Indiana Jones New Year

Here’s to a new year of adventure! Cheers, everyone.

We spent the New Year holiday working, but this is work I love—climbing mountains, scaling rocks, crawling through caverns on our bellies. We were on an archaeological mission to see ancient log coffins that have survived 2,000 years of Thai weather and history. And hoooooo boy, did we find them! Bones, teeth and potsherds, too! Sorry, my friends, but you will have to wait awhile for those pictures and stories.

But I will tell you now about the festivities surrounding our excursions. Nothing like a  bonfire and a few good explosions to mark the calendar’s turn.

Our host at Cave Lodge built something of a Burning Man… er, Burning Lady Boy, as he put it. I thought it looked a bit like Bart Simpson. It didn’t quite erupt in the glory we had imagined, but smoke and flames were present. So were plenty of boys and men (and a few women) shooting makeshift bazookas from across the river to get the thing going…

…while pork and chicken sizzled on the fire.

Next day, while nosing through a collection of 10,000-year-old tools, the Hmong folk in Ban Rai village invited us to their festival lunch.

It was a simple mountain feast of mustard-leaf soup with chunks of pork fat, tender ground pork marinated and fried in northern spices, a local nam phrik chile paste made with a type of parsley particular to the hilltribes, special mountain rice (nearly sticky, but not quite) and strong tea. Delicious, all of it. “This is a very special rice,” said Fon, a student of prehistory who works in the area and very generously showed us the sites.

I asked, but couldn’t decipher precisely what spices were used in the ground pork dish—just that there were “so many” ingredients. I venture to guess, among other ingredients: chile, salt, long pepper, a fragrant local herb and perhaps a bit of bile, given the strong flavor and black-as-coal color of the pork. Fon said this was totally local food, “Because this is Ban Rai. It means the place where many things grow.”

I suspect that’s why people have been living and eating here for so many millennia.

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