I remember reading somewhere that the dry season in Laos makes for poor photography conditions as dust and smoke fill the air especially in northern parts of the country. My four-day work trip took me only some hours north of Vientiane and the aforementioned phenomenon was clearly visible (not to mention the smell in some areas). One of the main reasons for hazy air is forest fires linked to slash-and-burn agriculture. For multiple reasons such as lack of irrigation and poor soil quality for farming, farmers in the provinces cut down forest, burn it in order to cultivate the resulting land for a season or two until nutrients in the soil have been used up and they need to move on to another spot. For a country that has set very high national targets for forest coverage, such activity is counter-productive on multiple fronts. Below is what it looks like:
We drove past multiple sites that had either recently been burned or were still smoking if not totally in flames. A colleague of mine pulled up some satellite imagery of recent forest fires in Laos from the preceding 48 hours and trust me, the map was barely recognisable as the map of Laos for the number of red dots on it indicating forest fires. Some results of the burning can be seen below.
There are many other aspects of life outside the capital which may be characterised as (equally) traditional, which depending on the case can be either sources of joy for the fact that fast-paced development has not managed to destroy pockets of authentic Lao lifestyles, or sources of great amazement (for better or for worse) for the kind of things that take place in this country. This very short trip of mine can hardly begin to touch the surface of this complex topic but I expect to learn more about the quirks of provincial life as I venture deeper into the country. For now, consider the three fellows in the picture below.
Presented to me by a colleague with a simple question ‘would you like to see some wildlife?’ I was taken to see this miniature bamboo cage on our lunch break. What they are called in English remains a mystery, but nonetheless these creatures had been captured in the jungle and were waiting to be eaten. When I inquired whether they would actually be eaten, they kindly asked if I would like to have one of them for my lunch. I declined with a polite smile and returned to the table for my noodle soup, but I couldn’t stop wondering if there is anything the Lao would not eat. At least in the past four days I learned that large geckos, lake turtles and cow tendons alike are much appreciated by the locals…