Riding elephants and eating rats

Trip Start Feb 07, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
BMP Residence

Flag of Thailand  ,
Sunday, February 22, 2009

My journey alone, woman only with backpack, some cash, and spirit of adventure, has begun. After a grueling night of partying and the following day of travel, I was happy to spend a chill day in Chiang Mai exploring the city. Was supremely nice to walk around, shop for the best massage shop, have a leisurely breakfast in an adorable coffee shop, find some good used books and then have 2 hours of massage (desperately needed). I had come to Chiang Mai for a trekking adventure in the jungle, something this Northern town is famous for. After getting briefed with the group, I packed my bags and headed out for the night. As I strolled toward the night market, I was tempted once again by the ladies offering massages for super cheap on the street. Should I, could I, indulge in a third massage for the day? Did I? Why yes I did. There was a man selling Thai wine in front of one setup, so I stopped for a cup of ginseng wine and another foot massage. Just as a note, I'd recommend sticking to beer or whiskey in this country...

Night one of our trekking adventure brought a serendipitous good time reminiscent of days spent camping in Colorado. We were off to a promising beginning as our sawangtheaw (common mode of transport involving a pickup with benches aligning the back bed) collected the passengers. A motley crew indeed, I was curious to see how this trip would turn out. Instead of the typical team comprised of youthful backpackers, we were three independent travelers, one English, one German, and 2 middle aged Dutch couples. As we pulled on our gear to commence a midday hike, I was sure this was going to be interesting. Our cast of characters included Gerr, a good-natured, energetic seed farmer who was prone to singing and playing with English words; his wife Til, a kind school teacher who gave a great Thai massage; Aad, Gerr's boyhood friend who was equally jovial; Aad's wife Animique, a slightly sarcastic but very sweet mother of 2; John, English former bar manager who was saving up for a car and then decided that he didn't like his job anyway and would just quit and use the money for travel; and Claudius, German by way of America, a student who split his time traveling, in school and visiting his girlfriend in of all places, Colorado.

After a 4 .5 hour hike and a gourmet feast prepared by our hospitable guide, Sun, we settled in round the campfire for drinks, conversation and even a bit of singing. Sun began to explain the history of the area we were visiting and the primary 7 tribes of Northern Thailand. The village we were presently staying in was a village of White Karen, the majority tribe in the country. The people were humble and approachable, and the children, one girl in particular (see photo) , were super cute. Pigs, cows, chickens, dogs, and an ancient way of life surrounded us in this village.

We merrily drank the night away in company of our host, group and another of Sun's friends from Germany. Such a mixed group can only bring fresh conversation and constant stimulus for chatter. Our Dutch friends Aad and Gerr kept up beer for beer with the younger guys and were quick to ask what we thought about having to travel with these "old guys." Their humor, wisdom, and tolerance belied their age, proving them to be young at art. Avid travelers, they also further supported my belief that travel keeps age at bay and ensures one is ever adaptable to new situations and people, ready to learn from others and new experiences.

As the night progressed we had an in-depth discussion of tribal culture and the influence of technology, tourism and development in the region. Sun also shared that he would marry in a month or so, mainly due to pressure from his parents. Being 31 and single is viewed as a real oddity in these parts, especially in the villages, where girls still marry around the age of 16-18. Sun was from the Karen village and commented on how his parents kept asking if something was wrong with him, did he like boys? Surely there must be a reason he had yet to settle down. When we asked if his betrothed was very pretty, he responded directly, saying "She not too bad, better than lady boy," and gave us his characteristic laugh. Then, relaxed after many beers, it was time for a sing along. Sun graced us with a couple Thai pop love songs. He said everyone must sing twice because Thai people believe you go once, it's like having 1 leg, so you must go twice so you can walk with 2 legs.

Next our fair Dutch friends cranked out a national tune, followed by mine and John's rendition of  "Free Falling," then the Germans with an all too famous, horrible German pop classic. The final story of the night was when Sun went to the hut and came back with nothing other than everyone's favorite late night snack, rat on a stick. It struck me as odd how just 3 days earlier I'd been cursing the repulsive dead rats on Bamboo island and now, here I was eating one. But this was different, this was jungle rat. We convinced ourselves this was somehow more plausible. Each of us ate off the barbecue delight and honestly, I was pleasantly surprised by this savory, flavorful snack. Hey, if someone offers you rat in the jungle, you eat it. Anything goes while camping.
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