Monday 22 October 2012

On foot

It was very First World of me to lie in bed last night, listening to the heavy rain and mistrusting the thatched roof above us, but of course it kept us all dry. It had stopped by the time we set out this morning for our 15 kilometre walk through the paddy fields and little hamlets up to the top of a hill; though it was still damp and misty and moody, the peaks hidden in mist and the colours muted as we followed the path. We passed the houses scattered through the fields, and the people about their work: the boy sheltering in a big new drainpipe as he kept an eye on the water buffaloes as they grazed, the woman cutting out diseased rice-plant heads one by one, the others tending their super-neat vegetable beds.

It was a hot and humid climb, steady and sticky, but rewarded at the top by lunch in a local couple’s house, like our homestay but less tarted-up, more real, where an open fire burnt on a concrete pad, pork hung in the smoke above it, the boards were bare and the only light came through the doors. They made us welcome, the food was good and hot, and the rice wine generously shared.

Then we headed downhill, following a treacherous footpath over streams and rocks, through the fields, past more houses with duck ponds full of fish. We all slipped and slithered, and some of us fell, and one of us hurt his elbow really badly, but the sun was out and the ricefields were so luminously green and neat and beautiful that it was worth all the drama. When we got to the bottom, the villagers were all busy in the fields with the mobile thresher, like something out of a Thomas Hardy novel, but with cone hats and plastic sandals, and with buffaloes and jungly limestone peaks in the background. It was a great day, real and authentic, and with a bit of excitement too – plus Moc the dog came with us the whole way. Excellent experience.

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