Friday, December 13, 2013

Lao Road Trip February 2013 Day 3

This is a reprint of a post I originally wrote for Absolute Trygve in 2013

Day 3

There wasn’t a lot more to say about agarwood and its current condition in Laos. I needed to process my already collected information first. I got a lot. Mr. Sompat does tend to go on about it, like I was never listening and even reading back my notes served as only a temporary plug to his steady stream of information. He showed me something else very interesting, that you needn’t necessarily kill the agarwood tree to make the infection. I don’t know how viable it is, and there would have to be reasonable chance at making something nice if people were to actually try it, but it seems like coppicing them works well, at least in terms of growth. Whether they will make a good and copious amount of resin I don’t know. But probably someone does.....Maybe that’s why so many groves in India were twins.

Off we roared, me obsessed by the Lao Beignets, and a coffee. We drove to the Tham Kong Lo Cave, in Central Laos. This cave runs 7 km through a mountain and was used to transport tobacco up until the year before I think. Tobacco was picked on one side and loaded onto little boats, and driven through the cool breezy interior of earth to waiting trucks on the other side. This was before the road went around the mountain.

You hire a small boat and walk down to the entrance, put on your life jacket and off you go. At one point you stop and get out and walk through a brilliantly lit passage, the only one. The rest of the trip is through cool darkened halls. I was worried for a second I’d get claustrophobia--never been in a cave like that before. But far from it; it was like a recharge from darkness and something related to the moon I guess, no idea but it was wonderful. Once you emerge on the other side and putter through some spectacular green scenery, you get off and wander around coffee stands. I ate Tom Yam instant noodles for breakfast and it was pretty good.

After a quiet and pleasant morning at the cave we set out back on the road, continuing south in the direction of Savannakhet. We stopped for sausage and rice crackers, bananas and corn. He tied the sausages to the bar at the bed of the truck, so they’d dry as we drove. We had to drop off the 500 kilos of coffee to a Chinese coffee roaster in the Lao style. Meaning it’s roasted in the Lao way, with butter and sugar, and these Chinese guys owned it. It didn’t sound promising. Trust me.

We arrived in the dusk and I did take photos but they don’t do the place justice. For one, the pictures make it look light. And the vermin fled from the flash. Charcoal and cockroaches, burned coffee beans and filthy machinery. Trash and chickens. Their beds  throughout. Butter? Sugar? i didn’t ask. Piles of lumbar and steaming pots. A bicycle. But they bought our coffee and we blazed out. The police stopped us on the way out of town. Plainclothes police. Or at least someone who said he was police. Aggressively he parked his bike in front of us and demanded Mr. Sompat show him the rosewood, which was, stupidly, nice side up at that moment. Once he realized it wasn’t the haul he thought it was, he went back to his bike and rode off, apologizing in a minor way. We didn’t stay in Savannakhet.

About 70 km south of Savannakhet there is a small town with guest houses all over and a small road leading off it and about a kilometre up that is another guest house, away form the road noise, or so Mr. Sompat said. It was clean enough but I think it was, if not a brothel, a place to bring your hooker, and the sign inside telling you not to seems proof to me....But I had a clean bed, a shower, some a/c, and that was good enough for me.

My dinner was another Tom Yum instant noodles bowl, just like in the morning. It was good!

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