It’s been nearly a week since Nina and I dropped down from China into Laos on the bus. The difference in the feel of the country was instant. China was developed and overpopulated right up to the border and as soon as we crossed into Laos small thatched shacks on stilts started to appear in the landscape with only a sprinkling of people in ramshackle villages along the main road.
First stop was Luang Namtha, 60km from the frontier. Seems that many tourists come here for the jungle adventures that northern Laos has to offer and we were subtly shocked by the amount of “felang” (foreigners) in town.
We found ourselves a cheap place to stay and grabbed a feed at the night market. We’re into sticky rice territory now, along with new and unusual tropical fruits. The next morning we stockpiled our fruit stash at the market and treated ourselves to pink custard apples, bananas and pawpaw. The array of fruit was incredible, laying side by side with dead bats and songbirds, all local delicacies.
In the afternoon we hired bikes (80p per day) and cycled a loop to explore some local villages and the old and new stupas. The original 1658 stupa had been bombed by US planes during their epic airstrikes of the 60’s and 70’s. Laos is the most bombed country in history with more bombs landing here than in Germany and Japan put together. Today a new stupa stands next to the remains of the old. For a more in-depth insight into the CIA led tragedy The Most Secret Place on Earth is a must watch.
Later on Friday evening we booked ourselves onto a 3 day trek and kayak through the Namtha National Park. A kind of treat to celebrate 1 year on the road, 10,000 website hits and a new country all rolled into one.
We chose a joint Laos/Kiwi adventure specialist called Forest Retreat Laos who assured us that at least 32% of our money goes directly to the village who will host us on our first night. They have used recent donations to build a new temple, clinic and school. £51 for an all inclusive 3 days trek/kayak with food, drink, guides and accommodation seemed very reasonable to us.
We set of early on Saturday morning in a tuk-tuk. 3 Brits, an Italian, a Spaniard, an Ozzy and a Dutchy plus 2 Laotian guides and a roof full of kayaks. A 40 minute drive brought us to a small village on the banks of the Namtha river where we off loaded and filled our rubber kayaks with air. The locals looked a little bemused but we were soon out of their way and off down the river on a 20km paddle. Lunch was prepared on the banks half way along and after an exerting but satisfying day we rocked up at a riverside village and a purpose built shack for sleeping.
It gets dark around 6pm here. Pon showed us around the village then a boiled fish dinner came at about 7pm and I think we were pretty much in bed by 9pm.
A day and a half of trekking followed with a overnight stop in the jungle. We were told that the bamboo structure we slept in along with the toilet shed and guide accommodation was built by a team of locals in 2 days. The whole structure built from bamboo and vines… it made me want to learn more about how to construct with this extremely versatile material.
Our group had been joined by 2 ladies from the village for the trekking. Along the way we were shown various plants that locals use from the jungle. Joy even scraped bark from a particular tree when he heard Nina’s tummy was a little dodgy. Within an hour 2 days of discomfort were cured – amazing.
On saturday night we had a beautiful jungle meal which included rattan starch, banana flower, jungle mushrooms and wild greens – so so tasty! A similarly good breakfast set us up for the final trek to the river, trousers rolled high, boots around the neck and across the water for the tuk-tuk ride back to town. Even a puncture on the way home couldn’t bring a frown to an amazing 3 days in the jungle.
Posted in Appropriate Technology, Building, Environment, Food, Health, Permaculture, Travel
Tagged Bamboo, Banana, Bike, Bomb, CIA, Custard Apple, Cycling, Felang, Food, Forest Retreat Laos, Fruit, Jungle, Kayaking, Laos, Luang Namtha, National Park, Natural Building, Pawpaw, Rattan, River, Sticky Rice, Stupa, The Most Secret Place on Earth, travel, Trekking, Village, War, Wild Food
After a really wonderful day in Venice with Ma and Pa we decided that an Italian countryside chill out was needed and hopped on a train south to Popolano, a small village inside the Tuscan region. The rain only enhanced the lush green vegetation amongst the rolling green hills. It was my first taste of the Italian countryside, I felt it soothing my soul, just what we needed!
Hardly time to settle into our room before Giovanni our host knocked at the door with a big box of mushrooms. His father had been out that morning and hauled in a monster catch. We were invited to go foraging the next day if the weather was fine. A sunny day following a week of rain is perfect for the porcini at this time of year.
The language barrier reared it’s ugly head once again and so we were not quite sure when or where we would go but at around 2pm we got a knock on the door and were ushered into a little 4×4 panda with Giovanni’s father Roberto and whisked of up into the mountains.
Roberto obviously knew what he was doing and it felt like he was also passing his knowledge on to Giovanni as he pointed to different shades of green and distinct arches in the grass. They both had cool little rake-type-comb things. They showed us where to look and then got busy scratching around in the field.
A very different technique than when Nina and I were wandering through the New Forest unable to miss the hundreds of mushrooms thrusting themselves towards us. We had to hunt hard for them and to make things harder someone had already been to this patch earlier in the day.
We hunted around for a good couple of hours and found ourselves enough fungi for dinner. We were told that in another two weeks there would be many more mushrooms and they’d be bigger too. We were on the cusp of fungi season and so retired to our home for the evening eager to cook up our new found treats.
Posted in Environment, Food, Travel
Tagged Forgaging, Fungi, Italy, mountains, Mushrooms, Permaculture, Poplolano, Porcini, Tuscany, Wild Food
I’ve just finished reading this amazing and insightful book by Robert Hart. When learning about designing a food forest I kept hearing about how not to do it like Robert Hart did which intrigued me. Mostly people have talked about his closed canopy temperate forest garden which didn’t allow much light to the lower layers. I say that it’s a good job somebody didn’t do it perfectly as it has allowed the rest of us to learn from his non-perfect garden. In this book however Robert talks in depth about his philosophies and world views with great suggestions and solutions whilst referencing some great work that I had not come across before. A must read for perma-junkies or indeed anyone interested in world changing!
Posted in Food, Health, Permaculture
Tagged Books, Design, Eden, Food, Food Forest, Fruit, Health, Mulch, Robert Hart, Solutions, Veg, Water, Wild Food
On returning from our road trip we came back to a very different Patch. As we move through autumn our vegetable garden has started to die back although there are still a few bits and pieces to harvest. The trees have started to lose their leaves and the medlar has dropped some fruit. The green roof is looking great and we’re really keen to get this finished in the next couple of weeks. Other jobs in the coming weeks will be the planting and mulching of a new delivery of fruit and other interesting trees as well as soft fruit and nitrogen fixers for the food forest. We’ll be planting and then mulching and adding other support plants to create balanced guilds that will have a better chance of survival in our absence.
A visit to see Paul in Sheffield was also on the cards and it was a great place to start some ground work for my diploma pathway. I made full use of Paul’s flat whilst he was at Uni and we even managed a walk in the Peak District which looks amazing at this time of year. After a quick stop over for a party in London, I travelled down to Bradford-upon-Avon for my belated Diploma induction and a catch up with Richard, Michelle and Grace. It was great to also see some other Diploma students and old friends permablitzing their lives!!! Couldn’t help a little mushroom hunt when I got back to Norfolk. Goose common is right next door to The Patch and is a great foraging spot. Only poisonous fungi about today though… Diploma work to do…
Posted in Food, Permaculture, Travel
Tagged Autumn, Diploma, Food, Food Forest, Friends, Fungi, Green Roof, Guilds, Mulch, Mushrooms, Nitrogen Fixers, Norfolk, Patch, Peak DIstrict, Soft Fruit, Veg, Wild Food
After leaving the Burrowhill Cidery we visited the Willows & Wetlands Visitor Centre for an insight into the ancient craft of growing and harvesting willow for crafts and charcoal. Another National Trust property later and we were in Wales to visit more friends, Gerd, Camilla and Lea. They happened to live quite close to the Centre for Alternative Technology and so we also spent a day there…
After leaving the New Forest and spending a few days on the Jurassic coast we came to Devon. This amazing county has so much to offer. We visited victorian walled kitchen gardens, did a bit of basic cider making, toured around Martin Crawford’s Food Forest demonstration site, picked more mushrooms, visited travelling friends and explored Dartmoor with them. We checked out the last remaining working water powered forge and Lydford Gorge… amazing times.
Posted in Appropriate Technology, Food, Health, Permaculture, Random, Travel
Tagged Cider, Food, Food Forest, Mushrooms, Van, Wild Food
We found ourselves on the Isle of Wight in the middle of September and on visiting an amazing garlic farm we stumbled across the beginnings of our new found addiction – mushrooms!!! It was the perfect time of year and so we treated ourselves to a great new book by Roger Phillips and began our exploration the fungi world. It took me back to when I was a child hunting for mushrooms with my sister in the forests around Thetford. We got a taster on the Isle of Wight before moving into The New Forest. Wow! The place was teeming with them and it wasn’t long before we’d come to recognise and find some nice edibles. The Trumpet Chanterelle, Hedgehog Fungus and the Cep were our first true wild muchroom cooking experiences. We were addicted. Another amazing wild food down in that part of England is the Sea Buckthorn Berry, it’s little orange berries provided an incredible amount of nutrition. Find more information at PFAF
Most of our carrots seem to be ready and we’re picking them as we need them at the moment…stacking in time!!! Nina has been busy foraging hazels, crab apples and blackberries from around The Patch and has made some delicious jam that I’m sure we will eat into the winter! The green roof has taken well and we are keen to get it finished now. We’re now on the hunt for plenty of cardboard and organic mulch for the fruit tree’s in the food forest. We will be creating a guild around each tree with a large area of cardboard covered in some well rottened poo and straw mulch or 18 day compost if we can get some made up soon. We will then plant some fruit, herbaceous perennials and other supporting plants. This will create small islands within the food forest that in time will be expanded to form a large and balanced eco-system.
Posted in Food, Permaculture
Tagged Beneficial Insect Plants, Design, Food Forest, Foraging, Fruit, Green Roof, Guilds, Jam, Natural Building, Patch, Preserving, Veg, Wild Food