Friction of Terrain

a pedal-powered exploration through the heart of Zomia

a pedal-powered exploration through the heart of Zomia

Carrying Gravel with the Hani

Wooden stilt tendrils scaffold the second floor - a skeleton of a structure. Men, smoking, jeer from the top as we pass like slugs, uphill, on our fully loaded bicycles. We stop, partly to take in the house building scene, mostly to catch our breath. The woman, colored in skin covering, sun protecting, traditional wears, are below, loading coarse gravel into baskets. One wears an umbrella hat - she is the gravel loader. 
 

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Down the Nam Ou

From the town of Phongsali where we stayed for several days, we decided to veer slightly off course from the high speed rail route and pursue another arterial of development: the Nam Ou river. The Nam Ou runs the length of Phongsali Province and is one of the Mekong’s largest tributaries. But the river that provides protein and transportation to people throughout the watershed is about to be changed for good. The Lao government has contracted a Chinese company to construct seven hydropower damns over the next few years.

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Watermelon Mud

Yesterday we passed a dirt road that offers a more direct route to Phongsali--Lao's most northern province. We decided to put off the decision of whether or not to take the dirt road and stayed in a small town on the main highway several kilometers after the turn off. Over dinner at one of the town's Chinese restaurants, we deliberated the risks of taking the dirt road north, rather than following the major north/south arterial down to the provincial capital of Udom Xai and then turning north towards Phongsali. 

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FRICTION OF TERRAIN is supported by the National Geographic Young Explorers Grant program.