Up a hill. Back down. Another grove of trees. A slight incline. Another quarter-mile.
Finally a sign of civilization broke the monotony. I use the term "civilization" loosely, because the small structure standing alone in the woods looked anything but civilized. Since it was ruggedly constructed of bamboo and straw rather than the planks of wood we saw on traditional Dai houses, I assumed it was some sort of storehouse or shed.
We walked right past it, peeking inside the rectangular hole of a doorway. It could be dangerous to be seen so far off the beaten path, but I was beginning to wonder if we would ever be able to find the North Road again. If we found someone, maybe they would be able to help us.
Nobody was home, so we turn our attention to climbing up the short incline a little ways ahead of us. It was a red clay ramp that looked as if someone had steamrolled it all the way to the top, a smooth, reddish-brown version of what a just-completed concrete driveway looks like in the States.Judging by the farm equipment I had seen so far, I guessed that steamrollers hand't made it all the way out here, so I wondered why and how the slope was created.
Weird, I thought, Why would someone spend so much time and effort making a driveway to lead up to a shack like that?
Then I remembered something we had seen earlier in the day:
Off to the side of the road, a man stood under a bamboo and straw shelter. In front of him was a flat surface that served as his workbench. Behind him sat a long rectangular block of reddish-brown clay. Every minute or so, he would slice a long, thin sheet of clay from the larger block. He would then transport it to his work table and place it on a tray. An industrious young woman, possibly his wife, would press a template through the sheet of mud like she was cutting out cookie shapes. Then she took the neatly cut squares of mud over to an open plot of pavement where she slid them off to bake in the spring sun.
As I watched the process unfold and observed the finished product, I realized that this young duo served as the shingle manufacturing company for their small area. I was excited, like I had made some kind of groundbreaking anthropological discovery. I smiled and waved at them and took pictures of their work station. They waved back, but didn't let us break their steady pace. I wondered if we were an equally odd and fascinating discovery to them as they were to us.
Back in the present, I looked at Steve, and I could tell we were both thinking the same thing.
"I bet this is where thy harvest the mud blocks the guy was using earlier," I said.
"Yeah, they must somehow cut them out of the hill and transport them," he replied. At this point we were both stating the obvious.