Blood, Sweat and Tears

Trip Start Dec 14, 2004
Trip End May 25, 2005

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Sunday, April 10, 2005

Everything is always better in retrospect... with the distance of a few hours, a good meal, a couple of showers, and a decent night of sleep- we can say that our three day trek in the jungle of Northern Thailand was nothing short of amazing. And in all honesty it was. But to paint a clearer picture...

We set off on Thursday morning- a group of 7- including the three of us, Sian and Laura- two British girls traveling together, and our guides- Pat, and a man who chose to go by the name of Chicken. Odd, no? Apparently he thought we'd find it easier to pronounce than his Thai name, Bum.

We kicked off the trek by piling into the back of a pick up truck and driving a nauseating hour and a half into the hills. We hopped out in the middle of the jungle, wondering where the "path" was. Turns out we spent the better part of our three days wondering about a so-called "path"... amazingly enough, Pat has been doing this trek for the past 12 years and somehow knows how to get through about 25 kilometers of rugged jungle. The first day was mentally challenging- we followed Pat through the overgrown trees, which he would sometimes chop with his handy machete, and were thankful for our bamboo walking sticks. We hit our first major downhill and just about flipped out. A normal downhill down a steep mountainside would have a winding path that allowed you to walk somewhat straight... this was not the case. Pat, being first, would slide down a few feet (and of course made it look easy) and turn around to carve some footholds in the dirt with his walking stick. It probably took a good half an hour to make it to the bottom of the mountain, and by the time we got down, our legs felt like bowls of jello. Going uphill was also similar-- it felt like we should've been wearing harnesses and ropes to hoist ourselves up the steep, crumbling rocks. We spent most of our mental energy focusing on our footwork and trying not to tumble on our faces, but when we were able to take a moment to look up and around us, we were in awe of the amazingly beautiful and diverse jungle scenery.

After a lot of sweat, a little blood, and possibly a few tears, we reached our first night's accomodation-- a medium sized village of the Lahu tribe. We were ushered into a small bamboo hut where we spent the better part of the night. We slept on one end of the hut, and they cooked our food at the other end! We set up a table in the middle and had a delicious and plentiful dinner, surrounded by the village neighbors... this was certainly an interesting part of the first night. The Lahu people were just as interested in us as we were in them, as we spent more than a few awkward moments staring at each other and mumbling to the person next to us in our respective languages. (At one point there were so many Lahu people sitting and starting at us, the white people, that we were sure this was the equivalent of a friday night at the movies for them.) Luckily, Pat spoke their language as well as ours, so he acted as an intermediary, asking them questions for us and telling us fasciniating information about their history, customs and traditions. One of us asked Pat about incidents of violence particularly in the hill tribes. Pat responded saying that there as never been a murder in this village. In his words, "They are uneducated, so they have good hearts." There's some food for thought for you... our minds are still reeling. (please write us if you have something interesting to say about that.) We spent the night tossing and turning to the sounds of pigs grunting and roosters crowing-- despite a poor night's sleep, we plowed through another hot and sweaty day of hiking, climbing and itching.

The second day of our trek was equally challenging and beautiful as our first. We hiked all day until reaching a Karen village, where we would spend our second night. The Karen people were very sweet and friendly. Even though we were not able to communicate verbally with them, their faces showed genuine warmth and kindness. We had yet another poor night's sleep with even more pig grunting and squealing and rooster crowing than we could have imagined possible.

We woke up on our third day and took a stroll around the village and watched a woman doing some beautiful weaving on her porch. Pat told us that she was making a purse, and we were excited to watch the beginning stages of the beautiful handmade items we see for sale wherever we go. Our hiking yesterday was flat and low key, as we weaved in and out of the Pai river and stopped for lunch. One of the men from the Karen village came with us for this part of the hike, and as we took a 5 minute break to chug some water, he chopped down a hearty and fresh piece of bamboo and began to chop it into pieces and carve. We asked Chicken what he was doing, and he told us he was making spoons. Sure enough, we sat down in the middle of the woods to a fried rice lunch served on a slice of bamboo, as a bowl, and ate it with newly carved bamboo spoons. Our Karen friend walked back to his village after lunch, but before he left he started talking to us in his native language (Karen). Although we had no idea what he was saying, he was pointing to our feet, and Jodie responded to him in English saying, "take our shoes off? well, maybe." It turned out he was telling us that he was returning to his village because he had hurt his foot...

while discussing our experiences over dinner last night, the three of us thought about how funny it is, that even though we had no way to verbally communicate to the people of the villages, we still spoke to each other in full sentences of our own languages, maybe just hoping that the other would understand a word or two...? All in all, our trek was a mentally and physically challenging experience for us, and we are grateful to have witnessed a day in the life of remote hill tribe villages.

We're taking the day to hang out in the small, friendly town of Pai, and as the sun is relentless today, we cannot wait for it to set behind the mountains. On one last note... we're all sitting at this internet place right now in a bit of a disturbed state. Certainly, we're traveling the world and seeing new things and having exciting experiences-- but not everything can be glorious all the time, and we're bound to experience some of the cruelties of life, right? For instance, there are literally hundreds of thousands of stray dogs roaming around southeast asia. It is hard to see them, especially for three dog-lovers, but eventually they become part of the picture. Unfortunately, we witnessed an human act of violence against one of these dogs last night, and we all stood there completely horrified, not knowing what to do or say. (specifics aren't really necessary, it was incredibly disturbing.) when we asked the man why he did that, he said it was because the dog had bitten someone the night before, badly, and if they weren't mean to him, the dog would do it again. We retreated to our room, shaking and teary-eyed, sitting wide awake at 12:45am for a good two hours. How do we make any sense of this? Any words of wisdom or advice? We are still very affected and struggling to get our heads around this...

In 3 days we are going to India... we have many mixed feelings about what we are about to experience there, but we are excited to move on and know that the two and a half weeks we spend there will be valuable. If anyone has been to India, feel free to share some information with us.

moving westward,
rachel, allison, and jodie
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