Hike to White Karen village

Trip Start Jan 29, 2007
Trip End Feb 28, 2007

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Friday, February 9, 2007

After a short while, we arrived at the village where we would begin our hike into the jungle. There was another small store where we could buy more water and we were encouraged by Nat to walk around the village a little before we left.

It is a really weird feeling to be walking through people's yards, taking pictures of little piglets and chickens scratching around in the dust. But the people who live there for the most part seem quite used to the idea and wave or smile or nod as we pass. This was a White Karen tribe as is the one to which we were hiking and they originate in Myanmar (Burma). I'll include more information about these tribes later. But I have to say they probably thought we were nuts crawling around on the ground to get photos of pigs and scraggly puppies in the dirt.

Ahmit, the Israeli I mentioned previously, seemed to get the best photos of puppies and piglets as all of them seemed to make a beeline straight for him wherever we went. It was funny! (A run-down of the rest of our group to come.)

As we walked further into the village there was an incredibly ancient woman walking with a stick in what was evidently her yard. She could barely move and eventually sat down in front of a small structure and stared at us. Hopefully Emma (English woman with a telephoto lens) got a closer photo of her because mine is pretty far away and she was very interesting -- with her deeply lined face, colorful clothes, and wrapped head (older women do this).

The structures were similar to the Mong village -- animals on bottom, people on top -- but some of the older houses were roofed with large leaves instead of bamboo. A newer structure was being built and the two carpenters were at either end of a large saw, cutting each timber by hand.

We walked back to the road and after photographing the gas station (3 large clear cylinders with different flavors of petrol in them and tubes running out of them) and the largest wrinkliest pig I've ever seen, we set off through the rest of the village toward the jungle. We passed by several women sitting and weaving beautifully colored sarongs and scarves. Nat told us a scarf takes 4 days to weave and a sarong 1 1/2 months. They move different wooden sticks back and forth and up and down in a mystifying creation of pattern.

We continued on and Nat pointed out a small orangish-red fruit that looked kinda like one of those small pear-shaped tomatoes. He asked some people sitting at the nearest building if we could try them and Emma and I were the first brave souls. It tasted very bizarre. The only way I can describe it is sweet, sour/bitter, and fuzzy -- it left a dry thick aftertaste. I couldn't decide if I liked it or not but I ate it anyway. 

We were soon joined by a drunken old man who decided to become our mascot. I never did determine if he was a man who was always drunk or if he was just drunk this particular day because there was going to be a wedding at the village where we were heading. I'm kinda thinking the former... Anyway, he decided he was going to be our guide and he was constantly rushing us along, calling out, "Ba, ba, ba" (c'mon, let's go!) whenever he thought we were going too slowly, which was most of the time.

We hiked along through the jungle and I was surprised at how dry it was. I guess when I think jungle, I think of what I saw in Kauai, Hawaii last February -- super lush and dripping and muddy. However, as I mentioned before, this is the dry season and both Nat and Cort confirmed that it hadn't rained there since October! So the trees were tall and there were lots of vines and bushes but there were also dry leaves on the ground everywhere and the trail was dusty.

"Ba, ba, ba!" said our self-annointed guide. Then as we started uphill, he started complaining, loudly. I felt badly for Nikki because he was either right in front or right behind her most of the uphill. Nat translated as the old man kvetched, "It's too hard. Why are you going this way? Why are we going up? Let's go around the other way. I don't want to go this way!" Keep in mind, he didn't need to go with us at all!

The uphill was pretty steep. As mentioned earlier, there aren't any switchbacks so it was pretty much straight up and we were keeping a good pace as everyone in the group was younger than us and seemed pretty fit. Poor Nikki was suffering, her lungs trashed from being sick the previous few days. She suffered a pride-bruising slip and scratched her wrist, but she made it to the top! We met up with another group and decided to rest and let everyone recover. Our mascot decided we were too slow and carried on with the other group. It was definitely more peaceful after he left! 

While we were resting, I wandered off the trail for a nature break and as I was returning to the group I saw one of the things Nikki had come to northern Thailand to see -- orchids growing in the wild! I called her over and exhausted though she was, she managed a big smile for the camera and seemed almost glad we had decided to do this silly adventure!

After climbing to the top we headed downhill, off trail through low plants and tall trees. Now Nikki and I saw orchids everywhere! I tried to get Nikki to identify them but she said it's really hard to tell if they aren't blooming and there are over 30,000 different kinds. None of the ones we saw in the wild were blooming and we're not sure when they do, but it was still cool nonetheless.

After the downhill, we wandered through a small valley, walking on the short ridges between the now-dry rice paddies. We passed what Nat said is the world's tallest bamboo (the variety, I assume). It was 30-40 feet tall and evidently grows that much in the 4 months of the rainy season. After that it just grows the leaves and then dies. I guess that's why it's such a great renewable product -- it's so fast-growing and it's very strong! They definitely use it for everything in these small hill villages.

After passing the bamboo and through more rice paddies with cattle grazing in them, we came to a small hill and could see the village where we'd be staying on top. So up we headed to crash a wedding!
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