Noi seemed in no rush to get us moving in preparation for the alms ceremony – at least not until the last minute, leaving us no time for an explanation as to what would happen during the ceremony and what part we would be expected to play. We were given the same decorative scarves to wear as in last nights ‘baci’ ceremony, accompanied by a traditional Lao skirt (Simon excluded on the latter!). We were then given an alms bowl each (full of packets of noodles, cartons of orange juice, and small dough-based cakes) and a small cylindrical bamboo container full of warm sticky rice. We carried these to the local monastry, and took our places on a wicker mat on the floor in front of the three monks. We then made three balls of sticky rice which we placed in the alms bowls, and bowed to the monks three times. The monks then recited a long Lao script (possibly a prayer thanking us for the offerings) before we each stood up in turn and distributed the contents of our alms bowls between the three bowls on the table behind us.We turned down breakfast (as i don’t think any of us wanted to walk on an full stomach in the heat that was already making itself apparent by 7am) in favour of some strong Lao coffee and a couple of bananas at the village cafe, whilst we watched all the village children on their way to school. We spent 2 hours of the morning at the school introducing ourselves to the children, playing games with them and answering their questions. I’m no teacher and i didn’t particularly appreciate being on show in a class full of giggling children but the teachers were incredibly grateful for our presence and it was fun once we’d got used to the reactions and having to answer the same questions over and over again :
How old are you?
Where are you from?
How do you feel?
What is your job?
Are you married?
How do you like Laos?
I felt like i could relate to all these celebrities who attend interview after interview and are asked all the same questions, and have to answer the last one with the same content and enthusiasm as the first. As we were leaving the classes, we all felt like we’d achieved celebrity status when the children crowded around us with their exercise books, asking for our autographs!
When we left the school gates, unfortunately there was no limosene waiting for us : just a dirt road stretching out for miles ahead of us. We walked this dirt road in the blazing sunshine, consuming water like it was going out of fashion. After about 5km we took a turning and walked through the trees for another kilometre before reaching Turtle Lake (not quite sure how it got its name as there was no mention of the existence of any turtles within it).
We ate lunch in one of the little bamboo huts overlooking the lake : another feast of sticky rice, chilli paste, papaya salad, bamboo, barbequed fish, omelette and crispy white cabbage, followed by large juicy chumks of water melon. We had the chance to ride a little paddleboat around the lake but Noi and a couple of the school children who’d joined us were having enough trouble clumsily navigating the vehicle around a small section of the lake, that we decided to stay put under the shade of our bamboo hut and amuse ourselves by watching them instead!
After lunch we drove by tuk tuk to Ban That, where we observed the villagers making torches by mixing wood chippings with oil from the Nyang tree and wrapping the mixture in a banana leaf. We then walked to the nearby That Inghang Stupa, which is the most sacred stupa in the province. It was a pleasant walk around the grounds and there’s a lake adjacent to the temple where children were playing and cows looked gormlessly at you as you passed.
This evening Bianca, Simon and I caught motorbikes over to Noi’s Noddle Shop (the restaurant doesn’t actually have a name but Noi has some connection with the establishment and i like the illiteration in that name!) and ate some delicious noodle soup with Noi and one of his students. Although we were all thoroughly ‘schooled out’, we kept our promise to Noi and visited the school where he teaches English in the evenings, for a couple of hours after dinner. The students at his school were a little older than those at the school in Ban Phonsim so their English was a lot better and the conversations more structured and questions more inventive.
Overall i enjoyed the trek immensely. Bianca and Simon were down to earth, easy-going guys, so were very easy to get along with, which helps a great deal considering you have to be in the company of your trekkin companions 24-7 whilst you’re away. Moreover, the interaction with the local people and participation in village activities was fantastic. I was impressed by the baci ceremony held in our honour and the fact that we were allowed to help with the preparation of the ceremony and the cooking of the food. Our guide spoke very good English, but on a few ocassions failed to explain things thoroughly enough. That and the fact that we had to pay for afew of our own drinks were my only complaints. It is, however, definitely one of the better treks I’ve been on.
Photo is of Nong Lom lake, near Savanneket.