11/1 We had another nice breakfast and got picked up at 9 by our guide for the next jungle trekking, Tohn. We went to the fresh market first to get some snacks and candy. Tohn got supplies for lunch and dinner. Then we drove to the entrance of the Nam Ha National Park to start our hike with a local guide as well. We hiked a lot uphill to get to the top of a mountain and then down again. After a few short water stops, the local guide stayed a bit behind to chop off some banana leaves. For our lunch table, Tohn said. We indeed stopped for lunch as soon as the local guide caught up with us again. The banana leaves were laid out like a picnic blanket, the contents of various little bags with vegetable mixes were put on it, and in our hands a ball of sticky rice. Before we started to eat, Tohn put some of the food on a small piece of banana leaf and put it next to a tree near us. This is what they do for the ancestors of the people who live in the national park, as an offering to them and to protect us. Then it was time to eat the sticky rice with our hands, and scooping up bits and pieces of the veggies in sauce with it. Very nice to have such an authentic Lao picnic lunch. We continued the hike and the local guide went back to the village where we started. Around 3pm we arrived in Nalan Neua Village, next to the river Ha, with a nice big hut – homestay for hikers like us to stay in. After dropping our stuff in the big hut, we walked into the village and got invited to the local youth hang out. As it was Saturday, a lot of the youngsters were home from the boarding school they attend during the week. They were playing loud music, just sitting there doing nothing, the youth is the same everywhere. We walked around again, saw lots of dogs with puppies, pigs, chickens and roosters. We bought some Beer Lao, one for us and one for our guide, and relaxed next to our hut on stilts. All the villagers looked at us as much as we looked at them, and especially the kids were very interested in us. At we chilled with our beers in the sun, three little girls came over, trying to get our attention by acting silly, and watched us. We gave them some candy and took some photos. Then they started to play some marble-like games with pebbles and a hole they dug in the ground. I played some games with them, but lost of course, which was great fun for the girls. Then Talitha and I took a quick bath in the river, our bathroom for that day. Again with very cold water. We did some more reading after that, met our new roommates for the night, 3 Israeli girls, and then it was dinner time: sticky rice and vegetables. In the dining hut we all saw a spider the size of my hand, will I sleep tonight?!
12/1 Yes, I slept like a rock. Under a mosquito net that I tucked in very carefully. I woke up by the day light creeping through the cracks between the wood. Talitha was already sitting outside reading a book and I joined her as our guide brought us a nice hot cup of coffee. A great start of the day. The chickens, roosters and ducks walked underneath the platform we sat on. Then we got our breakfast, you guessed it: sticky rice, and an omelet. Most of the rice went to some dogs who came to see what we had for them. Then it was time to pack our stuff, we also got a sleeping bag and a bottle of cold tea to take with us on today’s hike. We said goodbye to the Israeli girls who just woke up. They are thinking about going to Nepal so I gave them some information on Pokhara, where to stay (Mountain Villa), where to eat (Thic Thac, Happy Dreams) and what to do (parahawking!). Then we left the village, and the kids came to wave us goodbye. Besides Tohn we again had a local guide, Kemla, who had to really chop away leaves and twigs to create a path for us. The hike started through a river, so shoes off, pants rolled all the way up and walk. We got a walking stick to have something to hold on to with the current, and the guides also helped us. Funny to see that in the middle of the river the created hydro power with a small water wheel / screw in the current. We walked a bit through some rice paddies and then it was time for serious jungle hiking: straight up. Well, maybe not 90 degrees, but we had to go up at about 75 degree incline on slippery steps created in the mud. Kemla slashed away the dense jungle left and right with his knife and we followed. It was a long steep hike that day and it felt to us like a jungle boot camp. After a while Kemla and Tohn chopped some banana leaves and bamboo shoots for lunch and dinner. We had another picnic lunch on the jungle floor, this time with old, chewy chicken, veggies en the sticky rice. Tohn offered some of the food to the ancestors again and then we got to eat. The continuation of the hike went along narrow slippery paths with a slope on one side and hopefully some trees and roots to hold on to on the other side. Again more dense jungle and around 2 pm we arrived at our jungle hut: just a roof, one wall and a bamboo bed height plateau to sleep on. This is our room for the night with our sleeping bags and mosquito nets. We chill and write in our journal, while our two guides chop wood for the fire. From bamboo trunks they make ‘pots’ to boil water and the food in and also our coffee mugs for tomorrow morning are freshly created out of bamboo. We freshen up at the bathroom, about 100 meter from the hut. It’s a little bamboo-made (yes, there’s a lot of that here…) tap that diverts water from a small creek. Between the trees we wash our face and hands and go back to camp. Kemla is making soup in one of the bamboo-‘pots’, with ingredients like the inside of spikey bamboo, banana flower, various leaves from the jungle and some market bought (from Louang Nam Tha) meat. Tohn is making a string out of strips of bamboo to hang up the mosquito nets. The jungle soup tastes delicious and is very filling. We barely eat the sticky rice and vegetables that are on the side. For desert we get a yam, a pear-y potato fruit, very yammy! The guide also has some LaoLao for us, the Laotian whiskey. It has a bit of an interesting taste, bit like ouzo, but not as strong, and at least gets the inside nice and warm for the night. After staring into the fire for a little longer, we go to bed around 7.30pm.
13/1 After a broken night (I fell asleep quite okay, guess the LaoLao was working, but when I woke up in the middle of the night, I couldn’t get back to sleep anymore, because I was very cold) we sit next to a fire again while the rain ticks gently on the roof of our hut. Hmm, that’s going to be a slippery hike down to the entrance village of the park again. Our guides prepare our breakfast on the fire: noodle soup. And we get coffee in our bamboo mug, that we can keep as a souvenir after asking nicely. Lunch is being prepared too, in a bamboo made bowl and mortar, they make a tomato and pepper salsa. Last night they already cooked some very sticky rice and now they grill beef on the fire and boil eggs in a pot. Everything is wrapped up and around 8.30am we’re ready to leave. The hike is indeed very slippery and we hold on to anything to prevent from slipping down the mountain. The leaves of the trees work as a giant umbrella and stop a lot of rain from falling on our heads. After about 2 hours of hiking in the rain, it stops and we walk for about an hour with rain drops falling from the leaves. We walk into more flat land again after some climbing and going down again. At a hut we relax in the shade underneath and have lunch. We eat the stickiest rice ever, some eggs, the grilled beef and Kela also picked some fresh veggies too: fern-leaves. Huh? We tried it, and it tastes like a lettuce. Just don’t try it at home, we think this was a different kind of fern. The last bit of the hike goes again through the Nam Ha river, so off come our shoes and we walk through the cold water, that feels nice refreshing on our feet and legs. In a village we get on a tuktuk truck and we drop off Kemla at the begin-village again, he has to walk back to his village again. We continue on with the truck to Louang Nam Tha. The first thing we do as we get to our hotel, is have a nice hot shower. We also wash some clothes and clean the mud off our shoes as much as we can. Time to relax a bit. Around 5pm we go to the fresh market and have a Khao Soy: a Lao thick rice noodle soup, that has a tasty pork-paste in it, like a spicy Bolognese. We throw some extra vegetables and even a little flower (violet) in it and some spicy sauce and herbs. Delicious! Then back to our hotel and time to chill some more with a Beer Lao and a little bag of peanuts, after all those jungle adventures.
To be continued!