Monday, February 22, 2010

day 8 - chiang mai, thailand

days 8 & 9 brought about our 2 day/1 night trek to a lahu hill tribe village and have clearly been the highlight of my trip so far, hands down. i would even go as far as to say it was life-changing, but i'll let it marinate for a while and see if my experience still holds up weeks, months, years from now. but first, on to the play by play:

we had just enough time to sneak in breakfast at our hotel (3sis bed & breakfast), so i ordered up the thai omelette (vegetable) over rice, which was delicious. our trek guide arrived on time at 9:30am, so i left my wallet/passport in a safety deposit box and we jumped into a van of 13 to start our journey.

a quick rundown of our trekking group:
1. yours truly
2. pam
3. helene - a beautiful parisian and former swimmer on the french national team
4. gerard - hilarious irishman and chronic jameson drinker
5. howard - fellow irishman, carpenter and friends w/gerard
6. anna - university student from trier, germany celebrating her birthday on sunday
7. nancy - fellow german and friends w/anna
8. christoph - software developer from the french alps who recently ran a 100-mile race in mont blanc
9. emmanuelle or 'manu' - schoolteacher and wife of christoph
10. nathan - 14-year-old son of christoph/manu
11. louise - 10-year-old daughter of christoph/manu
12. cyril - chef from marseille, france
13. sophie - nurse and cyril's girlfriend of 9 years

we made one last pit stop before disappearing into the jungle, so we stocked up on water and toilet paper at a market outside of chiang mai. not only did they have all kinds of insects for sale (crickets, roaches, or worms anybody?), but they had pink eggs as well. the crickets were delicious, but i didn't care for the... oh come on, there's no way in hell that was happening. i instead munched on a fried chicken leg and a blueberry roll. MUCH better.

upon arrival at the base of the mountain, we hiked for a bit before ascending upon the elephant camp, where the real fun began. our elephant's name was appropriately called taxi and once i gave him a taste of a banana, it was all over. he seriously would take one step, then stop and throw his trunk in my face until i gave him another one before he would move forward again.

we broke for a quick lunch of fried rice then started the most difficult part of our trip - a 6km (3.7m) climb straight uphill to the hilltop village. for whatever reason, gerry & howard were saddled with a ginormous backpack containing all their stuff, plus a 6-gallon water jug, so the both of them traded off suffering the entire way. below left is our group amongst a host of banana plants and the other i waited a few seconds to capture...

we finally arrived at our tribe's village around 5:30pm, much to the relief of just about everyone. one would think that this would be the ideal time to take a shower, no? well, the shower consists of a huge bucket of ice cold water and a plastic scooper. that's it. not bringing shampoo, soap or a towel all had a hand in my decision to forego the shower. that and howard's piercing howls after pouring water over his head made my decision easy. i did opt to rinse off the nasty grime from our full day of activity...

as you can see, all 13 of us crammed into this hut w/mosquito nets to ward off the plentiful insects at night. it's a cozy fit, but the kind of bonding experience that brings everybody closer, so it was just like summer camp. some of the villagers offered up thai massages for 200thb, but i went straight to the "bar" for some chang beer.

FYI it's considered rude to snap photos of the villagers, so one has to ask them for permission if it's OK to do so. here's one of the only instances where i got the nod of approval. and what an adorable kid!

we all gathered around for a game of chase the ace (a card game where you don't want to be stuck w/the lowest numerical card) before dinner was served at 7pm. the villagers cooked up green curry, vegetable stir fry, chicken and steamed rice, and all of us annihilated the food after a tough day of climbing.

afterwards, we all hung out and got to know each other better, and i have to say everybody in our group was an absolute delight to be with. the french were an adorable family with angels for children. gerry & howard's thick brogue were instant party starters. anna & nancy were the jovial duo who could laugh at themselves. cyril & sophie were such a positive and cute couple.

one by one people started to hit the hay, but the remaining stalwarts (the irish, helene, cyril, anna, christoph and myself) kicked up a fire, drank a LOT of beer (the irish were a given, but anna drank me under the table, for real), listened to great tunes - thanks to howard's heavy bob marley playlist on his mobile phone - and just shot the shit, enjoying each other's company atop a jungle mountaintop in friggin northern thailand, of all places. we also got to serenade anna on her birthday, so we celebrated with snickers and mentos in place of cupcakes and ice cream. that snickers bar seriously has never tasted better...

1 comment:

caroline said...

This sounds AMAZING!!! I am green with jealousy! Wish I were there with you.