Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The One on the Elephant

We head back to Chiang Mai, and book ourselves on a three day trek in the jungle. We've opted for a more remote area - despite being a tourist myself, it's really nice not to feel like you're on the same tourist trail as everyone else!

Day one and eleven of us set off, rather cramped in the back of a songtheow. Our guide is a little Thai guy called Map, and he has a fabulous laugh, and his English is fantastic. Our first stop is a market where Map buys our food, and where we get accosted by local women trying to sell us embroidered water bottle holders (flash back to Peru) which I buy as they are generally very useful, and also assorted hats, shaped like witches hats and multi coloured, which I do not buy... although was tempted for mere comedy value!

We head on, through fields of corn, past little villages, and pull up at a hill tribe Karen Village, which is both our lunch stop and the start of our trekking.

The village is very basic, bamboo huts which house up to three families. Work on the farms here is collective, for the good of the village, and each family works in rotation - two from every house work each day with the remainder staying behind to look after the children and do the cooking. They call these families "chocolate families" as they are all mixed together.

The young people here are expected to marry aged 13-15, and they all have children young, and lots of them. The marriages are arranged by the families, and before marriage the medicine man kills a chicken to see whether the marriage will be a successful one.

It's funny, however, that these very basic houses, still have massive aerials outside. I saw at least one with a TV - the essentials seem to be all wrong - a TV, when you don't have plumbing into the house!

Animals roam free: ducks with ducklings, Chickens and chicks, Pigs and piglets, and dozens of dogs walk through the muddy yards.

We set off on the trek, see another hill tribe village with an older style of house, and watch the boys play a version of Volleyball, where the ball can be put over the net by everything but the hand. This seems to be an exhausting and very skilled game!

Now we move through the fields of corn, and start to ascend. The air is warm and humid, and we're all soon dripping. By now we've left the fields behind and seem to be in a forest of bamboo. This seems to be a real utility here - probably aided by the fact it grows at a rate of about 15cm a day! It's used for building, cooking, and lots more besides.

Some of the walking is a little hairy. The drops to the right of the path are steep with only trees to break your fall, and I certainly did not want to become the ball in a downhill, tree version of pinball.

The rain starts, but thankfully we arrive at our basic bamboo lodgings before the downpour. The washing facilities are the stream outside, where some members of our group catch some crabs, which Map then cooks and eats. We spend a pleasant evening relaxing and playing cards and getting to know one another.

Day Two: Last night we slept on a bamboo "stage" with mosquito nets, which sadly did not seem to stop the infestation of ants which bit us, and seemed to take up lodging in our hair. I have a quick wash in the stream, and after breakfast we set off once more. Luckily the sun is shining, and we have a pretty walk through woodland zig zagging constantly through streams, and warned constantly by Map "be careful, velly slippy".

To this end I have a bamboo can to support me, and I'm very glad of it, as the rain last night has indeed made the muddy track treacherously slippery, and we still have drops to our side. At one point we even have to head down a bamboo ladder, to carry on the journey, and we then end up at our showering facilities... a waterfall.

It was very cold, but very refreshing - a massage and shower in one, and it least I was able to get the ants out of my hair!

Pressing on, the walk sees a series of ups and downs, and the legs are beginning to tire, but every so often you get a glimpse of the jungle from a high point.... tree covered hills as far as the eye can see, and everything seems worthwhile.

I forgot to mention, that after the second village yesterday, we gained a member, a stray white dog, who I have called Bob. He followed us religiously for the rest of the trip, and got a lot of attention from everyone.

Finally, after a particularly slippery "down" section, we get the chance to rest our feet for the rest of the day when we board our transportation to the Darang village... ELEPHANTS!

Ours is called Ting and is 10 years old. We start on the seat (our Mahout on his mobile phone sat on the head of Ting!) and then he gets down and lets me ride on her head with my legs behind her ears! Their hair is quite scratchy!

We had some very naughty nelly's. The one in front kept pulling up the corn from the field and sucking up muddy puddles to squirt the people on their backs!

We arrived at the Darang Village and headed out almost immediately for a Farang and Local Children mixed team footie game. Knowing my sporting prowess I thought it only fair on the others that I was team photographer... the kids were so cute!

That night we were treated to dancing and singing from the girls of the village (and had to join in a dance), and were then invited to sing them a song back. Visions of Peru come flooding back and I lead the group in the Hokey Cokey. A safe bet when lots of different nations are present. (Even if the American girl I've nicknamed Sour puss on account of her happy smiley face would insist on singing Hokey pokey!)

Day Three: Woken by the cockerels, and set off on a tour of the village before walking for about an hour down the road. We were then picked up and taken to the river for our bamboo rafting.

The river was less than inviting, muddy coloured and scummy surfaced, and the bamboo rafts were less than water tight, but that did not stop a bit of a competitive water fight between our raft and sour puss's. so we arrived at the other end a little soggy for our journey back to Chiang Mai, and my uninviting prospect of a night on a bus to Bangkok to pick up my new passport tomorrow.

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