The other day I was privileged to go on a fishing expedition with my friend Da-Na. He had talked about taking me down to the river to “look for fish” for quite some time and we finally got around to going. The river runs fairly close to my house but we had to hike for a little over an hour to get to the best fishing area. We followed the river for a short while and then cut up through the mountains. As we went through the forest Da-Na was constantly showing me plants that you could eat as well as the ones that have medicinal value. The forest here is exploding with orchids. Attached to nearly every tree is a myriad variety of these exotic flowers. The forest here is a thick green jungle during the rainy season but as the dry hot season progresses the leaves fall and the forests is transformed into a different world; a world of the orchid. A few of the orchids were starting to bloom and Da-Na assured me that in a few weeks the forest with be ablaze with yellow, red, purple, and white orchids. I can’t wait to see that! Orchids are prized by the villagers as well. Nearly every Karen porch is adorned with them. I decided that I wanted to have the same for my house and Da-Na has insisted on fashioning me some orchid holders made out of local trees. One of these days soon, when he is finished with the holders, he said he will take me out to the best part of the forest to collect orchids. I’m pretty pumped! It’s amazing how much knowledge all the people here have about the forest. It is a knowledge that is passed down from generation to generation as the kids venture into the forest with their parents.
Being in the forest is second nature to them. While I had my hiking shoes and breathable clothing, my friends were wearing flip flop sandals and long sleeve shirts to protect them from the sun. A large portion of the river near my house is flat and sandy with few rocks. Where we journeyed the river was rocky and absolutely gorgeous. Little waterfalls spill clear water into deep pools that bordered by green saplings. In between the rocks the sand creates inviting pools and there are stretches of flat sand interrupted by the small rapids. The river bank is adorned with tropical trees and bamboo, all in a different state of foliage. Some are green year round while others are turning red and orange and all of this is complimented by the yellow foliage of the changing bamboo. I’m going to be making some trips to camp near the river here soon and it will definitely be on the agenda for my family when they come to visit.
When we reached the river the fishing began. Now this is not the American toss your line in the river and wait for a fish to bite. Our fishing expedition, including Da-Na, his wife, and his cousin, were outfitted with little spear guns, nets, and goggles. I wasn’t sure how they would go about fishing, but soon I found out. Da-Na threw on the goggles and dove face first into the deep pools surrounded by rocks. He stuck his head into every nook and cranny and soon apparently spotted some fish. He said some things in Karen to his wife and soon she was off searching for some unknown implement. She came back with a small bamboo rod and Da-Na quickly make two cuts in the end. His wife then busted out what looked like a smoke ball fire cracker. Da-Na placed it at the tip of the bamboo and lit it. I think the first time he didn’t quite get it where he wanted it and the little “smoke ball” exploded with force. Water went splashing everywhere and I think my ear drums were permanently damaged. Everyone had a good laugh and then he quickly pulled out another one. This time I kept my distance, but Da-Na was more prepared. He lit the firecracker and quickly stuck it deep under the rock. A faint thud was heard and soon small stunned fish were being snatched up by the fishing crew. The fish in the river are at the biggest six inches long and the majorities are large minnow sized which according to Da-Na are much more delicious than the big fish that can be caught elsewhere. We made our way up the river in a similar manner until it was time for lunch.
Da-Na busily made a fire and his wife started preparing the “cold gang” which consisted of roasted peppers, some sort of lime like fruit we collect on the way to the river, onions, herbs, water, and some other ingredients I wasn’t sure what were. Bamboo sticks were gathered and the fish, without being gutted, were speared onto the sticks and roasted over the open fire. Several off the whole small fish, guts head and all, were placed into “cold gang.” All the ingredients as well as rice were packed into banana leaves. We sat to eat and I went about trying to extract the small amount of meat from the small aquatic critters that were placed before me. Da-Na, with a chuckle, said that you could eat there whole fish, no problem. I took his word, but decided that I wouldn’t eat the head, guts, or fins. It was fun and the cold gang was actually pretty tasty.
In the late afternoon we started making our way back to my village. We ran into several other boys fishing and chatted for a while. There were not quite as accomplished at fishing as Da-Na, but still managed to get a few fish. We made it back to the village and sat down for some Karen tea and some friendly chatting. After a short time I was on my bicycle back to my house for a good nights sleep! I’m just amazed at the experiences that I continually have living here in the mountains of northern Thailand. I will never forget them!