Friday, January 29, 2010

Chiang Mai Trekking - Day One

It should be stated that I love music. I do – I love it. And I often wonder what I'm missing out on by wandering the world without an artificial soundtrack.

I battled with this thought many times. But apparently I don't need one. No, because i just hum the Spider-Man theme song at random, or – you know – in front of a group of nine other people I'd just met, whom I will spend the next 38 hours with. Some people would have the courtesy to look embarrassed. Not this guy!

And that's how it all started. We were an eclectic group of ten. Most of these end up being seven Aussies and three Brits, or something like that. We were three french, one Canadian, two Dutch, two Germans, one Romanian, and an Aussie for good measure. We had a good load of the world covered here.

To be honest, I didn't really know what I had signed up for. I just knew I wanted to do something, and for 1100B I was willing to take any risk. I mean, that's what? Two Pizzas?

After a good long time in the truck driving ever further away from Chiang Mai we eventually stopped at or first destination: An elephant farm. Who knew that elephants were the things one would farm? But they are. And they're lovely. And they seemed to be in much better condition than the ones in Cambodia, or even at the Bangkok Zoo. These were happy well treated elephants. And that's what I'm going to keep telling myself, even if evidence to the contrary presents itself.

So what did I do? I rode the elephants. Because that's just what I do. That's just how I roll these days. You had to climb up a ladder to a wooden platform, which reminded me of a zepplin tower. From there, you just stepped on the elephants back, and made your way to your seat. Then you strap yourself in and hope for the best.

I can say with all honesty, elephants? Not the most comfortable thing to ride in the world. But, interesting enough. We went down to the river, up some trails, down some trails, around some bends, and then back to the wooden towers to get off. All in all, I spent about an hour on the back of this animal.

One of our group didn't feel secure in the seat, so he sat on his elephants neck, feet locked behind the ears. Apparently he'd been trained to ride this way. You know Germans, they're all trained to ride elephants barebacked, right?

It was strange to think that these were the breeds that would have been sent off to war. Can't quite picture it – though even since watching 300, I've found war elephants old and busted. War Rhinos are the new hotness. Though I'm not sure they were ever used in the real life.

After the elephant ride there was some delicious food (a rice dish with a seemingly bottomless resupply for seconds, and then thirds) before we headed off to the trail head. Ahh the trail. Three hours of up up up into the hills. I can walk forever in a straight line, but once you add the incline, it gets dicey. Am I fearing the trek to Machu Picchu? Yes, yes I am. Though with all the flooding there as of late, I'm worried it might not be cleared by the time I get there two weeks from now.

The trek started fine, and for the first hour and a half it was. I was in the head of the pack, waiting a good five minutes for others to catch up at each break. And it was these breaks that started to kill me. We would walk twenty minutes, then rest for ten. This is not the way to get anywhere, and it destroys your momentum. But that wasn't the worst thing. At the midway point there was a waterfall. A beautiful delightful waterfall that called to me. So down i went to jump into it, and stand underneath it. And the water was freezing, and wonderful, and refreshing. The perfect way to escape from the heat of the Thia day.

Until we started to walk again. The cold water had told my legs to seize up, and that they should do no more walking. And had I thought about it, I would have realized this would have happened – but I wouldn't have cared, because, you know, waterfall... Still – it made the last hour and a half, the last five minutes in particular, hell. I was still at the mid point of the five of us, but I was good and ready to die when I got to the top. I started thinking of what it would be like to be a soldier fighting in hills, carrying your pack all the way to the top, just to be shot there. It must be so annoying – not that you got shot, but that they didn't just shoot you at the bottom. Yup, that's what their great concern would have been, I'm sure.

But once you get to the top, and you're looking out at the sun setting over the jungle, you start to forget the trek up. And then there's dinner being place in front of you, and you forget even more.

We slept in a bamboo hut, on bamboo floors that felt like they might break with every step. But they did not. Underneath all the mosquito nets it reminded me of the parachute room scene from Pearl Harbor, although a little less scandalous.

As we lay in bed we could hear fireworks shooting off in the distance, and then a banging of drums. Off we went to investigate. It turned out that tonight was the final night of the hill tribe's new years eve celelbrations. And as such little four year old children were firing off rockets, while the older children danced in circles around the fire, while the still older got trashed on whatever alcohol was available. New Years – for seven days. How anyone can survive this is beyond me.

And seeing little children waddling away in a hurry from the three second fuse they just lit? Somewhat of a frightening thing. But then these guys have open fires inside their wooden houses, so they know what's what.

The best part is that when the fireworks explode, little pieces rain down on your head. Yes, that is the best part.

After an hour of circle dance watching we headed back to our huts. The music, and explosives would carry long into the night. The last time I woke up and clocked them it was for twenty in the morning.


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