March 31st 1984

posted in: The way back | 0
Val showing our photo album

So we set off this morning on our own unaccompanied tribal trek.  At first all went well.  We found the right mini-bus, + as soon as it was full – meaning as soon as not a single other person could be crammed inside, the roof was packed with baggage + people, + 4 others were hanging off the back – off we went.  As the route progressed, + passengers were dropped off, gradually we had some room to move – I was even able to dislodge the little girl who had been sitting on my lap.  Gradually, tho, another problem gained in importance – where, exactly, we should get off.  There had been masses of turnings off the road, but even where they had been properly sign-posted, they were worse than useless to us, since, naturally enough, they were written in Thai.  And nobody aboard the bus spoke any English, it seemed, isolating us, + increasing our insecurity even further.  It had all seemed so clear last night when Mr Pon had been explaining it – the reality this morning was very different, especially when we realised that the only name we had for the village was Yao, which is, in fact, a tribal group name.  And it was near a waterfall, but we didn’t know the Thai word for waterfall, so that was pretty hopeless.  We almost got out at one point, where the name, Tung Lung, seemed to correspond to our sketch map, but the general consensus seemed to be that we should go a little further, so on we went.  Our frustration + insecurity were increasing by the minute, however, + the wisdom of having a Thai-speaking guide now seemed obvious.  It was with a good deal of relief then, that having dropped off the last remaining other passengers, we returned to Tun Lung.  Once again, we perused our map, + this time around it did seem to indicate a correlation between where we were + where we ought to be, which somehow we’d missed before.  In addition, 3 students who’d got off the bus before were still there (God knows why) + 2 of them spoke a few words of English.  What was more, they were heading up to a Yao village approx. the right distance away.  Whether it would turn out to be the Yao village would remain to be seen, of course – they certainly hadn’t heard of Lao Su, the family with whom we were meant to be staying.  It seemed our best bet so we set off with them, On a hot, dusty, + vaguely uncomfortable trudge, in that we could barely communicate with our fellow-walkers.  Just one question from one of them that I remember, as we came to the end of the walk: “Why you come here?”  Which is a fair enough question, especially to a Thai mind.  I don’t suppose he understood much of my reply about wanting to see people who are different.

At the village, we barely had time to slug a warm coke down our throats before one of the Lao Su family came to collect us + take us to their home.  So, despite our worries, we had arrived at the right place – all’s well that ends well, as the man said.  Paused for a cup of tea, + for Val to show our album to the family – mother, daughter, + young children is all so far –  then set off to see the waterfall.  Surprised a mother with 3 children on the road – she had been bathing, I imagine, + had no top on, but she hurried ahead, adjusted her dress, + was then happy to be photographed with the youngest one.

Our vision of the waterfall had been as unspoilt + barely discovered wilderness – in fact, it seemed to have been set up as a resort, + tho’ the stalls etc weren’t operating, there were enough people around to drive us quickly away.  Moreover, the fall itself was unimpressive, tho’ perhaps that is because it is now the dry season.

Back at the village, we spent some time taking photos of the local people – the women have a distinctive costume, black edged with what looks like red fur – + looking at their handicrafts.  We both fell in love with a beautifully embroidered waistcoat – naturally, that particular item turned out to be not for sale.  We were given a tasty evening meal at Lao Su’s, rice with eggs + cabbage soup, + then had a pleasant evening.  We were allowed to try a couple of pulls on their big bamboo bongs – we had suspected opium, or at least ganja, but it turned out to be just tobacco.  And the young man of the house (son? Son-in-law?) shared some Mekong whiskey with us.  Val capped off the evening b y playing the penny whistle – much appreciated by all.

No-one was more surprised than us that we had managed to find thew right place and the right people, despite our concerns thjat we were getting ourselves hopelessly lost. But it ended well after starting badly, which is definitely the right result.

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