I thought I’d let someone else get behind the viewfinder, this time.
Recently, I spent some time in Nam Ha National Protected Area, up in Laos’ far northwestern corner, to go trekking. Though we stayed mostly in secondary, we got to visit some primary jungle and spend time at small villages along the way. One afternoon, we came to a village of the Lantan / Lantaen tribe which is participating in the region’s community based tourism (CBT) initiative by hosting trekkers for a night.
It was difficult to bond. Though the residents of the village weren’t unfriendly, they also weren’t exactly interested in making the first move to meet us. And honestly, who can blame them? Hikers come through at least once a week, breezing by the next day never to be seen again.
It wasn’t until I went swimming in the river and met a group of young girls there that the village began to open up. They found they could rope me into underwater breath-holding contests, and we took turns combing our wet hair over our faces and chasing each other around as creepy Ring-like ghosts.
Then I noticed them looking at my camera, sitting on a rock, probably wondering what shots I’d already taken of the village.
So I showed them how to use it. And let them take off.
At first, they took pictures of the younger kids…
…and of what was growing in the village…
…of me and my bracelets (the shells were of particular interest)…
…but it wasn’t until they turned the camera on others in the village that it really got interesting.
Their aim wasn’t always on…
…but they started framing their shots quite well.
They caught a visitor in his own tribal clothing, and their friend playing with a balloon he’d brought.
(and even got a shot of someone getting a shot of them)
Eventually they let me have the camera back.
But not before getting some props…
…and making sure we looked just as cute for a photoshoot.
Nam Ha NPA can be explored most easily from the town Luang Namtha, which you can reach on a 4 hour minibus journey from Huay Xai when crossing from Thailand. Trek prices range based on the length of the trek and the number of participants, so try and go with a group. I showed up one night, walked along the main strip where operators put up white boards saying which treks are leaving the next day with how many people, and signed up for one the next morning. Most tours leave at 9AM, so if you want to find a group to go with, check out the whiteboards at 8-ish.
You really gave your camera to kids?
Yep! I kept enough of an eye on them to make sure they were holding tight and putting the camera strap around their neck, which they were very diligent about. They took care of the camera and shared better than kids I’ve babysat for ;) As for the settings, I chose the ISO, but changed everything else to auto, later post-processed, and off they went.