several old women of the village leave easily photographed in their kitchens, that is to say close to home soil or clay ovens in front of their homes or when they eat their two to six or seven pigs. Many of them smoked tobacco in pipes all made fine silver or so, more rustic land for the home and a narrow bamboo stick to the duct. When not used, they are elegantly trapped in a fold of large turban, on the side or back of the head.

A Chinese merchant hair is tonight in the village. This is the third time I meet a man of this "corporation" in the mountains of northern Laos. There are four or five years in the province of Luang Nam Tha, I had even accompanied one for several days. Astonishing epic of another era, when all we had traveled for eight days, the area north-west of Muang Sing. A merchant of hair is a guy who travels, always alone, the mountain villages on foot with his pack on his back. Within it there are two important things: a bag containing the hair harvested and another filled with trinkets two sub worthless and poor Chinese manufacturing. Upon arrival in a village, he runs a few aisles shouting a message announcing its presence and then settling on a clear area, usually just before a house, he spread on a piece of plastic sheet filed on the ground its "treasures": safety pins, sewing needles and son of color, nail clippers, balloons, combs and mirrors, fake jewelry, pendants plastic imitation jade, etc.. The women then arrived with the palm of the hand or a few strands of hair gathered into a small ball of ever larger size than a hen's egg. These bits have been stored from a previous editing, in a previous cut points and, instead of being discarded, were loosely arranged somewhere, stuck between two plates of a wall or underside of the roof thatch, pending the passage of the next merchant hair. A handful of bits of just the size of an egg is, for example by choice, a small balloon or son to sew some color or a safety pin. The dealer cross four years ago was the day we met, accumulated about three or four pounds of hair, but already after two weeks of the season. The purpose of this "business" to date remains a mystery to me. I have no idea what happens, reported in China, hair harvested, they are resold, and that above all, and then they become, they are then processed, etc.. I've never managed to make me explain anything about it. And another question, these traders do not "sell" never plain, yet there they would go find the hairdressers, who every day get rid of much larger quantities of materials capillaries that miserable little handles that collect them here in the same time. Most importantly, they provide a huge penalty to achieve their purpose: sometimes, in some villages that have their needs two or three hours walking and effort to achieve them, they are only a few grams of their hair to prevail. In any case, the arrival of a hair shop in a village is every time a small event. For the occasion even addicts appear invisible to the light to come see his treasures. Even if this is not its primary purpose, it may also eventually buy him for two sous therefore, one of his gadgets. For my part, frustrated over many days of not being able to satisfy my spendthrift and consumer culture for 2000 kip (15 cents) I bought a small pair of folding scissors quite effective. If this is the village where the merchant will pass the night, then there will be a second "representation" in the morning as early as sunrise and just before his departure to another village.

19 Day Ban Phoutang May, Public Resolution of conflict

We get up early, for women it is from 5 hours, sometimes even a little earlier. Around 7 o'clock my couple Akha lights his first pipe, it will be dozens throughout the day until late tonight. I do not know how they get any income for opium is a major cost besides humans, simultaneous pipes drugs, smokes a lot of cigarettes. Both, like all other addicts in a very advanced state of addiction, are obviously incapable of any physical task, the less labor. The woman swept nevertheless occasionally home ground is dirt. In short, they can only be fully assisted by my host family, which gives them more likely to opium.

Both generally it will take some time for women to get accustomed to my presence and to dare speak the word of their own initiative, as the latter, the Akha woman, quickly tried to tell me several things. Some sentences in each case only that but I do absolutely nothing, I do not unseal the rare words. There is still much talk of "villages", "father and mother", of "no money". The Akha women adoring adorn their extravagant robes and headdresses, I have in my bag a few coins worthless and various sources that I used to do them from time to time, small gifts. Success is always guaranteed, it is simply that these parts are "white", and certainly no red or yellow colors such as those of cents francs or euros. Even if this woman, for its part, does not quite suit the traditional Akha, two of my pieces hundred Indonesian rupiah, which are by no cons no interest in women and Ho Lolo him are obviously incredibly pleased.

A man is visiting for a few minutes in my family is one of the three village leaders. Then he invites me to follow him somewhere outside. It goes to school, before which, on the tip of grassland which makes forehead, a hundred and fifty persons are assembled around an event. They seem to want to resolve a serious conflict between two men, between two families. Both men s'engueulent violently; many words, many auctions are exchanged. They sometimes even try to come to blows, they are calm, they s'engueulent again, they are separated. They are still fighting like distance, women are also parties to one or the other. This meeting is not improvised, some benches and wooden tables have even been brought here from outside, some men took place. Then the leader who brought me here a speech in the midst of all, taking alternately control two men in conflict. Then twelve children, boys only, line up before him and listen to a second speech which is intended. One moment I took my speaker clearly an example by saying that among other "falang phou dio pai", "going abroad alone. Meanwhile next door in the school that is not here a fragile wooden hut and bamboo but rather a building solidly and carefully constructed of planks and sheets, two classes continue their course, despite the hullabaloo ambient. It enters, it comes out, that short, it plays, it says, they laugh, etc.. Many women came with their younger children on their backs, men with their huge water pipes and grandmothers with their faithful also pipes, these more traditional operation. Then there are also several young girls, advantageously grouped here in numbers outside. But impossible to take a picture, but it itches, I can see, some of them. Despite all they have replaced their traditional turbans scarves of China's industrial fabric in bright colors, mostly roses, all combined with their ornaments with equally bright colors, blue, green, pink or violet, is quite elegant. Some of them posing with a side of green hill and under this very morning raking light, would make a brilliant photo. I stress I caused, I try to combine them all to the place chosen, it bursts out laughing but it's hard to let it go, yet surely, he would just as one of they do not first willing to follow all cheerfully. When the rest of the meeting, held here around the head and two families in conflict, it breaks up gradually, almost only men still hold the seat, fuel conversations and homes of enormous water pipes, and try may be to reconcile the adversaries. Thus, many of them together officially here, the public attempt to resolve a family dispute has affected all villagers.

Departure to one announced Akha villages, north-east, keeping the cap as long as possible. We must now leave the little valley of the river Nam Tok and regain the hill. That first half past one very steep climb, because we do not know the laces here, we do not hike, we simply search the shortest path, the straight up. Three hours of walking, because I'm lost. This can be seen from a height, perceiving at last village, but far behind either. Remains only to retrace his steps and try to guess which of several discrete paths will cross it. Three errors, and in these cases it is found then quickly in the middle of "nowhere", most often at the bottom of a valley with no way out, only go where the animals and gathering bamboo shoots.

Ban Phoutang May is one Akha village, there are so many so high in the province, along the left bank of the Nam Ou River. It's nice to find this so "savage" race. This hamlet is surprising is the very first time I see an Akha village where no house is built on stilts, even partially. One can indeed speak of "partially" because, most often located on a steep slope, one side of the houses usually takes support while the other is raised on stilts to keep a horizontal floor inside habitat. It seems then that here they have wanted, or they were content, copy the architecture of their ethnic neighbors, that of "Chinese", including the Ho. A dozen houses, some are of planks, others of bamboo and two or three dirt. The village is united in a valley full, put it at its southern end. The show is great, you can even see very far, my next village potential: like all those in the region, this is a tiny brown spot on a rough sea of greenery.

The village of Ban Phoutang May is probably the poorest Akha village that I have never visited but the village chief, immediately after accepting my application for asylum, went illico buy a house next two or three hundred grams of meat soft phases of "forest pig" dried. It's good, even if he fried in too little fat for my taste.

Small vendors, tonight two Lao Loum, that is to say a "lowland Lao" the "truths" of Laos, are visiting the village. They just Utay, the chief town of the district property located further west and they carry with them five or six kilos of Chinese industrial stale pastries and two or three cartons of cigarettes they sell at retail. They are, I guess, between 500 and 1000 kips (between 4 and 8 cents) profit per product sold, or too little for their return trip so far, at least too little money for the Lao Loum happy with it. There must be another reason for their presence, a pattern probably more formal monitoring by tomorrow. My father invites them home with me for dinner. It speaks of the "forest pig" that we eat and, at one point the father listed the other game in the region, a list that I do not understand but the young Lao Loum was very impressed by what he teaches there.

In addition to the skins of deer and antelopes of forest that can be seen in front or inside of some houses, more or less abandoned or drying until a hypothetical use, there are now a few coats of cats. Yellow fleece, the spotted coats. A man has hung one of those low stools rattan and bamboo caning that all use in homes and here are the universal and unique seats.

20 Day Ban Sômboun Census Late

Finally, as might be expected, the main reason for the visit of the Lao Loum couple in the Akha village of Ban Phoutang May is not for sale. This visit is official, they are here to make a census of children and they have installed this morning as early as 7 am, before the house of village chief with whom I spent the night in order to accomplish their task. Fathers of families, women, children, gather around them and transmit the desired information. These are merely transcribed on a school notebook already damaged. I notice that children have so far identified seven or eight years and that is probably the first time and they are "listed" by the administration. The two provinces of Laos located in the extremities of the country, Phongsaly the northernmost and one of the southernmost Attapeu, are also the most extremely violent in terms of infant mortality: a child of four to one in five (one in three some villages among the poorest) do not reach the age of five. That would explain then maybe this census is being so late, although this is only an assumption.

The Akha village of Ban May Phoutang were quickly acquainted with my little compact camera and love it already let get the picture. The statures are then asked a little too but colorful costumes and glittering silver, coins, chains and small engraved plaques will still pretty images. This year for this trip, I prepared a little "ethnic album", a booklet comprising a hundred photos of villagers of most ethnic groups in the region in traditional costumes. This was an excellent idea because, in all villages visited, it concerns a lot everyone, and mostly women. The Akha women Nutch Ban Phoutang May not hide their surprise at seeing them for the first time it is obvious to most of them, costume features belonging to other groups Akha living in other "countries "a few tens of kilometers from here. Very often in the villages, having unveiled this album to some people, others come to meet me later in my foster home, specifically in order to also view.

The villages of Ban May Phoutang where I arrived this morning, Ban Sômboun where I live today as well as others in the area which I hear some are not listed on my map of 1969, much less that of 1954. Less now, but much more at the time, the villages migrated relatively frequently, sometimes several kilometers, depending on the rotation of crops on fallow shifting cultivation which we'll talk. From now on, without actually usable card, so I have to get a maximum of geographic information from the villagers, even if they sometimes contradict themselves in their statements, even if they often do not know well yet valleys near theirs because qu'habitées by other ethnic groups and they will do so forever, even if they do not always know the actual length of time required to walk between villages, etc.. Thus, whereas before yesterday down the valley to Ban Khioukhan, only telling me one or two villages in this direction, toward the northeast, I discover now that there will be plenty of other, and that to the extreme north of the province, to the Chinese border.

Here at Ban Sômboun, I'm back at the Ho, Ho others called Lolo and that Akha call Alou. On the right bank of the Nam Ou River, until there is another week and just before the famous day of browsing, I have already spent several days in that country Ho. But here, on the other side of the river, I am also almost in China so its influence is great. This influence can be transcribed by a lot of little things of everyday life, full of details accumulated. Even men Akha of Ban Phoutang May, the Akha being yet not growing at all "Chinese", spoke a dialect of high sounding Sinise. Nam Ou River delineates as a slight cultural boundary between these two regions.

Sometimes I do ask myself, where I invite myself to spend the night in a house and a little later, another household in turn invited me for dinner. Then I feel that for me there is "competition" between families and at this stage it is only I who can undo the knot "I apologize to my guests so I accepted a second invitation. It happened tonight in Ban Sômboun because, as I walked down the village, I came across a woman in whose family I had stayed there three days, the village of Ban Pakhasou. It was adorable and courageous family that welcomed me then that only women and children stood in the house without any adult male. I do not know what this woman is here today but for once, impossible to resist, impossible to refuse his invitation in the family where she lives. I am yet to tell my mother returned home that I would not take dinner with them but her son still come, just a little later to make an attempt to try me "recover" at the time or the 'we sat down to table. Then, to my great regret, I could not m'éterniser there too long after the meal because he came to get me right after it, and this time permanently, as it must be said that I go "to sleep "in 18 hours ... So, back home, I renewed my apologies to the mother and the vigil was held amidst a bunch of morons, young boys who made fun of stupid jokes. So boring, especially as I am to date pages in my writing.


21 Day Ban Chakhao, Leeches & Buffaloes forest

The roads become uncertain, they have too many bad ramifications. Yesterday, to leave the village of Ban Phoutang May, my father accompanied me during the first hour and then made the same today. In terms of leeches, this day was really the climax. It rained last night and the trail became extremely muddy. The raids are working, it stalled, awaiting the next slide, next slide. The leeches, they have then all their time to "mate" at the feet of walkers. We see good, they are slender upright, stretched vertically rather put on the wet ground or perched on grass. They wriggled eagerly in all directions, looking for an area of skin to "embrace". Very alert, crawling like the track but in a much faster and agile, they turn up soon, prevented our passage through the warmth generated and ground vibrations. In walking, we did not always have time to get rid of it, balancing on one foot and a clod of mud, besides a lower stop only three or four seconds left plenty of time to d ' others arrived. So to get rid of it, he must wait to reach a dry area, that is to say a little sun, because they can not survive in these places without moisture and do not venture there. Once there he must remove the sandals and nail to wrest the fifteen animals that regularly are fiercely hung on each foot. It's not as painful bites, even if we did not notice their presence and what is already there for several minutes. When they are gorged with blood they let themselves fall to the ground, leaving the skin with thin bites and abundant streams of blood that coagulated not by cons.

It plunges to a valley to another and from one side of them, here is the village of Ban Chakhao placed just under the peak and fronting to the green depths. The view is beautiful, despite the average altitude of about one thousand five hundred meters. Off of other peaks in successive cascades, all fully lined with dense vegetation.

The villagers of Ban Lolo Chakhao have among the largest buffalo I've ever seen. Monsters gray totally peaceful, the monumental pairs of horns, can be approached and even up through the children. The cattle, buffaloes and cows are free to wander outside the village, forest, often up to several kilometers from any inhabited place where they regularly absent for several days. Young, owners have nonetheless domesticated to return regularly to the village, giving them a little salt licks in the palm of their hand every night for several weeks. But sometimes despite all the years that the buffalo, as here in these areas very wild, after spending too much time in a row in the forest without seeing any more human, returns to a state of half wild. In this case it only remains to farmers other options than to go looking for him in the mountains and kill them to recover at least the principal meat. In these forests, where buffaloes and cows are able, by their size, to defend themselves against most wild carnivorous animals, including cats cons, it is not the same cons hyenas, wild dogs, the terrible who hunt in packs and can easily isolate and one buffalo from her mother prior to their prey.

The architecture of houses has yet evolved. Although there are still some corrugated iron roofs, most are now made either thatched grass hut, leaf rattan or bamboo tiles but "slate" of wood, shingles cut to ax. When the construction of walls, it is increasingly done with earth, used as clay for building very thick. And when it comes to walls of woven bamboo, these walls are inevitably very openwork now clogged with mud, a mixture of earth and straw coarsely crushed.

14 hours, it is a little late for that but I still invites me to eat unexpectedly in a family. Great day, I was preparing some pork rind! Although fried is good, is one of the best things you can find in the villages. Then stroll from one house to another, to frighten me even the youngest children and intrigue adults, men and women. These, what interest is the small pendant bells I bought a woman from Ban Pakhasou, the other village population crossed Lolo four days ago. This small object I now exhibited permanently in my small shoulder bag, added to my four Italian coins that they no interest in any manner that Akha women, so there's something for everyone. My little "ethnic album" of photos was also always so successful and it helps me to get me the villagers who, in his view, can not resist approaching and then forming small regular meetings at my nearby. By cons, by dint of manipulation by all, he has acquired a terrible state: now very dirty traces of soil, it can also delay the pages that come off.

17 hours 30, splendid light of late afternoon, two small caravans of four horses each have their inputs simultaneously into the village, but its opposite ends. Each animal is carrying two heavy baskets full of pumpkins and gourds, bamboo shoots, full loads of other plants, equipment and blankets, too, or is flanked on both sides of the body, two large trunks of banana trees. That banana trunks, once coarsely chopped and lightly cooked in a wok giant, they become food, but it is not consistently true for pigs. Children are thrilled, overjoyed to find there parents back so many days of work in their fields farthest.

Populations "Chinese", the Yao, Ho, emit sounds of spoken, highly differentiated, expressing their enthusiasm, their astonishment or disapproval. Thus they are regularly "oooohihaoooo", "oooohiiiyèééééé", "aouuuhiyaaaa", etc.., Singing very, very naturally started making themselves heard among the assembled. With women Lolo, at least from their surprise, they are "wouaaaaaaaaaaa, slowly and elegantly spoken on a falling tone is really charming. I hear dozens of times when, for example, to many, they are gathered around me to see my pictures.

Today I did not lodge in a ban nay, in a leader, but tonight, just back from outside the village one of them came to see me and talk about me going well, especially I have already shown to all men, my especially my books and maps. No doubt that this chief was alert when he arrived for my presence here since my grandfather's home, I remarked, is a little abashed, rather helpless, even disturbed by my presence in his house. I also wanted to show my passport and my visa but it is, like many others, completely illiterate. I think he is very sick, feverish pretend he has certainly acquired a powerful malaria.


Day 22, Kioukhao Ban, Smoking opium (1)

This morning my grandfather left the home a bag full of dirty boxes Chinese medicines. Another man joined him and they both installed at home, in the light of day, each seated on a low stool placed on the ground muddy and almost stupid rambling. The man injects four different vials with a single syringe, which has already served.

I'll leave the house early enough, then make a stop in a family with whom I have sympathized yesterday, in that where I was invited to eat and where there was a little pork rind. I did not even try then, as I do, however, almost always, leaving a small sum of money so I felt that the lovable grandfather's house did not expect any. But even there, yet terribly j'apeure some children. While outside, I offer a small meeting of juggling with stones. Excellent public welcome, fifty pairs of hands applauds happily under the impulse of his grandfather, very old but very lively temperament and surprisingly saucy for her age.

The grandfather is very old but incredibly strong. He wears a traditional Chinese gown very worn and was photographed, smoking the inevitable water pipe, then a small pipe classic wood and bamboo invoice very coarse and it carries with him constantly. Authority, he offers to accompany me to the next village, announced a one hour walk. But moving more slowly than others, we need one more to reach the village of Ban Kioukhao. We must also say that it stops from time to time to show me and explain more in mime than in words, different things for example the surface of savanna forest earlier as all rest of the territory, where the timber of the village was taken. The meeting of juggling this morning it rained so much that it tried several times during the term with one stone and giggling to each new test. Then, while walking, he began to make in any one rod and using a machete he wears slung a new tube for his pipe. He also won in her narrow shoulder bag colors Lolo, a small kettle completely blackened with soot and dried leaves of unknown nature but not smoking and he stuffed yet at times his pipe .

These days I walk too little, then I risk falling behind in this region of the left bank of the Nam Ou River because I plan to travel then, ten or twelve days at least, the extreme north-west province. There, I am confident that I will be meeting with Yao, whose contact and always very warm welcome I really miss. But for now it is towards the extreme north-eastern province near the border shared by the three countries, Laos, China and Vietnam, as I get closer to the maximum. Then came the village of Ban Kioukhao, I would have liked to leave today for the next likely located three hours walk away but, invited here by my grandfather to spend the night in the house of 'an acquaintance, I must accept the offer. To him I gave him any money, either for lunch yesterday or as an accompaniment to today. Arrived here, but I tried to compensate for his walk beside me but he has formally refused my 20 000 kips, and no appeal was possible.

Nap in the afternoon as fatigue, exacerbated by too frequent only two meals daily, arises. I sleep on the mezzanine, five or six planks of wood just placed on the structural beams, near some bags of rice and just under hundreds of ears of corn hanging in clusters above my bunk. It is invaded by tiny insects, those that are often seen in the paddy rice husk. Small animals less than two millimeters in length and equipped with small horns, a variety of weevils. When I woke up a young guy smokes opium at my side. As my friends Akha village of Ban May Phoutang there three days, he smokes in a simple bamboo tube pierced with an orifice tube forty centimeters in length by three in diameter.

Opium smoking is mandatory in the supine position on the side, curled up, head elevated by a pillow or other object whatsoever. For, during the suction of the smoke, the ball of opium placed on the bowl of the pipe, that is to say about the small hole located about two-thirds the length of the tube must be in constant contact with the flame of oil lamp. This gesture, this action would be very uncomfortable to realize when standing or even sitting, not to mention that this drug is called "the dream" is logically the ground position which is best suited. During Operation Opium does not burn, not burning but not cooked, then evaporates into smoke is then inhaled.

Before the ball of raw opium must be placed on a long steel needle, it is sufficient to immerse the tapered end thereof in the Chandoo, raw opium resin from the state for that remains adherent. The Chandoo is sometimes contained in a small copper box, but most often is simply collected in a piece of paper, plastic packaging or natural vegetation. For there to undergo an initial cooking should then submit this raw opium heat lamp. The hand rolled between thumb and forefinger of one hand, it is then repeatedly passed over the flame, then carefully kneaded and shaped between the same two fingers on the other hand, to regularly assess consistency. Depending on the desired size of the ball, the needle can be plunged back several times in the box Chandoo. Just contact with the flame, opium swells in small spherical bubbles, then dries before finally acquiring a pasty. It is then rolled quickly and always with the needle on a hard surface, such as the lid of the box Chandoo to give a slightly tapered to facilitate its introduction into the bowl of the pipe. The latter, previously placed on the ground, receives a hand at his home. The drug, still placed on the tip of the needle is passed once more over the flame to soften it again one last time and then, suddenly, before it hardens too much, the needle is stuck into the small hole in the center of the pipe is then withdrawn just as quickly by some twisting, leaving only when abutting the ball of opium. This breakthrough and remains after the withdrawal of the needle, a small "chimney" suction. The smoker has done all these acts of preparation in the supine position, oriented on the side. The pipe is ready, it was loaded with a ball of opium in size ranging from that of a grain of coffee and a nice nutty. The instrument is made to smoke in the mouth and is oriented so that the ball of opium, once approached the lamp, just in contact with only the tip of his little flame. To channel this little flame and it does not vibrate or deflects the slightest current of air or breath of the smoker, the lamp is topped by a small glass capsule pierced where only the leading edge of the flame then emerges. While inhaling fumes smokers re slack, using needle and around the orifice of the homes, as and when it evaporates, opium bubbling and crackling. An opium pipe is smoked slowly and at once, in thirty seconds or more, without installation, using an aspiration technique continues throughout this period: at the same time as the lungs fill with smoke, it is rejected by the nostrils with the same slowness. The smoker "warned" can bind and dozens of straight pipes.

Then there are the dross, residue of opium that are frozen cooked on the inside walls of the pipe. From time to time smoking the recovers, usually in a tiny steel wok, sometimes in a large tin spoon. To do this, just scrape and scrape the inside of the pipe, the pipe only if it is a simple bamboo pipe, or domestic sphere of land and / or metal case a true opium pipe. The dross is then crushed, ground to a fine powder, then cooked again in the wok or small spoon placed on a few embers. Just before cooking the umpteenth crushed dross is often mixed with aspirin Chinese powder found in small bags, in all markets or stalls in all the plains. I do not know what effect that is sought with aspirin, which will be cooked and then smoked, but from the dross we obtain a new opium ready to be prepared and consumed in the same manner as described above for Chandoo, l ' raw opium. Opium Lao Yunnanese variety, named after the nearby southern Chinese province, the opium of the best planet, most notably morphine loaded.


23 Day Ban Phousoung, Wild Honey

In the village of Ban Kioukhao, the mother of my foster home suffered serious knee pain. She then fabricated two poultices with two moistened wipes and loaded with a "puree" obtained from a bark yellowish indefinite it finely chopped and boiled. Many of the mountain women, in the Lolo and the Akha in particular, are experiencing a lot of natural plants to real medicinal potential. Some Akha women would know more than a hundred, they know more prepared, and 'science' handed down from mother to daughter, generation after generation has long since centuries.

Lolo No villagers around me wants to accompany me to the next inhabited place, the Akha village of Ban Phousoung, even in return for a respectable sum of 30 000 kips. A dozen of them gathered around me, but not permanently. As if from the bottom of the valley, up into the hills and especially to an Akha village repugnant to them. So I'm going to canvass through the village but without success. As often, a man of the first meeting followed me, interested in my offer but as not daring to manifest itself in public opinion before others. He agreed to accompany me but for one hour, until just before the steep climb, at which point there would be more problematic for me bifurcations. It negotiates 10 000 kip (80 cents) but it will eventually double as he deserved, pulling me really embarrassed to repeated denials of his fellow villagers. It runs cultures Ho, tiny terraced rice fields. In this type of rice paddy is flooded, the easier to cultivate on condition of having previously given the trouble to develop the land. So immersed in water during the largest period of growth, irrigated rice did not undergo significant competition from weeds, weeds, and who can not stand. These by cons in paddy fields irrigated slope not require huge efforts to be combated. Several campaigns hoeing, weeding, are necessary for a few weeks apart and all along the growth of corn, the entire surface of the plots are so many times completely raked by hand and bent back, the hoe, a small hoe, or even using machetes to fully uproot these terribly invasive weeds and pests that constantly threaten the good performance of the parcels.

Can I continue the journey alone. Only two games on the road, first a father and his young son. They come to catch their lunch without any tools or any other accessory, the father does not even carrying his machete, but usually essential whenever you leave the immediate vicinity of a village. This is a beautiful chameleon, attached and worn by the baby in a woven grass and two huge grasshoppers about twelve inches, firmly held in the hand of the father. Then, just before the village of arrival, a hunter. I catch her full alert, rifle, at the foot of a tree which is the summit. I see the first and distract and a little disconcerting. Without a sound, almost without a gesture, I am just the sign of the forefinger to be sure that I am alone. Then it takes both laying motionless for five minutes, but the prey, a bird, escaped. They returned empty-handed.

In the village he showed me his house, the poorest and most beautiful of all, made entirely of wood, bamboo and thatch. But I point the finger at the house of phouti Noung nay ban, the first head, it encourages me to visit. Geeze, it's my home I would have liked to stay. So I'll see what head number one. He was resting on the alarm for me. Very old, he is seriously ill from malaria. It discusses a bit then its actual fatigue is then for me a good excuse to leave quietly and tell him that I in any manner other invitation to the house. Back in the hunter, he stands alone with her children, two very young boys, but sixty people joining us soon. They then moved to the house and then you look at the pictures, while the hunter getting ready to eat. Fried bamboo shoots, bamboo shoots and boiled rice. Then the mother arrived with two girls, returns to the forest and all three charged with a hood with a volume proportional to their size. Great day, the bottom of the hood of the mother has a huge swarm of wild bees gorged with honey, wrapped in big pieces of banana leaves. I am invited to go inside, we put everything on the van we Rice and gave them to family, using the fingers. We chew up good portions no longer kept in the mouth a clot of wax, chewing gum which is finally coming to an end. So today in this family, with these two great events, wild honey in most of my visit is really the party. Then unfortunately, the hunter tells me that he must leave the village until at least tomorrow, and that therefore he must go and stay with the neighbor. Big regrets because the house was really nice. But I'm not going away in just one neighbor. A young grandfather, but it stands alone tells me that the whole family, now in the forest, will return before evening.

So in the meantime, stroll into the village, followed by a horde of kids already tamed. It's nice to alternate visiting some villages Ho then, occasionally, that of an Akha village. Because I like their contact, male, wild, uninhibited, venal and unambiguous.

This time for sure, the Akha have partially adopted the architecture of their ethnic neighbors, that of Ho, probably before they arrived in the region. So no more house is built on piles and are often very low walls of earth that are used. Yet, wherever they live further south in the province of Phongsaly and in that of Luang Nam Tha south-east, the homes of various groups Akha are just wood and bamboo and are always higher at least partially on stilts. Moreover, very recent phenomenon mainly observed last year, the corrugated light comes into force in villages, replacing thatched roofs too perishable. It is almost certain that in three to five years, almost all houses of this type of village will be provided.

Here, all women without exception still wear traditional dress, long black robes and headdresses exuberant, but all men Akha and those of other mountain groups, except men Yao, have definitively abandoned. Except that here in Ban Phousoung two or three of them, aged about fifty years ago, still wearing. These are large jackets and pants equally detailed fully realized in the thick and solid blue cotton indigo woven by women in the village.

The Akha are not very demanding in terms of paperwork. Tonight no need to disclose my passport and my visa, especially since the first nay ban is sick and has other concerns. Yet I loudly announced my presence to all, this afternoon across the village with the children, but no other leader has come to my house ask for explanations about my presence here. It must be said that the Akha, by their real desire for independence and autonomy vis-à-vis any authority, much more virulent than other highland ethnic minorities in the country, certainly less fear that they to get "door-to-fake" with the administration, to be living outside the law.

Tonight I finally do not regret my second family. Three wives, six children, my young grandfather and two or three young men living under the roof. We had good discussions around the globe that I bought in Vientiane a few weeks ago, upon my arrival in the capital, which is written in Lao characters. They discover Europe in detail; finally visualize the position for some of the mythical "Amelika"; surprised by finding that these two continents there are so far apart geographically, are flabbergasted when I announce what distance in kilometers between our two countries, Laos and France, are pleased to appoint some to point the finger and the four or five countries that surround raptures on hearing that the Antarctic is uninhabited and unsustainable due to too much cold weather, etc. . This map as my "ethnic album" of photos, I show both the villagers very often we can decide each time to spend a wonderful time and have good trade because they relate a lot everyone.

The few gifts that I offer some tonight four coins Indonesian, Malaysian and Chinese for three women and young children, disappeared immediately in pockets and corners of the long tunics women. The bystander did not even have time to inspect them. They will be later in the privacy of a single flashlight and a few glances. Later still, in a few days or weeks, a man will be asked to practice one or two tiny holes so they can add them, sew them, alongside those that already show off their finery.

The least of my actions is an adventure, intrigue is in any case, for my breakfast: a change of film in the small compact camera, a reading of my maps of the province and especially a mysterious excavation in my bag, which must surely contain some curiosity, if not wealth. Money matters itch the Akha. Most often they try to assess my fortune by asking me to announce the cost of flight to come to my country in this region. But still I avoid all questions relating to money because the money pledged would be totally disproportionate for them, inconceivable, and for sure that the hearing their eyes on me would be modified

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