Seven years ago I purchased a digital camera. At that point in my life my new interests were fleeting. For six of those years I rarely used it and when I did I shot in automatic mode, letting the camera do all the work for me. I even lost my English instruction manual, leaving me only with my Spanish version to look at if I needed to figure out how to use a different setting. I know about twenty Spanish words and none of them have anything to do with photography so obviously this was no use to me. Nine months ago if someone used the words aperture, ISO, metering or bokeh they might as well have been speaking Swahili. So before our travels I decided to take a photography class. It helped me tremendously with the basics. Eight months later with a new camera and three new lenses, I am addicted, maybe so obsessed that when I return home I will need psychological help. I cant go anywhere without a camera in tow, and if I do I almost always run into something spectacular or weird that should have been photographed.
All that said, there are some days here when I feel like there may be nothing else to take pictures of. How many little kids, overloaded motorcycles, villages, markets, animals or landscape scenes can you get a shot of before it gets boring?
We leave Vientiane and are beginning our southern loop that will take us about seven days. Today we plan on driving three hundred kilometers to the town of Thakek. This morning I am feeling uninspired. We have so far to go that I think there will be no time to stop and take pictures and this stretch of highway is not known for its spectacular scenery so I almost put the camera away, but didn't only because it felt weird not having it slung over my shoulder. Little did I know what this day had in store for us.
We have lost all concept of dates while traveling and have completely forgotten its Valentines day, until the twenty or so stalls we pass selling stuffed animals, roses and pink hearts reminds us.
Remote Asia has very kindly replaced our Honda FTR and its broken rack, with a Suzuki Van Van.
We are driving fast and making good time, only stopping every hour or so, when we see a bus on the side of the rode. As we come closer we gaze upon the unmistakable bright, orange robes of a group of monks. They are pulled over to have lunch. We have seen countless monks on this trip and I used to poke Pete and say "Its a monk, its a monk, look its a monk!!!!" Now I have become accustomed to them, but I ask Pete to pull over anyway. They are just as curious about us as we are about them, a few of them take out their cell phones to photograph us. A couple try to talk to us unsuccessfully because of the language barrier.
Eventually they bring a guy over who speaks broken English. He is SO nervous and shaking that I think it's kind of cute. We tell him where we are going and then Pete breaks out the map and everyone gathers around. He tells us that they are headed to a Buddha festival in the south. We had heard and read that often boys will become a monk for only a few months, because it brings honor to their family. He confirms this saying "Some stay little time, Some stay lifetime". They ask if we want to have lunch with them but we decline, because we have already eaten and have a long way to go. We will probably regret this later. We say our goodbyes and I realize that I was only fooling myself....I will never tire of seeing monks.
A break at the banks of the Mekong.
I am still fascinated by these two wheeled tractor/tillers......
I have seen kids all over SE Asia riding water buffalo and am completely amazed by it. The creatures look so menacing with their long, curled horns and noses adorned with metal rings. I happen to look to my left and see a group of kids in a field crawling on these giants, and once again I ask Pete to pull over. I jump off the bank and decend a hill to get to the field and they all seem to be terrified of me. They jump off the beasts and jump a few steps back. It takes a few minutes and lots of confusion, but they finally start to warm up to us.
One of the more outgoing girls gives me a water buffalo mounting demonstration. Its one of the coolest things I've ever seen. This huge docile creature never lifts its head.
I have to give it a try and I motion to the girls to see if it's ok. They look confused, so I just go for it. It's just a little guy to me because I am so tall. Its more of a stepping over him, than climbing on him. When I am finally sitting on his back I am overjoyed. Peter tells me later I looked like a little kid on Christmas morning. I urge him along, but he never actually moves or seems to even realize I am there, so I can't actually say I've ridden on one......but I can say, and do, for the next ten minutes as we ride away on our bike......"I SAT ON A WATER BUFFALO!!!!!!!! My only regret is that I hadn't done it a dozen times before.
We stop to get gas and as we wait for our pump to be filled, a kid walks by with his dad carrying some sort of grain or straw. He delivers it to someone behind the building and when he returns we notice what seems to be an AK-47 nonchalantly slung over his shoulder. He probably uses it for hunting, but its just not something we see everyday so we are dumbstruck.......
It takes this day to finally make me realize why I have fallen head over heels for this new hobby of mine. In this huge, wondrous world we live in I will never run out of things to photograph.