After the trekking in Laos, we decided to leave the country as soon as possible. Partly because we were ready to leave Laos and partly out of necessity because of our lack of money (money was stolen while trekking) and the lack of ATM's in Laos. We headed straight for the Laos border of Huay Xai, across the river from Huay Xai is the small Thai town called Chiang Khong. The trip to the Laos border took about two days. We had a very strict budget all the way because we had very limited funds and we did not want to take money out of an ATM until we reached Thailand again.
After two days traveling Southwest through Laos we got to Chiang Khong and stayed one night. We found a fantastic Korean BBQ Restaurant which was teeming with locals in Chiang Khong. We had a feast on all sorts of Thai vegetables and meats (including liver, heart, and other misc. meats). Unfortunately the next day my stomach did not think this meal was so fantastic. Our next destination was Chiang Rai, only about two hours away from Chiang Khong, but the bus ride was excrutiatingly long because of my stomach pain. We spent a few days in Chiang Rai re-enjoying the relative comfort of Thailand. After our hiatus from farm work, we were ready to put our boots back on and get dirty! We made contact with a farm 70 km north of Chiang Mai called Amee Doyer's Organic Farm. This farm is very large, about 100 rai, and grows all sorts things including papaya, rice, all kinds of fruits including hundreds of orange trees. They also keep about 60-70 pigs, whose needs I spent much of my time at the farm tending to. The people who own the farm are from a hilltribe called Lisu. The majority of the workers and people who live on the farm are from Burma. (The location of the farm was very close to the Burmese border). We arrived at the farm to discover that the English speaking owner of the farm was in fact in Canada, and would be there until December, so we were left to figure everything out through charades and sign language. We were the only WWOOFers staying at the farm during this time. The first few days on Amee Doyer's Organic Farm we spent planting tens of thousands of beans. We worked with the other farm laborers planting the soil of a large fruit orchard with beans. Because no one spoke English we could not ascertain the reason we were doing this, but we figured it was to fix nitrogen in the soil to create healthier soil. So, we spent hours digging small holes and then throwing three white beans in each hole. We estimated that by the end of the two days we must have planted somewhere in the range of 50,000 beans. After the days of bean planting we began to learn how to care for pigs. After several days of caring for the pigs, I gained a new appreciation for the vileness of this animal. Of course, I still enjoy pork, but I will never look at a piece of bacon the same way. As I said, the farm kept about 60-70 pigs, some of which were the size of small horses!! I worked in the pig pen quite alot. At first the stench of the pigs is quite shocking. When they urinate (which they do in copious amounts) the stench almost seems to burn the inside of your nostrils, as if you were inhaling an acidic chemical.
I observed pigs doing four things only: eating, sleeping, pooping, and peeing. Pigs eat three times a day, just like us humans. We spent about an hour in total mixing pig slop (times three for each meal). The pig slop is made with large brownish grey pieces of stuff that looks like smashed cow dung. I could not figure out what the stuff for quite a while and was not able to ask the farm hands what it was. Later, I figured out what it was. The farm has a large house used for producing oil for cooking. Inside the house is a huge machine that is used to press small seeds which they told us were "niger" seeds. After the seeds are pressed an aromatic oil is pressed out. One day I watched this process and they made about seven large garbage buckets full of cooking oil. The machine expels a waste product from the oil. The waste product is the compressed seeds after the oil was been squeezed out. The seed shells come out in cakes that look like smashed cow pies. All the waste from the seeds is bagged. Then, we would take the bagged seed cakes, put them in a two big cauldrons, add water, and the stuff would turn into pig slop! Amazing! We also added a few other things to the mix, one of which looked like sawdust but smelled like fish.
There are about 20 baby pigs on the farm who get a special pig slop with fresh greens mixed in. We made several missions into the forest to collect fresh greens for the babies. On the first mission we cut down about 20 banana trees, sliced off the leaves, and then loaded them on a cart to take back to the pig sty. On the second mission we collected a kind of green leaf which we just called "pig lettuce." Pig lettuce is covered with tiny bristles (kind of like nettles) which sting you to the touch. After the pig lettuce mission our arms were covered in welts and rashes. We could only hope the pigs appreciated our efforts. We chopped up the banana trees in to bite size pieces and saved them in trash buckets. Whenever we mixed the baby pig feed, a few buckets of chopped banana tree were added in. We also had to chop the pig lettuce into bite sized pieces. This was a long and arduous process. We were given two machetes and two planks of wood to use as cutting blocks. I spent a good chunk of time over the next days chopping up the pig lettuce with the machete and the cutting block on the floor. After hours of this, I felt that I would be a sufficient sous chef to any top chef in New York!
An interesting moment came when we witnessed the slaughter of one of the large pigs. Alea, one of the farm owners, came over to the pig pen and picked up a big machete. We gravitated to him because we had never seen an animal as large as this pig slaughtered before. He thought our interest was hilarious. Alea found it hard to believe that we had never seen a pig slaughtered before, or any animal for that matter! He was even so kind as to offer us the machete, giving us the chance to kill the animal. While I think this would be an interesting experiment for any carnivore, I think I'll just keep my hopes on killing a chicken. We both declined this offer. He said ok, and turned his attention to the pig. With a swift stroke, Alea stabbed the foot long machete blade into the pigs side, between its ribs in the direction of its head. I was surprised that the pig's throat wasn't cut, but apparently it is much easier to do it this way. The pig convulsed for about a minute or two. A small amount of blood flowed out of the machete wound. After a minute some blood came out of the pig's nose and mouth, the pig urinated in its own pool of blood, and then it was dead. I realized that my own heart of beating almost out of my chest as I watched this spectacle. After the pig was completely dead we took it out of its pen and began the process of cleaning, gutting, and cutting it up. The first step was to pour buckets of boiling water on the skin and scrape off the top layer of skin and hair with the blade of a machete. This process reminded me of how humans shave their faces and/or legs. The pig's skin looked grotesquely human after this "shaving" process. After the majority of the hair had been removed we moved the pig near the gas tanks. The farm also makes huge amount of gas from the pig waste. A hose was hooked into the gas take and the skin of the pig was torched to get ride of any more left over hairs. After this was done the gutting process began. One of the farm hands began by cutting the pig from chin to tail (on the belly side), again with a machete (a very multi purpose tool!). Then the head was cut off and placed to the side. We watched in amazement as the organs were removed one by one. We made guess as to what each thing was: gallbladder? large intestines? heart? liver? kidneys? Half of this pig would be for our own consumption at the farm and half would be for selling at the market. After all the "guts" were removed the butcher continued to cut the meat in smaller pieces.
Later that night we found that our dinner was almost entirely made up of pig. Pig soup, a bowl of pig liver mixed with intestines, and a few other dishes consisting of body parts I cannot name. Some of the dishes were ok, but I could swear I could taste the pig slop in the meat. All our meals for the next three or four days were also entirely made of pig.
After about a week on Amee Doyer's Organic Farm we decided to depart. The experience there was fantastic but for learning potential, it had its limits because of the lack of English speakers who could tell us the bigger picture of the farm.
After the farm we headed to Chiang Mai where we spent the next 5 days re-re-enjoying the comforts of urban life in Thailand. Chiang Mai has a great night market, which we wandered through on several nights. We discovered the magic of mango sticky rice at one of the night markets. There are many temples in Chiang Mai (none that we visited), but perhaps more interesting to us were the ubiquitous used book stores. Yikes! One around every corner, each one we just had to go in. After a few nights in Chiang Mai, the number of books we possessed was laudable. Our stack of books had reached more than two feet high! Chiang Mai is a dangerous place for the reader.
Almost a week passed in Chiang Mai and we decided it was time to head back to a farm. We decided we wanted to come back to Neil and Su's farm (the first farm we visited) in Bang Phra. We have now been at Neil and Su's for about two weeks (every day of which we have worked!) We are working on several projects including: building bungalows, building a woodfire oven, digging septic tanks, weeding tomatoes, encouraging the chickens to lay more eggs, and constructing a dock over the catfish pond. There are currently two other WWOOFers staying here: a couple from France and there are two guys from Switzerland coming soon. Our time in Asia is coming to a close soon but we will spend the majority of our time here left in Thailand. On September 14th we are flying from Bangkok to Singapore, where we will finish off our trip with three days worth of hawker food and delicious coffee.