Wednesday, December 16, 2009

An itinerant zoo - Towards the Plain of Jars, Laos

(Autumn 2001)
The Songthaew (*) drives along the Ho Chi Minh trail, on its western flank, the Laotian one. There is no trail, maybe there never was, just an imaginary path between jungle and napalm. When we'll arrive to Phonsavan is for no one to know. We spent a long time at the departing town: if the truck is not full the driver will wait. We stop quite often along the way: some people get off and others get on, breaks for snacks and toilet needs. For the past few hours though the layout hasn't changed. Tied to the foot-board, as if on charcoal, a black-skinned pig is snarling and grumbling. Fowl is pecking among cases and sacks, while a furry animal rests in a wicker cage. 

Some of the passengers are trying to sleep, others are lost in an absentminded trance. The car hits a hole and we become alert. I look at the cage with the open door. The owner notices that as well, he starts to worry and goes down on the floor. He sticks his head under the passengers benches, moves the bags and lifts the chicks. The animal runs along the edge of the truck, when the man backs him up against a corner, he waits for him and then bites his hand. The man swears, turns around and chases the beast. At last he manages to put him back in the cage. Everybody laughs, then switches to offline mode. A snoring hippie is surrounded by flies, a local burps while eating black eggs, the hens are cackling and the pig is grunting. It's almost twilight, we're in the middle of nowhere, with an ample zigzag among old bomb craters, an itinerant zoo snail-like slides away

(*) Songthaew: Asian version of a bus. A truck with two long benches in the back to accommodate the passengers.

Photo by Philipp L. Wesche (CC), from

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