Archive for April, 2010

Michele receiving a kiss from an Albino Buffalo.

Tana Toraja, I’ve been there, but I’m not sure it actually exists. Centrally located amidst small mountains inland from the expansive coast of Sulawesi, Indonesia, Toraja captures my imagination like no other place before.  I am enamored by a well irrigated garden-like environment full of butterflies fluttering from orange to pink flowers, dragon-flies of extraordinary size and eagles soaring just above the peaks of pine trees. The rich coffee and fresh fruit juices might as well flow down the countless rivers dissecting the countryside. Pink buffalo pierce me with their aqua-blue eyes as I stand in the shadows of the towering boat-shaped roofs of Tongkonan. (more…)

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With map and compass in hand, we are determined to complete our self-guided trek through the enchanted hills of Tana Toraja, on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. As we walk along deep green rice paddies, a couple waves to us from a balcony. They ask us where we are going and gesture for us to come in and have a drink. But we are eager to make some headway, so we thank them and indicate that we will continue on. (more…)

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Our time on the island of Ko Pha Ngan off the southern gulf coast of Thailand was extremely educational. It taught us many, many things. Lessons learned were mostly on…ahem…what doesn’t move you. Laying on the white sandy beach, feeling the ocean breeze, listening to the waves come in, soaking in the sun; I was tempted to never move again…


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You have to understand the context. We are exploring the plain of jars, and about two meters to the left of my feet is a brick painted red and white. Along the white side – where I am standing – it is safe: de-mined and cleared of unexploded ordinance (UXO). A few meters to the right of me is a huge bomb crater (10 by 10 meters, maybe?). All of it, mines, unexploded ordinance, and bomb craters are the doing of Americans and the Secret War. (more…)

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Our “Laos Village Trek” evaluation form had questions about whether, in my opinion, there was lots of trash in the villages, whether any villagers had asked me for money, whether there had been sufficient drinking water, and whether I had consumed any wildlife. But it was the implicit assumptions of the following question that really made me blush… (more…)

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Lao-lao trekking

Arriving in the first village on our Laos trek, we enter animal theater. The livestock is in continuous motion, each actor antagonizing the next. Pigs, dogs and chickens chase each other from trough to trough and fight for anything vaguely edible in the dust. With disbelief, we learn that there is no specific customary latrine place in this village — the animals eagerly consume all human waste wherever it falls with sickening zeal.

Drinking alcohol is central to our glimpse of life in the village. Upon our arrival in mid-afternoon, we are shuffled into a hut to share lao-lao shots poured out of a plastic jug, labeled “engine oil.” It goes around and around the circle, and the bug-eyed host keeps pouring. Our guide purchases a fifth of the clear, strong spirit and proceeds to dole it out until his bottle is empty as well. (more…)

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Mine detection kitty

Walking through the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) exhibit, the information I read takes me completely by surprise. Lao People Democratic Republic is the most bombed country in the world per capita.

Between 1961 and 1974, the Laotian Civil War becomes one of the many proxy wars of the Cold War and the country’s strategic importance to the overarching conflict in Vietnam makes it a prime bombing target.  Between 1965 and 1974, US  expenditures average $9 million per day releasing 1.36 metric tonnes of ordnance on Lao. I can’t find figures on ordnance used by other protagonists and ground forces. The legacy is tragic. Upper estimates suggest that some 30% of the ordnance did not detonate. Live bombs now litter the countryside, claiming casualties at an alarming rate – the 2008 estimate is 600 injured by UXO. (more…)

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A ‘Laos’y bus ride

The Mystery Machine

We are journeying from the tourist haven of Luang Prabang, Laos, full of western comforts to the less traveled Phonsavan, which we collectively find roughly equivalent to a dusty Texas thoroughfare minus the tumbleweeds. Here is base-camp for the ‘Plain of Jars’, much like Stonehenge, a site shrouded in mystery. The much bigger adventure, however, turns out to be the journey to Phonsavan–as if Michele, Caleb, Sabrina and I are part of the ‘Scooby Squad’ and our bus the ‘Mystery Machine.’ (more…)

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We have much catching up to do! Check out our freshly updated travel map, and read on to hear about the adventures we’ve been having.

We cross the border into Laos on a longboat. As we wait for visas, an immediate paradox for communism in today’s world: lowest fees are charged for entry of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Cubans, but all must pay in USD.

Leaving Thailand, standing on the launch pad for Laos.

The Lao border town of Huay Xai is quiet and comfortable. We relax on the guesthouse roof watching candle-driven paper lanterns drift into the heavens from a nearby hilltop wat (temple). Music and a DJ’s voice blare. There is some kind of Sunday night party going on. We are welcome, the guesthouse proprietor tells us. Just climb the steps up the hill; the full moon party is happening to raise funds for the monastery. (more…)

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