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Monday, December 9: Day 231 – Coffee, Tea, and Waterfalls

Paske was our next destination. The flight took a little over an hour and arrived early. Our new guide, Kai, met us at the airport with our driver for the next few days, Kao. We left for destinations unknown…but not for long!

Paksa means mouth of Sadan River. It is here that it meets the Mekong River. The population is 150,000. The majority are Lao, but there are many Chinese and Vietnamese here.

Paske was a small village until 1905 when the French made it the capital of the province. At one time Laos was divided into three provinces. Champasak is the name of this province. The others are Vientiane and Luang Prabang.

First we stopped at a blacksmith village that is owned by an ethnic minority called Lawse. They use the metal from car springs and forge them into knives by heating them red hot and pounding them into blades. Here are two men making a crude knife.

Then it is handed off to the next man who fine tunes it.

The knife is then sharpened by the women. SHE is wearing safety glasses. She is the fourth generation of knife maker and can sharpen about 20 per day.

Everyone here has at least two knives.

There are several specialty swords. One is part of a man’s traditional wedding attire and symbolizes power and protection; another is used for the animal sacrifice of the water buffalo. The handle is made from a water buffalo horn.

Pho, a noodle soup, is originally a Lao dish, but the Thai have made it famous.

Buddhists will not eat cats, dogs, snakes, bears, monkeys, horses, crocodiles, tigers, elephants or humans. Rob said that we aren’t Buddhists, but we don’t eat those things either.

Cows are a holy add-on…but Rob and I eat those!!

Most cars are made by Toyota followed by Hyundai. The license tags are color coded. Yellow is a personal car. Blue is for government officials. Red means military or police. White is for commercial use trucks/vans. A car or motorbike with a white tag indicates that it is under financing. When it is paid off, one gets a yellow tag and new number.

Schools

In the Lao public schools one can learn English and French, however, the teacher must be Lao so sometimes the pronunciation is lacking.

Students learn and use Arabic numbers. They know the Lao Sanskrit numbers but only use them in a religious context.

Lao language is used in the courts. It is the official language and is taught in the schools.

Lao and Thai numbers are similar as they are based on Bali and Sanskrit.

Free and mandatory primary school lasts for five years. Secondary school follows for four years and high school is three.

Children go to school from 8:00-12:00 and then 1:30-4:00. They walk to school up to 1 to 2 miles and go home for lunch to eat, bathe, take a nap and help the family. Kai said most people take three baths per day, but he thinks two are enough.

There are four government-run universities. The cost is $130-200 per year. Teachers must be educated in the government schools.

There are many private colleges, and they are twice the price of the government universities. It still looks like a bargain to me. Private schools specialize in administration and finance.


Dao Coffee Company, a large coffee manufacturer, exports mainly to Thailand and Malaysia. It was started by an illiterate woman named Leuang Litdang. Here is a picture of her home overlooking the Mekong. Not bad!!


Coffee

Coffee was first brewed in Ethiopia by a goatherd named Kalddi. He noticed that his goats were nervous and couldn’t stay in place after having eaten cherries of a wild bush. Kalddi had the idea to dry the beans and then grill them, producing a wonderful aroma. From these beans he made a beverage. Kaldhii drank it and got the same feeling as his goats.

Coffee plants must grow 2¬Ĺ years before they can be harvested.

Three types are grown in Laos: Arabica, Robusta, and Liberica.

The most popular is Arabica. The plant is small with dark green shiny leaves. It is harvested from October to December. Arabica has a bigger bean producing a light aroma. It originated from Ethiopia. Today most of it is grown in Costa Rica for the American market.

The Robusta coffee plant is medium height and is harvested from December to February. Robusta has a stronger taste.

The Liberica coffee plant stands tallest. Liberica is not very popular because it is bitter and sour.

The French introduced coffee to Laos in 1920. The the climate of the Bolaven Plateau in southern Laos is most conducive to growing coffee. Coffee has become the largest cash crop grown there. This stands out against the rest of the region where the most common crop is rice.

Coffee needs a little sun but not much so Acacia trees are planted among the coffee plants to provide the right amount of shade.

Workers handpick coffee beans at this plantation cooperative when the fruit is dark red.

Animal manure and old coffee leaves are used as fertilizer.

After ten years the coffee plant will produce fewer beans. It is cut down and new shoots begin to grow from the stump.

Trumpet flowers and bees help to control detrimental insects. The pollen from the trumpet flower is poisonous. If you touch your eye, it will start to bleed.

No watering systems exist here. In these high altitudes, there is more intermittent rainfall.

The coffee is dried on racks one yard above the ground so that the aroma of the ground doesn’t affect the coffee aroma. This natural drying process takes more time, tastes better and sells at a higher price.

The five large coffee companies in this area mostly sell to Thailand and India.

The civit, a wild animal that looks like a cross between a cat and a weasel, eats coffee beans. The coffee beans ferment in their stomachs and their poop is collected and used to make a specialty coffee. It is famous in Indonesia. Connoisseurs can tell a difference between wild poop and farm poop with the former being preferred. This is the most expensive coffee on the world. I am betting that this takes over Pumpkin Spice Latte. HA!

We went to a coffee museum at Sinok Coffee and it was very interesting…and I don’t even drink coffee. Here is a flavor chart used to determine coffee flavors:

Yellow bamboo is strong and can be used for decoration and house building. Green bamboo can eat shoots and weave handicrafts. Here is a picture of Rob standing in front of the giant bamboo.


On to a beautiful twin waterfall called Tan Fane which means deer waterfall. Tad means waterfall.

There are two rivers called the Phakkoud river and the Banglieng river that end in twin waterfalls and combine into one river called Banglian River which then feeds into the Mekong.

There is less water in the dry season of April and May. During the rainy season, the waterfall on the left is white and the one on the right is brown.


Tea

Tea must be picked by hand in the early morning. Just the top three green leaves. These are used to make green, yellow, black and red teas.

The white tip of the tea tree is also picked and is the most prized. Afternoon rest is necessary for the plant to repair itself. The good flavor is gone.

The tea tree must be cut every year to keep it small. This is in order to be able to reach the branches. Here are tea leaves drying.

Mother-in-law tongue makes a natural fence and repels snakes. We had a lovely lunch overlooking the plantation. Our driver told us to get out of the car on the other side because the bees were swarming. Here’s what they were up to:

There are different microclimates on the plateau. It is cool and wet year round. Pineapples are grown here and many types of vegetables. We see cabbage that is exported to Thailand.

Tapioca has a long harvest season from November to March. This root is used for animal feed and powdered for use like flour. There are many plantations which will load up to 100 big trucks per day.


Animals such as cows, goats, and water buffalo are free to roam and forage for food. The leader of the livestock has a bell on its neck. The trustworthy leader brings the whole gang of followers back. Their motivation is the salt for them when they arrive home.

We went to two ethnic villages:

Katoo people who live in the Kokphounh Tai Village. Here they are selling things they have grown or gathered.

All their children are with them. Some or helping, some are playing and this sweet one is sleeping.

The Ta-Oy people live in the Khiengkhork Village. It was made up of around 100 families. The children mobbed us as Kai often brings a piece of candy for the children. Their diet mainly consists of fish and chili peppers.

The houses are on stilts to prevent the animals from getting into their living space.

A village center house was built first. It is used for religious purposes. Then came the houses. At the end of the harvest season, they sacrifice a water buffalo. The head is mounted in the village house.

In the past, woman were to give birth in the forest. Spilling blood in the village would bring bad luck and the entire village would have to move.

For convenience, a small hut was built in the forest for this purpose. Often, she would be accompanied by her mother or mother in law. Now they go to the hospital at no cost.

Some woman have 24 children. It is hard for a woman to get an education. Their future is to marry and have children. The families feel that the children are needed to help with the farming. So the government gives rice at school for them to take back to their families. And more siblings that attend school mean more rice for the family.

In the cities, there is more gender equality.


Waterfalls

Tad Lo

Tad Hang

Oftentimes, we see a bridge that has been washed away by high water and fast currents. This is a way of life in Laos – bridges built, bridges washed away, and bridges rebuilt.

At our last waterfall, we saw a most unusual car.

We were not sure if it was abandoned or still in use. I noticed that there was clothing stuffed in the back window.

Right then a fresh out of the river a 25 year old named Claymore from Belgium greeted us. He and his brother Maximilian are traveling on a grand adventure of their own. The route is posted on the top of their trunk. Here is their progress to date:

We made an unscheduled stop at a rubber tree plantation. We were curious about this process. Everyone is eager to share their knowledge with those who stop to inquire.

The first shift workers make fresh cuts each day at 3am. The rubber sap is collected at 6pm and combined into large pots. At 9pm trucks pick up the pots and take them for further processing. When the leaves are gone in April, no sap is running. This job pays a good salary.

We saw a Farm Resort. Hmmm. That seemed like a contradiction. Then we saw The Last Resort. Clever name…until I saw Cheap Cheap Guest House.

We arrived in Pakse where we are staying in a beautiful hotel overlooking the Mekong River. We crossed this bridge at sunset thinking that it would be a short walk…it wasn’t.

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