Sunday, January 6, 2008

Chiang Mai and Hill Trekking

PICTURES TO COME. I forgot my USB in Bangkok.

We hopped into the back of a trekking truck early Saturday morning to start our adventure in the hills of the Bong Duet National park. Joined by a couple from Poland, a couple from Korea, our Thai guide, Dimitri from Greece and then there was little ole me from the states. Everyone spoke English and I was totally amazed by that. It was the language that bound all of us from different parts of the world. I can't believe I don't know another language (very well). Anyway, we rolled along until we were out of the city and into the jungle and mountains. There we began our trek. I have to say, I like hiking and have never really found it to be particularily difficult. This was difficult. The hills were so steep, both in going up and coming down. Our guide, Dat, was so great. He carried a giant knife and cut bamboo walking sticks for us. He also chopped down different fruits and explained things all while singing (in Thai) and whistling happy tunes. The first day we hiked 3.5 hours and visited two different Karen villages -the second was where we spent our night. Our bamboo house was complete with a sleeping room, cooking area and a table. The sleeping room had mats on the floor, mosquito nets from the ceiling and two blankets apiece. The difference in tempurature from Bangkok and Krabi was significant. It was freezing at night! After we unloaded our packs, some took baths in the river. I watched a couple of the villagers and our guide cook us a fantastic dinner. They sat on the floor and chopped vegetables and meat. We ate yellow curry with chicken and potatoes and a vegetable dish with beef. The resources in these villages are amazing. They plant so many things and have chickens, cows, pigs and fruits and vegetables from the jungle. After dinner we could hear people singing in the distance. We asked our guide if we could go to see what it was. Wrapped in blankets we walked through the village to another bamboo building. Inside, by candlelight, were about thirty children and young adults playing guitars and singing in a circle on the floor. They opened their cirlce and were happy to have us join them. I couldn't understand a word they were singing but those moments were some of the most incredible I've ever experienced. Sitting with these people in their simple existence. Knowing that soon I would be pulled back into the world of meetings, going to the gym and non-fat mochas, I sat there and smiled. I felt so lucky. So full of life. So grateful.

In the morning they cooked us eggs from their chickens and sent us on our way. We hiked another two hours to the elephant camp. I had mixed emotions about the elephants as I didn't want to be participating in the commercialization of them. But these elephants were ones used by the villagers to help them build their homes. Somehow I felt, or I justified to myself, that this was okay because these people have been using the elephants for years and its part of their culture. Haley, thoughts? We hopped on and road them down the river for a couple hours. Crazy. They are SO adorable. One of their babies followed us too and was so so so cute. Will post pictures and a great video when I'm back.

The last part of the trek was bamboo rafting. One of the villagers was literally putting the finishing touches on our bamboo raft as we approached. I had no idea what to expect and never could've predicted our rafting journey. The raft is probably 30 feet long and four feet wide. No rails. One coat hanger looking thing near the front for us to hang our packs on. The three guys were given long bamboo sticks to help navigate in the back. The entire two hour ride was spent standing -no life jackets. It was crazy! We stopped and picked up an older woman and child from a riverside village. They needed a ride down the river! The rafting was part fun and part scary...which is part of what makes it fun. During rapids the raft would sink so the water was reaching the middle of my calf. At one point during some rapids the guide was yelling 'Right Side!' to the guys with their sticks, and he meant LEFT. We ended up crashing into a rock where the raft stopped, stuck. He yelled at us to get off the boat and onto the rock. The little girl was screaming and one of the guys grabbed her. The Polish guy fell in and was grabbing onto another rock. Scary. Once most of us were off the raft, it was light enough to loosen from the rock and it started to move. 'Get back on the boat!!' the guide yelled. We all jumped at once onto the very back of the raft as it was passing by and it sunk into the water past my knees. I was totally freaking out. Parts of our raft were broken and cracked as a result of the crash so Dat stopped and found some pieces near the edge of the river and fixed it. So much fun.

I could probably write three times this about the trekking experience. Being with the people from Poland and Korea I learned so much. Our conversations about the world and where they come from were part of what made the experience so great. It was definitely the most incredible thing I've ever done.

In some ways this trip was a struggle for me. I spent a third of it alone (some of that amazing, some lonely) and there were times I felt it lacking in authenticity. That's something I learned about myself and traveling. I need authentic experiences. In the past, whether it was backpacking Europe or visiting both Beth in Japan and Dan in China, authentic experiences came naturally. Spending time in their classrooms and meeting their students, dinners and traditional tea with their friends and colleagues and just spending time with people who LIVE in these areas provided a window into a world a traveler simply cannot replicate. I didn't realize that going into this trip and wasn't prepared in my research to make it authentic. And that's okay! Trips are for learning about a place AND yourself. And in my last days here I can reflect back on great things. Prepared or not, this has been an amazing experience. I'm so grateful for the invitation, Tim!


janna said...

wow andrea. What an amazing experience-you are so lucky to have gone there and seen all of those things. So fun for us back home to read about them! Get home safe! See you soon!

suzie said...

AMAZING!! what a life experience.. this will be a trip you will remember for the rest of your life.

tyson said...

amazing... i am excited for you and your amazing adventure. slightly jealous, well actually very jealous. glad you are coming home soon. wanna hang out soon?

Jora said...

If you ever want to head back to the Konger with me, I can give the #1 authentic experience baby!!