Another walk around the village, more sticky rice with accompaniments, and Lao coffee - there was no tea so Tom enjoyed his first cup of coffee (Rosie refrained), a quick ferry across the Nam Tha river and the first day of our two day trek was underway.
The 5-6 hours included an hour's lunch stop plus a handful of short breaks - in fact we probably covered only 8-10km in 3-4 hours of walking. Terrain was as expected - steep up or down. This trekking route had been cut into the jungle just days earlier - we were the second group to follow it - so it wasn't a well formed trail that we followed. Being winter, and the dry season, the conditions were perfect - cool and dry.
The jungle reminded us of Australian rainforest with stunning patches of bamboo forest. The clusters of bamboo have a life of 60 years before the root system gives up. There were plenty of vines to swing from.
Lunch was consistent with previous meals - served on a banana leaf, eaten by hand, plentiful and tasty with the bulk of calories delivered as individually leaf-wrapped parcels of sticky rice. The most impressive part of lunch was watching Ponh gather bamboo shoots and spices from the forest around us and split bamboo expertly to make bowls and a mortar and pestle.
Tom helped to pound the spices in the mortar and pestle...
...and to much laughter became the first trekker to pound so hard the bottom broke through! Ponh had to start over.
From time to time we would pass old trapping lanes but today there are few large animals left in this 'national protected-too-late area' so the traps were long abandoned. They were simple traps - a hole in the ground covered by rocks and leaves with noose attached to a tensioned, bent sapling. The animal would step into the noose and launch into the tree tops.
After a tortuous descent down small steps cut into damp red earth we spied our jungle camp.
The hut had taken 25 people just 2 days to build (the same number opened the trail). No supervisor or leader - everyone knows how to build these huts and just gets on with it. Unfortunately they hadn't yet carried in the 'guaranteed' mattresses and pillows... it was going to be an uncomfortable night. At least the sleeping bags were there, if woefully inadequate for the cool temperature. Luckily Shane and Helen had carried in two camping mattresses, which the entire family laid across.
Tom crashed at 6:30; Rosie bubbled along with all the adults around the fire sharing travel stories. She is thriving on this trip! This afternoon she paints all our faces with black ash and we became the tigers of the jungle.
Ponh and his assistant Si went hunting for breakfast in the dark. They returned with crabs and fish.
A highlight of the evening was the occasional firefly moving through the forest emitting bursts of light - some orange, others yellow, others green.
Shane, Helen, Rosie and Tom
Location:Nam Ha National Protected Area, Laos