Merry Christmas - pass the rat, please

Trip Start Oct 21, 2006
Trip End Mar 21, 2008

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Monday, December 25, 2006

Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas, one and all. Actually, it's really hard to think of this as Christmas, even though it is damn cold in the early morning. Waking up in a tiny hill tribe village in remote northern Thailand is a far cry from holly, mistletoe and gifts beneath the Christmas tree with family and friends. For the last six years our Christmases have been spent with our good friends the Vokins family in Toronto, so our thoughts went out to them as well as our families. It is a unique Christmas though, and one that I think will remain in our memories longer than most.

Breakfast is a thoughtful attempt at a western-style meal. Each of us is handed four pieces of bread, clamped together by two thin sticks, which we then toast over the fire, like marshmallows. Butter, jam and a hard-boiled egg are the toppings and a hot cup of instant coffee completes our Christmas breakfast.

The schoolhouse in the village is surprisingly well-maintained. A Canadian lady whose daughter died was so heartbroken that she decided to devote her life and savings to this school, so she paid for much of the schoolhouse and sometimes teaches here as well. It's a sad story but a happy one for the school, which has about 60 students, some of whom walk two hours each way to get to and from school every day.

A two-hour trek for us brings the group to another small village where we pause for lunch. The terrain after lunch is interesting and, at points, challenging, requiring a bit of nimbleness and balance, but generally pretty gentle. Our guides keep us entertained by stopping regularly to fire a slingshot stone at a bird or a sound in the bushes or to show us how the locals use various plants or berries. It's all fascinating and serves to break up the hike a bit.

Our accommodation tonight is like a little tiny village, only with no people. There is a central hut for cooking and eating, surrounded by six little huts that can sleep two people each. The camp was just built for the foreigners but in the style of a hill tribe village, so it looks genuine.

Tonight's delicacy is a big fat rat that Buffalo Bill caught. He kindly shows us his rat-cooking technique. First he rips out all the innards - guts, intestines, heart, etc, with his hands. Then he skewers it with a sharp stick, in the rat's mouth and out its arse, and starts to roast the little bugger over the hot campfire. When it is good and blackened, he scrapes the fur off and begins to rip off the legs and tail - his favourite parts to eat. Us westerners are all sitting around the fire with looks of equal parts disgust and intrigue, watching this quirky little Thai chap squatting on his haunches, casually eating bits of rat meat. None of us are brave enough to taste any but jane does put the skewered roden up close to her mouth for a photo op. Rats are my least favourite critter of all time, so I am quite revolted by the whole thing.

Christmas dinner for the rest of us is a much more civilised selection of rice plus some yummy vegetarian dishes cooked by Sammy and Jun. We did spot Buffalo Bill cleaning the dishes beforehand, so we just hope he washed his hands after disecting the rat. Following our meal we again retire to the warmth of the campfire to whle away the evening. Yesterday was music, today is games, starting with charades. Language and cultural limitation mean that it is a somewhat limited version of the game, requiring impersonation of such inanimate objects as flashlights, batteries and toilet paper.

Like last night, sleeping is the toughest part of the evening. There are no mattresses in these little huts so we are lying on a straw mat on top of wooden boards. This makes the night uncomfortable as well as cold, so we probably only get a couple of hours between us, again. I've been fighting a sniffly cold for the last couple of days too, which doesn't make things any better.
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