November 13, 2006
It’s our winter so dawn doesn’t come until around 6, which gives me an extra half hour in bed. 5 am and it’s 25 degrees in the house and about 19 outside. It’ll be closer to 15 up the hill so better wrap up warm. Time for two glasses of water and a banana; let the cats that are in out and the ones that are out in and make sure each has the right food, mackerel and rice for one, ‘tab tim’ fish and rice for another, prawn and salmon out of a packet for the third and a mixture of all for Miou. It’s a 30 minute drive up the hill and the road winds its way in the darkness past three small villages, each dwarfed by a majestic temple. The village shops are just opening and a few elderly folk are emerging to sweep away the leaves in front of their houses. Other than that, there’s not much activity. I slow down at the entrance to each village to slalom round the dogs that are lying in the middle of the road and refuse to budge and dodge the chickens that decided to cross the road in death-defying scrambles. I get there just before six, perfect timing, it’s still dark but the first birds are beginning to call. There’s always a dawn chorus up in the mountains, lots of trill peeps and whistles from flycatchers, hoots and squawks from larger birds and a melody or two from the White-rumped shama. It’s not as cold as I thought but I keep my jacket on nevertheless. I drive for about ten kilometres along the track that has small coffee plantations set in the forest on one side and a sheer drop overlooking more forest on the other. Whenever I hear or see anything interesting I stop and get the binoculars and recording gear. There are a few birds I don’t know this morning that I’ll have to check when I get back but the one I want to call, the gruff-voiced Blue-bearded bee-eater stays obstinately silent. After a couple of hours I head home- all the time I have not seen another vehicle or encountered another human being. Wonderful! On the way down, though, things have livened up, little groups of people are sitting chatting or making their way to the village shop and they’ve already put the freshly-picked coffee beans out in the sun. A cycle ride round the village before the sun gets really hot, a quick breakfast of muesli, then it’s time to reverse the cat situation again, Saddam deciding he’s going to curl up in a cardboard box and Bua khao taking over the microwave. Then I drive into town to see a Lahu friend and practise my fledgling language skills. This morning I’ve decided on some revision so I’ve worked out a few questions to ask her. She’s a very good interlocutor as she remembers the words I know and uses them in her answers. But she still manages to catch me out- like when she tells me she’s a hundred and twenty seven years old, has five husbands and always goes for a ride on an elephant before breakfast. We have lunch at our favourite stall on her street. It’s frequented mostly by tuk-tuk drivers, office workers, some labourers from a nearby building site, a family who drive a rubbish truck and a few ‘ladies of the night’ who have just woken from their morning slumbers. They use a range of fresh vegetables and herbs, it’s not at all greasy, the rice is cooked so it’s a little firm rather than being a sticky lump and the portions are enormous. We both have chicken with ginger and Chinese mushrooms at 30p each. Then home for a snooze. As I was feeling a cold coming on I took a couple of pills and slept like a log for an hour. Then I collected my moth-catching gear and, along with a couple of friends, set off back up the hill. Usually there are a few evening cicadas singing but now the cold weather is here they are silent. I count four different owls but they are all a long way away. This shouldn’t be a good time for moths as it hasn’t rained for a while but we are pleasantly surprised by the number. No time to sit and wait as the moths arrive like the planes coming in at Heathrow. Nothing spectacular but lots of new ones, some with striking patterns and colours. At about 9 o’cock we decide we’ve had enough and head for home, stopping to buy a bowl of noodles outside the village. Time to watch the ten o’clock news and catch up with all the latest follies, blunders, mishaps and misdemeanours affecting the rest of the world then I’m sound asleep as my head hits the pillow.