Risking Everything: coming out in Coffee Land by Elizabeth Worley.
Winner! 2011 Non-fiction Global eBooks Award!
You stand on a hillside , looking up into a coffee plantation. The red berries are gleaming with the promise of a good crop. The air is rich and warm, the bird song louder than you can remember. Below you is the little casita you are staying in. Surely this part of Panama is heaven on earth.
You are curious about the women who own the land and farm the coffee. They also make luscious Cloud Botanicals natural beauty products. What is their story? How did they come to be custodians of such prolific beauty? Read more
Why visit Portugal?
Before I went to Portugal, the reasons were:
1. To listen to fado. I had fallen in love with Mariza, famous and beautiful singer of the plaintive Portuguese folk song called fado
2. To live cheaply. Portugal in 2009 was one of the cheapest places in Western Europe-important when you travel with Kiwi dollars
4. To experience a completely unknown culture with an unpronounceable language.
So what was Portugal like? Read more
Shopping in London? Don’t!
Not unless you know exactly where to go, or unless you love being pushed around, jostled, ignored, exhausted and poor.
I hate shopping at the best of times, and on familiar territory. To even consider shopping in London is the worst of times – it makes me put my travel agent’s number deep down in my desk. Read more
She got on the back of the truck with us. I looked at her red lips- was it betel nut?I looked at other women we passed on the road. The signs were definitely there.
To Western eyes, the habit of betel nut chewing seems very unpleasant The red lips can seem attractive, from a distance, but closer observation will reveal the stained tongue and decayed teeth. Then there is the spitting and hoicking on to the ground. Read more
The medals on the uniform of the immigration officer gleamed, as he stamped our passports. Thump! Thump! Thump! A small bow from us, a slight inclination of the head, from him.We walked out of the airpot, and into the sunshine of Vientiane, the capital of Laos.
It was National Day in Laos, when they were marking 37 years of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. The streets were very quiet, shops and some restaurants were closed- it felt like Invercargill on a wet Sunday. We joined the evening promenade along the Mekong along with hundreds of Lao, Thai, Chinese and a few foreigners. Many stopped to place flowers on the massive statue of King Chao Anouvong holding his hand out warning Thailand over the river to keep its distance.
Our room was on the top floor of the Khampiane Hotel, which gave a charming view of street life- children playing, little shops, street vendors of meat, rice, baguettes. Right next door is Nok’s fruit bar- we drank many of her delectable pure fruit shakes, and enjoyed relaxing in the colourful cool room.
Lots of temples to marvel at, and up the road is the biggest and shiniest gold stupa at the Pha That Luang, which was built in the 3rd century to enclose part of Buddha’s breast bone. It has an unusual enclosed cloister, reminiscent of European monasteries.
We explored the National Museum, a dusty and poorly curated display of priceless prehistorical artefacts, mixed with room after room of photographs of the French ‘oppressors’, Thai ‘invaders’ and the rise of the ‘glorious’ People’s Democratic Party. Hard work in the heat, but a good introduction to modern Laos.
A terrible part of modern Laos is the huge number of unexploded bombs and landmines scattered over the former Ho Chi Minh Trail from 1964 to 1973. Of the 260 million dropped on Laos, 78 million failed to detonate. Since then more than 12000 people have been killed or injured.
This happens as they walk to their rice fields, or along jungle tracks, or when children find a piece of shiny metal to play with. We visited the COPE centre,
where we ate lunch alongside three blind children; the gatekeeper had one leg, and numerous others had multiple disabilities.
The COPE centre is both an education and rehabilitation centre, and has very sobering displays, movies and demonstrations. See www.copelaos.org.
Ceridwyn Parr articles on Women Travel
- Risking Everything: Coming out in Coffee Land
- Portugal – 14 reasons to go
- Shopping in London? Choose your battle.
- Betel Nut- red lips, bad teeth, but is it really beautiful?
- Vientiane, capital city of Laos
- Luang Prabang – lovely and langourous
- From Phnom Penh mayhem to laid back Laos
- Thailand – a homestay in an Akha Village
- Cambodia, land of awesome temples, waterways and fabulous food
- The Killing Schools and Killing Fields of Cambodia
I stole the ‘langourous’ bit from a poet, Oliver Bandmann, who writes here, but it is such an apt adjective- especially on these ‘mid winter’ days of misty mornings and golden afternoons in Luang Prabang.
A town of temples
Quiet, shady streets
Heightened with saffron
The golden stupas glow even brighter, the smoke from small restaurant barbecues twists up through the palms and banana plants, and the long boats reflect like brush paintings in the light on the Mekong River. Along the river banks, new gardens appear daily and another bamboo foot bridge has been built above the lowering water. Little boys swim along on polystyrene chunks, while the little girls cajole the watching tourists to buy bracelets and necklaces- for our school books, they say.
The food is fantastic- everything from Laos fried rice or noodles, made spicy and full of fresh vegetables, to baguettes, fruit smoothies, and pancakes at the markets, to gastronomic extravagancies at the French restaurants. Danielle was perplexed when her hot pot arrived along with all the raw ingredients, and she had to ask what to do next. (cook it and eat it was the answer!)
The Hmong people are the dominant tribal group here and sell their colourful fabric and clothes at the night market. We learnt about clothing codes and marriage customs at the beautiful little Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre, which is dedicated to preserving and transmitting the cultural resources of Laos.
A new seal of authenticity , Handmade in Luang Prabang, was being launched with an impressive exhibition of fine arts and textiles. This gave us the chance to see the different methods and designs of different tribal groups. The fabrics themselves are so painstakingly woven or embroidered, but the final designs of shirts, or dresses or jackets are not always appealing to Western buyers, so it was good to see the beginning of new design and marketing initiatives. The silver work is beautiful and desirable, as are paintings and handmade paper (which we cannot bring into NZ as it is full of seeds). Needlework and embroidery is everywhere- women pick it up in a spare moment. I even saw an idle policeman embroidering peacefully.
Ock Pop Tok is a fabulous place to visit. There are three shops in Luang Prabang, selling the best clothing and fabrics I saw. They put you on a free tuk tuk to visit their model production centre, just 2km out of town. Here women spin silk, and weave the most elaborate and exquisite designs, which are sold world wide. The prices reflect the quality and, more importantly, their fair trade practices and wages. Their Silk Road cafe on the banks of the Mekong serves a Persian tasting platter, reminding us of the romance of the ancient silk trade.
Monks by the hundred live in Luang Prabang, at the dozens of temples. You spot them out walking, going to English classes, bathing in the river, sitting in the park talking to tourists, labouring in the temples, and talking on their mobile phones. Most of all you see them before dawn, emerging from the gates of their temples, walking along the street in a long silent line. Local people are ready to offer alms- rice, biscuits, fruit, and the tourists are ready with flash bulbs. Many tourists also take part, by kneeling, feet pointing away from the monks. You do not look up as they go past, but simply place food, or money in their bowl. The monks eat breakfast and lunch, and that is it for the day.
Drums at 4a.m.
Wake all the monks, pious ladies
Who prepare their rice
I had conversations with several monks, at the Big Brother Mouse English classes, and all said they had become novices, to get a good education- much better than in a government school. All spoke Lao, plus their own tribal language, Thai, English, and usually some French or German or Spanish. As well as languages, they learn maths, science, history and Buddhism. The novitiate ends at 19 years, when they can choose to continue as a monk, or to go to University, or get a job. All these boys came from country schools and all had parents who are small farmers, so being a monk is a way to move out of the poverty cycle. It is a matter of great pride to have a monk as a son .
They say Luang Prabang is the most beautiful city in South East Asia- we loved it, and were sad to leave the changing river scapes, the gracious streets, the local people , the colour and energy and kindness, the countryside. Thank you to our friends, Robin and Pam, who told us to stay a while. We did.
Drinks on the terrace
Our last few hours in the energetic Cambodian city of Phnom Penh were spent in the gentle ambience of the Foreign Correspondents Club , sipping cold drinks on the terrace, and looking out on the murky Mekong River. The FCC feels like a colonial outpost for expats, and is a great place to read flyers about events and exhibitions. It is on the corner of Street 178, famous for artists, clothing designers and the Royal Palace.
Beware unmarked cars
On the road to the airport our taxi was subjected to a barrage of tooting, as a cavalcade of Lexus cars with no number plates commandeered the road. The driver muttered about government ministers, privilege, corruption- a story we had heard several times. As our guide explained, Cambodia has a long way to go yet.
Sleepy day in Vientiane
Laos , on the other hand, felt quite different as soon as we touched down in the capital, Vientiane. It was National Day, celebrating 37 years of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic. The streets were very quiet, shops and some restaurants were closed – it felt like Invercargill in the south of New Zealand on a wet Sunday. Read more
Our tour leaders have personal links with one family, who welcomed all eight of us into their home for two nights. I was so relieved to actually arrive there, that the rustic simplicity of our accommodation did not hit me at first.
This stay was a wonderful opportunity included in our Green Mindful Tour with Roots of Asia who specialise in Tours for Women in northern Thailand.
My last blog focussed on the worst of Cambodia, so this time I will keep to the title of the Intrepid tour, The Best of Cambodia, and talk about variety, excitement and delight – the Temples and the waterways.
Like Machu Pichu, Mecca and Jerusalem, Angkor Wat in Cambodia is high on any bucket list. It is high in beauty and mystery, it is high in cultural value and it is high in terms of the steps you need to climb. Read more
Tuol Sleng was a pleasant neighbourhood school, in a residential area in Phnom Penh. During the Pol Pot reign of terror from 1975 to 1979, it was the main detention and interrogation centre. 14000 Cambodian citizens were incarcerated, and tortured to obtain ‘confessions’. There were many other prisons and places of torture around the country, But Tuol Sleng is in the capital and is the best documented. Read more