We awoke somewhat wearily after the fitful night’s sleep that we had had. So we got ready and then parked ourself in the restaurant until we had breakfast – some more greens and flowers provided by Kunten. Then Kunten’s husband came in and in so many words and gesticulations ‘told’ us to follow him which we did into the nearby forest. We all stopped in a small clearing where there was lots of cut bamboo, here we stopped for a quick water break and then his wife and their son turned up. It turned out that today’s task was to go into the jungle with Kunten on a food foraging mission whilst the father and son would be sorting the bamboo out.
The food we were to be ‘hunting down’ today was the elusive Banana Flowers and Bamboo Shoots. We trekked and foraged and foraged and trekked – I managed to spot a couple of the Banana Flowers hiding high up on a tree, a Banana tree one assumes and after a while both me and Liz were getting well into the swing of it, looking upwards for the flowers and on the ground for the shoots. At first we thought that it was quite a cool game of hide and seek but I suppose for Kunten and for us tonight it was much more important, this was food so we both wanted to do well but it was not easy by any means.
We eventually reached a part of the trail that we had been on a few days ago which was steeply uphill and almost impassable from this angle. With the trail halted it was now time to turn back and take all the spoils back that we had harvested, we must have had about 40kg in each of our bags and then Kunten made a sling from another bag and a rope and using this she placed it over her head, she was now carrying another 40 odd kg of bamboo shoots – she is one strong and tough cookie. We had what seemed to me to be loads of vegetation was still not yet enough for Kunten. Along the way back she kept seeing new bits and either she or I would go, machete in hand, Tarzan-like into the jungle trees to chop more shoots and these were given to Liz in a bag Kunten gave her, which soon enough filled up. At this moment I now had nothing to carry to Kunten rectified this by passing a load of bamboo poles and slippery though it was, we stumbled our way back through the jungle.
When we got back to the clearing we had started from the guys had gone but there were three sets of bamboo all neatly tied up – this too was added to our shopping bags! Kunten took one of the bundles whilst I took the other two. I led the way, Liz following and Kunten actually struggling behind. I made it home first by quite a way, so went back to go and help Kunten who had dropped the bundle so I brought this one back as well. It had been quite an exhausting but thoroughly enjoyable excursion into the jungle and we felt (or hoped) that we had been quite useful really.
We then had a shower and a small meal and as it was mid-late afternoon the whole family came into the restaurant to eat as well. We had a bit of a laugh, even though it was really only the couple’s children, a teenage boy and girl, who could actually speak any English. It was still a really nice way to spend the late afternoon though. They finished eating and then the strangest thing happened, well at least to our Western eyes anyhow. The daughter who had popped out came back in with a very large black beetle (Dung or Staghorn, the limit of my beetle knowledge), at this point she offered it to her mother who then proceeded to pull out its antenna to use as a toothpick. Next, the old man then pulled all its legs off as it was to be roasted and eaten later on!!! If I hadn’t have seen it happen in front of my eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it but it appears that here where food is a really valued commodity and lack of it can have disastrous consequences, they simply adapt to eat things which we would turn our noses up at. Once again, it reminded me just how lucky I am to live in a society where lack of food is not quite as much of an issue.
We were then ‘told’ to chop the Bamboo shoots and whilst doing this we discussed the wonders of harvesting food in such a way as we had done today. Surely there must be a bigger, better way of doing it all but surely then there would be no lush green forests and jungles that we had just fallen in love with. So although Kunten will never be able to feed the five thousand she always ensures that she doesn’t take more than she needs and, more importantly, more than the jungle can give. Strange how out here food or the lack of it does make you think so much about it! Well by now it was getting dark so we thought that we had finished for the day but we thought wrong! It was now time to cook the bamboo over the open fire, which I was in charge of once again and this went on for ages just cooking and cooking – I stunk of smoke most of the following day.
When it was cooked, the family then pulled out a table and starting setting it and then they started bringing out more food. So with our ‘supper’ we had both boiled and BBQ bamboo shoots (!), the usual sticky rice and a dish simply made from leaves and a very hot but very nice chilli sauce. It was all very very tasty and we felt that because we had done our bit towards the meal (especially our bamboo) that it tasted even better!
A couple of guys from the neighbouring house came over and we had quite a laugh, even though they could not speak any English at all. As the night wore on and Kunten’s husband and children tired and fell by the wayside, it ended up being just me, Liz, the two guys and Kunten burning the midnight oil (well 11ish). The guys were on the rice wine which they soon enough offering us as well as Domchock – Lao for cheers – in return I nipped back to our hut and brought out my harmonica. I cannot play the bl00di thing, so I taught them all that I know, so you can imagine the racket that we made but it was all in all just a very great night. We danced and ‘sung’ and played harmonica to Lao music and we had an excellent laugh as you do when you get drunk with new friends. I am sure that tomorrow I shall not be feeling quite as well.