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Some days start out bad and get better.

I get up early. Nature calls. Everyone else has to get up to take a leak too but I prefer to get out while it’s still mostly dark. Others are doing the same, young pregnant moms hitching up their skirts, and old guys like me ducking behind a pig sty or old fence. The village is surprisingly without smells for a place without toilets. Dogs and pigs and cats all have their place and serve multiple functions in what I guess you’d call a traditional village. Maybe I’d just gotten a little too used to things.

When viewed over the perspective of time, most of our existence as Europeans has been as a crop growing metal working people living not so differently than the Akha do. Only in the last hundred years of so have we developed telegraphs and computer chips. Pigs and chickens under the house are kept in at night, dogs are free to roam but mostly outside of the house, they guard for danger, chase rats, and assist in the hunt. Cats live in the framework of the house assuring a lack of large insects, snakes, lizards, mice or rats. I was comfortable to be in the house of a friend in a village I’ve been to before with sounds and smells and a rhythm familiar and predictable.

I used my bit of private time to clean and apply new tape to a blister that had been bothering me for a few days. I’d been ignoring it. Out on the porch of Lao Pao’s house there was some light and I intended to wash and air my feet. First I peal off my old layers of bandages in the light of my headlamp and some of the syrup from my blister spills on the split bamboo floor. White blood cells I guess it is, I don’t know, I’m not a doctor.

Things were worse than I’d thought. What had been a bothersome distraction for days, was, on closer inspection a big hole in the skin on the inside of my left foot. The mother of all blisters. I used some of my water to wash.

Tui my guide wasn’t overjoyed to see my foot no doubt he was wondering how this big old falang was going to get over the hill and back to the road. When shown to Lawboa my foot garnered no more than a moment’s look-see. People live and die in Jakune without recourse to doctors or hospitals, on a scale of one to ten a nasty blister barely twitches the seriousness meter. As my wife tells my kids when they get a scratch, it’s a long way from my heart.

What was obvious was that walking was going to be a problem. My desire to revist Mongla further down the Nam Fa was out of the question. Sompanyao on that long high ridge above Xienkok would wait for another day. We were still a long way from the Mekong or a road. There’s a way over the side of Phou Mon Lem from the old townsite of Jakune Gao, then a long way down to a town of Lanten people with a road, it’s the shortest way out.

I gathered my washing stuff and headed up to the village spring. Before I left Lawbao’s house I asked Tui if I could  buy a young shoat for dinner. This was a rest day and we hadn’t had much meat. Good way to lay some cash on the owner of the piglet and for all in the house to have a mini feast.

The water was piped down to the upper end of the village via a system of hollowed bamboo trunks. Still when it arced out over the tiny bridge it was freezing cold. I’ve no idea how people take showers in it every evening. I wore a wrap around type sarong everyone wears for modesty, still a young girl who came to fetch water ran away in fright. Shortly thereafter the new village headman came walking up to the spring to say hi, I should have already been to visit him, but what with arriving late and staying in the former headman’s house I’d been ignoring the niceties.

I’d barely started back to the house when Tui met me part way very excited about a deer that had been shot, he wanted me to make sure I had my camera. After a quick glance at the butchering job in progress I ducked inside fetched my camera and took this photo.

Law Pao’s two eldest sons had gone hunting with the two guys from the next house. The heart is beside the pan and the liver and lungs are in the pot. Notice that they are discarding the contents of the upper intestine, they’ll save the casing to make sausage.

One front leg goes to the new headman, and another leg goes to the house of the oldest man in the village, that’s the way it is. That still leaves a heck of a lot of meat without refrigeration. No parts are wasted.

I’ve read reports by nutritionists saying the upland people get half their sustenance from the forest, not only in the form of various fauna but also the wild plants, especially the ones that predictably grow up on old rice fields gone to weeds.

Every single male hunts.

The government has outlawed the hunting of endangered species as well as market hunting. That leaves quite a few species, and almost all of the ones that have been traditionally hunted for food. Muntjak which is a small primitive deer with a forked set of horns, and wild pig are the two big game species. Smaller animals include squirrel, all the birds, snakes, bamboo rat, porcupine, civet, and so on.

Above are the jawbones and other parts of some animals stored with plants and leaves tied about them. Normally there would be the horns of muntjak and the larger ones of the sambar which is a larger deer. Sambar horns fetch $100 at the market, no doubt muntjak quite a bit less. I’ve yet to see a people who don’t trophy hunt. The term trophy hunter used as a pejorative in modern western society. But I’ve yet to see a people who don’t value and save the horns of a deer.

I’ve no doubt that the leaves tied to the jawbones of prey are somehow related to a ritual either for luck in future hunts or to the life given up to eat. I’ve heard the Akha believe spirits to be in all things, no doubt they exist in deer too.

Inside the house many willing hands were cutting and chopping the dear to be made into a huge dinner.

I’ve never eaten at such an elaborate Akha feast. At least four different kinds of meat dishes, two different jeaos (spicy sauces) and a huge soup. The rice is from the mountains, with a little imagination you can taste the smokey flavor of slash and burn.

I was surprised the guang (muntjak) tasted exactly like the deer back home. Below a photo of a muntjak caught in a Wildlife Conservation Society camera trap down south. This one is a red muntjak, there are many varieties.

photo WSC

The muntjak is the oldest deer species. Like many tropical deer it’s horns are mostly for defending the territory of what is a foraging specialist.

As often happens when I have the smell of lots of fresh meat and blood in my nose for too long I wasn’t so interested in eating meat. I tried one of the minced meats, then settled into the soup on top of my rice. Laobi’s wife seeing that I wasn’t eating much meat reached down into the soup pot with her chop sticks and deposited a largish hunk of meat in my bowl. It was extremely tender and mild with a small bone in it’s center. Deer embryo leg. Soup was probably fluid from the embryonic sack.

I’m mostly ok eating different things, if they taste ok, I’ll eat them. Tui my friend mentioned afterwards that he’d always avoided that dish before.

I dozed through the afternoon in a “belly full of meat” kind of daze. I was tired from days of hikes that lasted into the night. I was trying to rest up for the next day when I’d try to walk out to the road. I’d been on much of tomorrow’s route before. In making a beeline to the town the trail cuts up over the highest piece of real estate around, for the first couple miles it goes up and then up a lot more.

I carefully made a two inch diameter cut in the side of my boot where my foot had been rubbing. Better to give up some protection from dirt and water in exchange for an end to the rubbing on my foot.

In the late afternoon I went out to take some photos in the late afternoon light. First  Lawbao’s wife then quite a few of his family and the guys next door asked me to take their photos. I’d taken some pics of my host and the headman of a close village on a previous visit, and brought them back and given them to people as gifts. Maybe word had gotten around.

Many of the poses were stiff and rigid, as if they were redying themselves for something painful, others were clowning. None of the women wore make up. They live too far from the road to have seen many magazines or how women use make up in “civilization”. It has been almost 3 years, I’m waiting for the day I can return and give them their photos.

Hosts and their youngest children.

This post is one of a series about a walk I did in the winter of 08/09. Some of the older posts now have photos missing as I switched photo store providers with an upgrade to this web site. The other posts of this series are still available on my blog and are linked with titles below.

Long Time Traveler Muang Long
One Day Treks in the Vicinity of Muang Long
Lahu Night Out
The Trail to Nambo
Hmong House
Further Into the Forest
A Gate in the Forest
Lost in Laos and First White Guy
Nam Fa Means Sky River

Originally posted to ban nock at DKos on Sat Nov 26, 2011 at 03:26 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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