One of the greatest pleasures of travel is the memories it engenders. Our house is littered with a number of items both large and small that remind us of people, places, and adventures that we met, visited, or experienced recently – or maybe even decades ago. Last week while changing things around Barb and I talked about which of the various items were the strongest in our travel memories. Let me share a portion of our list with you.
First was the homemade cow bell from Laos. This simple purchase started in Luang Prabhang on the Mekong River. The city dates back to the time that the French ruled the area and used this inland city as a trading post for goods out of the inland region. The wares traveled down the Mekong River, and subsequently on to Europe.
We took a trip up the Mekong River and stopped at a number of small native villages. At one, named Xang Hai, we commented on the cows which were roaming quite freely around the town’s perimeter. As the animals moved they gave off a low, melodious clicking sound. Upon investigation we found each cow was adorned with a richly carved hollow wooden tube which had a carved clapper inside. The livestock were identified by the family’s distinct wooden bell. We couldn’t resist buying a couple of these intricately carved cow bells for our collection – even if we don’t have a cow.
The next keepsake takes us back to our visits in Nepal. While trekking in the hills one can identify with an ant crawling across a piece of corduroy. It seems that not one of the paths follows either the lower river beds or the hilltop trails. They all tend to travel from one ridge to the next.
Quite often the path is narrow and upon occasion a very precarious rope bridge takes you over a ravine or raging river. To avoid embarrassing and awkward meetings down in the gorges, quite often the guide will pull a compressed horn out of his backpack and extend it to the fullest. He then gives a warning blast to inform any other group in the area that he is starting down. There is only one tone, and it takes practice to make them work; but the horn was an irresistible piece of memorabilia from these treks.
Third on our list of proud possessions comes from Zimbabwe. While hunting for local artifacts we came upon one of those large carved ostrich eggs. You’ve probably seen them. They are close to ten inches long and about six inches in diameter. Apparently this huge ostrich egg is tapped, the inside is removed, and the egg shell is carefully carved with a design. The big problem is transporting this fragile object from the heart of Africa – over bumpy roads, through security, into an airplane, and finally to a resting place on our travel shelf. We have one that made it safely home – ours is a leopard.
The fourth item probably would qualify as an antique, even though there are thousands of them. This story begins in an out-of-the-way antique shop in Beijing, China. While this city bustles with modern products in the many new and shiny stores, huddled away in dark corners, down narrow streets are tucked lots of little private shops.
It was in one of these that we found our tiny treasure. At first I was unaware of what the box was. It had a solid “roof” and “floor,” and the two of them were connected by a series of small dowels (about the size of a toothpick) around the rectangular perimeter. I commented to Barb that it looked like a little jail, and she politely informed me that I was exactly right. Apparently the Chinese people kept crickets as pets, and this was a cricket cage. Inside this miniature cage the cricket was free to make its cricket noises and entertain its owner. Probably one of the smallest pets in the world. I’m sure the modern generation has moved on to more sophisticated entertainment, but a remnant of the past sits on my shelf.
Item number five represents a work of art in complex wood carving. Once again, we ran across this masterpiece in a small gift shop on the island of Bali, Indonesia. The artist started with a single block of wood, about six inches on either side. Slowly, I’m sure, he/she chipped the wood aside until a circular globe appeared, and then each continent was left about one-quarter of an inch higher than all of the oceans. It is hard for me to imagine how the detail of this globe was fashioned. The wood grain was apparent as this replica of our planet emerged. The intricate globe sits in a place of honor on one of our shelves.
One last souvenir gets the number six nod. This piece of cloth began as a blouse for its maker, a Kuna Indian, in the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama in Central America. The term for the handiwork, I am told, is a “mola.” I may have lost most male readers at this point, but the ladies will all recognize the complicated reverse-appliqué, work and the traditional designs. The original use was altered by us so it can be used as a pillow cover. The intricate beauty remains. We spent a couple of nights in a village on the island of Achutupo and were able to watch these ladies create their complex handiwork.
We’re got a few more, but my guess is that you’ve extended your patience already, so I quit at six. If you have a favorite treasure, I’d be glad to hear your story. How about an email to Regnibuh@aol.com.