The next morning, after coffee and toast, we set off and tested our stamina. The paths were muddy from the early morning dew so it took us all some time to find our rhythm of footing. We could tell when we were approaching a village by the width of the path and the consequent ease of walking. Pinan seemed concerned to avoid the blasted roads so took us through rice paddy fields and along tracks in need of a machete. We slipped, stumbled, crossed streams by tree trunks and gradually worked red mud into our clothes and under our fingernails.
Lunch was taken that first day in a Lawa village, home of our porter who’d joined us back at our overnight stop. The meal was an appetising stomach filler of pumpkin or potato, greens or a type of squash with plenty of liquid, all flavoured with herbs gathered on our way. One, looking somewhat like a catkin, smelled like lemon verbena and imparted a mellow sweet flavour. We drank tea made from plants also found en route, including mint. I doubt that this diet would find favour in a restaurant, but it is a truism that in the open air everything tastes good.
The second night we stopped in another Lawa village. As with all the houses we saw in the hills, the basic construction consisted of a large living area with a verandah on stilts . Roofs are generally thatched with leaves or, in the case of our last stop, bamboo strips. The ground below was continuously rooted and pecked over by the village animals, pigs, dogs, chickens and sometimes ducks. Household waste, being organic, was thrown below for instant consumption.
Even human excreta. From personal experience I can say that it is extremely difficult to keep one’s equilibrium whilst voiding with a black pig snuffling through the undergrowth at the rear end.
That night we were able to see to our personal hygiene. Cut lengths of bamboo were used to carry water down to a paddy field so that those of us with shampoos and toothpaste could spread detergent and fluoride down the valley. It was extremely refreshing just to dunk under the very cold water and to merely wash the mud off.
The nights were cold too. We were warmed by the food and the evening lecture from Pinan. The details elude me unfortunately, but he supplied a wealth of detail concerning lifestyle, religions – both animist and Buddhist, marriage – both monogamous and polygamous, and why historically each hill tribe had gone to live in such an environment. Still, the chill night air meant that we all slept fully clothed under our blankets and in our sleeping bags,