Friday, November 16, 2012

Goa, India: It's a state in India with over 100 kms of beaches. I went there after a quick trip to Pune, India with my cousin.

This is the shot from the veranda of the beach shack I had on Palolem Beach, south end. The proprietors called them 'luxury cottages'. That made me smile but all the same the view is rather nice.

Fishing as a primary industry in Goa and it's mostly small time fishers that go out during the night in boats like this. During the day they will also ferry tourists about to make extra dollars. The fresh fish in Goa is great!

Before I headed to the beach I stayed a few days in a lovely restored Portuguese house in the town of Canacona. It was hard to get a photo of the one story house itself because it was surrounded by walls and large shrubs. The owner is an architect from Mumbai and he did a great job of restoring the building and decorating it. The spa was not operational while I was there but it really did not matter.

The house had many large verandahs that we great for lounging and reading a favourite book. I actually had a bad cold and was feeling very miserable so the peace and quiet was welcomed. The staff were so nice and felt bad that I was sick.

Breakfast was included. Dinner was optional. This is a great Goan Thali they prepared. Thali meaning a selection of little dishes. Here there is rice, dal, veg curry, seafood curry, some fried fish and prawns, roti, a red liquid that tasted strange and was suppose to take away the taste of the fish and aid in digestion.

Mowgli was Turiya's young labrador-mix. He was a rescue dog from Mumbai. The story was that a western tourist obtained him while in Mumbai but then had to leave and gave him to a rickshaw driver who was unable to keep him. Given that rick drivers are rather poor that does not surprise me. So he lived in the streets but found his way to a shelter where the architect got him and brought him to a better life in Goa. His back legs are a bit deformed. He was a very friendly young dog.

Art shot! Can't resist. These were pebbles placed into the concrete floor of the shower. They were there to prevent you from slipping. Very smart idea!
The town of Canacona has many nice houses which are painted bright colours. This is typical of Goa and also Kerala a state further south. These were all in the neighbourhood of Turiya. However they were not traditional Portuguese houses like Turiya. These were modern, recently built.

Seeing red!

Can that green be any more florescent? And the peach coloured fence? What a combo!

Okay, the pink was brighter than the green. It hurt my eyes to look at it.

Relaxing blue.

Of course not everyone can afford to live in homes like the ones above. This is more typical.

Sunset at Palolem Beach, Goa. Another fine day.
Have left Goa and now I'm in Nepal. Will post photos as soon as I can.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

End of Laos Biking Trip - A few more random shots and thoughts.

Stopping for lunch one day beside the Mekong River, fried crickets were available. There's three on my plate and I ate them and Matt is grossed out. Taste like chicken!! Actually not. They taste like chips.

Laos is a Buddhist country although animism is the old religion. We visited a number of temples. This was a particularly lovely green jade Buddha. About a foot in height. There were three of them.
I'm always on the look out for cats. In Laos they are small and skitterish. However, this little fellow was friendly. He was an adult but probably weighed in at 5 to 7 pounds. I asked in Vietnam and Laos about the notion of eating cats because I had seen nothing on offer in the markets. I was told no one eats cats. Maybe in Vietnam for a special occasion like a wedding but generally it did not happen. You don't see many cats but good to know they just don't make it as food. Really odd since literally everthing is eaten.
Another beautiful small cat in Vientiane, Laos.

I think this is one of my favourite photos of Laos. Taken early morning about 7am in Vang Vieng, Laos.

End of trip and this is my trusty steed.
Actually this is the end of the trip. We did 70km on flat road this day and ended it at a mini Arc de Triomphe in the capital city Vientiane. Al, me, Matt and La. The concrete used to make the structure was supplied by the Americans for a airport runway. It got used for this and hence has the nickname the "vertical runway".  Ha! Great last laugh.

So, I'm back to Singapore and on to new adventures which I will post about as soon as I can.
Daily Life in Laos: Biking through the mountains of northern Laos is a good way to see rural people, their homes, livestock, rice fields, schools, and local shops. Markets are popular but there are stores, open to the street in a small villages.
The street front lingerie shop - bras and panties plus umbrellas and a host of other items. Not sure where you try them on for size. 
The local basket maker. He makes his baskets out of bamboo and you can see his bench out front where he works. There is also a fire pit with a pot of coals. Not sure what it's for but he was boiling water for tea on it just before I took this photo. 
Road side gas station 
Homes are built on stilts and underneath the family has room to rest in the shade (hammocks are often strung up) store items and livestock plus in certain areas of Laos the women weave and their looms are set up. The textiles in Laos are lovely and the women so talented. When a couple marry it is the husband's duty to build his wife a loom and then she weaves cotton and silk and sells it to make extra income for the family. The bolts of fabric are sold to a middle person who takes it to larger markets. Some non-profit organizations have stepped in and formed co-operatives with village women that help them get a better price for their goods. 
This young girl is twelve and she's been weaving for 2 years. She still goes to school and will continue until seventeen. Highly likely she will not continue her education beyond that. Marrying age is 18 and she will be able to chose her husband (with parents consent) have children, work in the rice fields, raise chickens, ducks, goats, cattle, water buffalo and weave. It's a busy life with a lot of hard work. Divorce is allowed but not common. Property and businesses can be owned by men and women. Widows can keep the family property and do not become a burden to other family members. One married child may stay at home to look after elderly parents. It's common to move out once you marry and set up your own home.

Plain of Jars: is a megalithic archaeological landscape in Laos. Scattered in the landscape of the Xieng Khouang plateau are thousands of these stone jars. They appear in clusters, ranging from a single or a few to several hundred jars at lower foothills surrounding the central plain and upland valleys. Initial research of the Plain of Jars claimed that the stone jars are associated with prehistoric burial practices. The Plain of Jars is dated to the Iron Age (500 BCE to 500 CE) and is one of the most fascinating and important sites for studying Southeast Asian prehistory.
We had to be very careful where we walked because of unexploded ordinance (bombies or cluster bombs). The Laotian government is considering applying for status as a UNESCO World Heritage site for the Plain of Jars. Clearing of the UXO hazards is one requirement before the sites can be studied and developed for tourism.  Matt and La are sitting under the tree in the distance.

Close up shot of stone jars. These were about three feet high.
Moving on from Plain of Jars - a few more random photos

Pit stops were usually at road side restaurants where the facilities are out back.  Squat toilet, barrel full of water with dipper in order to manually flush away waste and to clean yourself because toilet paper is not the norm, a mirror and basket where there's left over bar soap for washing hands. This bathroom is rated 10 out of 10 in my books. Many times it was a far more gritty scene and sometimes peeing in the bush was preferable. But then there's all that UXO lurking around.

A stunning waterfall near Luang Prabang. The Kwang Si Waterfalls are clear and cool mountain water.  We had a picnic lunch here and then cycled 25km back to Luang Prabang. 

The swimming hole at Kwang Si Waterfalls. It was delightfully cold water in the 30+ degrees heat of the day. Locals found the water rather chilly. I could have stayed in it all day and the one other person who was just hanging out in it was another Canadian from Port Hope, Ontario who lives in Kuala Lumpur!  Small world. 

A couple of guys washing their cocks.
Yes, folks, cock or rooster fighting is alive and well in Asia.  Here are a couple of fighting cocks who get daily baths by their owners. They went on to have a sparring match in the yard which was interesting but I could not see what the fuss is all about. I think the gambling that goes hand in hand with this activity is what really gets people excited. I saw these roosters all over Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and you know by the way there are caged that they are fighting cocks. 

Cute kid. 

Another Lao cutie with our guide Al who is from Bangkok.
I could have taken about five home with me - not the guides, the kids.
Lao really needs help with education, clean water, health care, etc. 
If you ever consider sponsoring a child in a developing country, 
Lao would be a good one to pick. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Local Markets - Laos: As I wrote in a previous post people don't go to supermarkets or grocery stores. The store comes to you or there are always markets in town that sell everything you need and it's very fresh indeed. In the mornings as we cycled out of town sometimes we'd drop into a local market to see what's on offer and to pick up some items for snacks while biking. Here's a view of a local market in Sam Neua a mountain town in northern Laos. To view any of the photos in more detail just place click on the image and it will enlarge.

A couple of ladies discussing the weather, crops or maybe children. The woman in the blue jacket is wearing a traditional wrap skirt.

Guinea pig on steroids! He was for sale. Not sure if they would butcher him for you or you had to do it yourself.

Among the fresh vegetables I found wasp larvae. Directly in front of the seller is the comb and then the red dishes hold the very 'live' larvae. Fry'em up for a snack!

And if you like bamboo larvae, then these were available just across the aisle from the wasp larvae. The seller is shaking the larvae out of the bamboo stalk. I couldn't find out whether the stock was just a method of tranportation or the larvae all lived in it.

Cooked rat. In front of them are green piles are fresh water seaweed.

Live frogs.

Rice seller. Rice; that staple food item of everyone in Asia. I've never eaten so much rice.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Laos - the most bombed country in the world: It is a land locked country of only 6 million people - very small in comparison to its neighbours like Vietnam with 80+million people. It's communist in name only as the government seems to be an autocracy that doesn't seem to do a lot for its people. For example neither education nor health care is free, people can own property and run a business and they pay taxes on land and businesses. Getting clean water is challenging for them. It's very mountainous, beautiful but poor. Many people are farmers who grow rice, raise cattle, water buffalo, chickens and ducks.

Shots from rest stop while biking in mountains

The very sad story of Laos is what was done to it in the 1960s and 70s. According to the Huffington Post (and other sources), "as part of its efforts during the Vietnam War, the United States began a nine-year bombing campaign in Laos in 1964 that ultimately dropped 260 million cluster bombs on the country -- the most heavily bombed country in history. That's more than 2.5 million tons of munitions -- more than what the U.S. dropped in World War II on Germany and Japan combined." They did this covertly and went against agreements that stated no bombing would take place in Laos which had recently switched from being a monarchy to communist rule. Naturally the United States was rather paranoid about what was going on in Laos plus they were lazy and often dropped bombs on Laos when they had to abort missions to north Vietnam and wanted to lighten their load on the way back to bases in Thailand.

Now the average person in the street in Laos or rather peasant in the rice field did not know why the USA were bombing them. They just got the short end of the stick when it came to "Air America" and the CIA's secret operation.

Cluster bombs are really a terrorist weapon. They are meant to maim and kill people. Cluster bombs are small explosive bomblets carried in a large cannister that opens in mid-air, scattering them over a wide area. The bomblets may be delivered by aircraft, rocket, or by artillery projectiles.

Unexploded cluster bombs

"The CBU (cluster bomb unit) 26, which was widely used in Laos, is an anti-personnel fragmentation bomb that consists of a large bombshell holding 670 tennis ball-sized bomblets, each of which contain 300 metal fragments. If all the bomblets detonate, some 200,000 steel fragments will be propelled over an area the size of several football fields, creating a deadly killing zone."

When the bombs hit the ground, many of them did not blow up as designed but instead remained hidden -- waiting for an unsuspecting farmer, child or livestock. 75 million bombs failed to detonate.  At least 25,000 people have been killed or injured by these bombs in the 35 years following the end of the bombing campaign. Today, an average of 300 Lao people are injured or killed every year by these weapons.  
This is what happens when a child finds a tennis ball size cluster bomb and either plays with it or steps on it accidentally.

The economy has become a casualty, too. Laos' economy is almost entirely agricultural (rice, in particular) yet one-third of the land remains littered with unexploded ordnance. Clearance costs and security concerns continue to pose a barrier to farmers large and small, leaving fertile soil untilled.

Now people are destroying ordinance and leading education programs throughout the country. The bomb-removal program in Laos is effective but it is expensive - and more funding is needed now to prevent more casualties.   Cluster bombs should be outlawed but they are still used today in many of the world's conflict zones.
Our Laos guide, La, takes us on a walk through the Plain of Jars (soon to be a UNESCO World Heritage site once they can clear more cluster bombs) near Phonsavanh in north Laos. You can see white markers and we are to walk between them because the trail has been cleared of unexploded ordinance. Outside those markers anything could be there and for as far as the eye can see there is danger
Art Shots: sometimes I attempt creativity and take what I call an 'art shot'. They actually aren't very creative. Most are close up shots of things. Here's four taken in Laos.

Chillies drying in the sun by the side of the road. These appear everywhere along roads. People spread the chillies on a bamboo mat or large pan and put them out to dry. The red is brilliant and eye catching while biking.

Wet markets are in every town and great places to visit to see local people going about their business. These little fishes were carefully arranged on leaves and ready for purchase.

There are many kinds of mushrooms growing in Laos. All delicious. Photo taken at market.

Little buddha relief. Temple in Luang Prabang

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Biking Vietnam continues. More random shots and stories.
Leaving Hanoi we headed in a west, south direction. We're starting a 20km run in a national park in Vietnam.  Left to right - me, Matt, Al, Han. 
In the park there is a primate rescue centre. However, I came across this walking stick insect. He looked to not need rescuing. Happy guy. 

Next day we were near the Vietnam/Laos border in the mountains. Stopped for lunch which is basic - either fried noodles or rice with vegetables or noodle soup with vegetables which they bring raw to your table and you just plunk the veg in the hot broth and add your own spices - chillies or more chillies. Everything is fresh. 
And next door you could get  'thit cho' - dog meat. They had  live dogs in a cage out front (very sad) but I could not get a  photo as the proprieters are a bit sensitive to being exposed. It's a very rural mountain town and no one bothers them much but it's not exactly legal. They bring the dogs in from Laos but they actually originate in Thailand. All completely illegal trade but it's there and it's done and maybe that guy on the bike is taking some fresh dog home to his wife. 

Leaving Vietnam I could not resist one more pig shot. He was too  big to be strapped onto the bike. 
Hello Laos 

The drink of choice - most times no choice - this was it. 
Laos is one of the poorest countries in the world. It has about 6 million people and it is mountains everywhere. First night we were staying in a very rural mountain town in basically grass huts - think camping. I walked in and saw these curtains and gasped. Had to get the photo. It was a surreal moment.   
Next day as we were leaving the place we stayed were having lunch for local dignitaries. This was the ladies table and they were very happy to have us join them but we had biking to do.  

 More on Laos to come.