Still Life with Elephants


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Asia » Laos » South » Tat Lo
December 17th 2008
Published: January 12th 2009
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Just up the river, two elephant ladies live and work.Just up the river, two elephant ladies live and work.Just up the river, two elephant ladies live and work.

We got to watch them bathe. wawaweewaaa
We took an overnight sleeper bus from Vientiane to Pakse, a dusty (again) town in Champasak, a southern Lao province. A sleeper bus! This was such a luxury, albeit one that probably defies most modern safety regulations. Not that that's any different from most travel here. The bus had wide bed berths on either side. You climbed into bed, under your provided blankets and pillows and snuggled in for the ride. We were given sausage and vegetable dumplings for dinner, and I fell asleep watching the moon cast slim columns on the asphalt and listening to Terry Gross interviewing Tina Fey. Podcasts do wonders to make extended travel sustainable. We spent a day in Pakse eating real, down home Lao soup, featuring a host of organs from at least four different animals, and watching the Champasak Games, local version of the Olympics, featuring Mekong rowing, volleyball and martial arts. The next morning, we climbed on a local bus with the requisite ducks and chickens and headed off into the hills.

Tat Lo embodied the small town feel we had been hoping for for a while now. We stay in yet another tiny bamboo bungalow. We spent days reading on rocks above waterfalls, the landscapes hinting at Vermont autumns, and at Mam Pap's. Mam Pap is a charismatic, always-grinning, always-teasing woman who owns a local eatery. She serves big portions of the cheapest food in town, and her tables were always full of backpackers. She took care of us, constantly joking, like we were a great gaggle of her own children.

We explored paths carved along the river by elephants and watched them bathe with their mahouts. Local humans, pigs, cows and puppies use our front lawn along the river as a bathing spot. We consider our squalid excuse for a bathroom and follow their lead, bathing each day with Dr. Bronner's and river water in the rock crannies above the falls.




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overlooking our sunny bungalowoverlooking our sunny bungalow
overlooking our sunny bungalow

(squint down past the big house in the valley to see our diminutive domicile)
kids playing takrawkids playing takraw
kids playing takraw

A popular game in Laos which is basically hackeysack, and all it entails, played over a badminton net!
Village people always seem to be burning things. Village people always seem to be burning things.
Village people always seem to be burning things.

We don't understand why, but it is a part of daily life. The smell of charred things bespeaks of Lao.


19th January 2009

Why to burn?
I have a guess as to why the Lao folk are always burning. In the moist and sunny climate, plants grow at a rate difficult to contain. Leaving piles of cleared brush can attract snakes and other critters to whom one may not want to offer hospitality. The smoke can offer an added benefit of keeping mosquitos and other blood-sucking, disease-carrying pests at bay.

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