07 June 2008

hiking in Thailand

I sit in this tranquil place outside of town in a meadow surrounded by the mountain jungle with a winding patch of rice paddies, individual guest huts lining the border with the jungle and night bugs starting to sing as the sun brilliants the sky in setting, me sipping a drink of fermented banana leaves which smells like rancid grain alcohol though has a pleasant lightly sweet taste the same as watered down southern sweet tea, only different [same-same as they would say in Cambodia, but different]. Ironic in such a place that there would be neighbors to the resort booming music with heavy bass. It reminds me of camping and how some people aren't wired to just sit, relax and listen to nature but instead to crank a boom box. There is also a noise like a sharp thud that keeps occurring in a regular manner. After getting bothered by mosquitoes sitting among the rice, I seek out the noise only to discover a little mechanism they've devised in the stream flowing near my hut that fills a bamboo tube only to spill upon being too heavy with water; the flipping of the bamboo back into the river onto a rock creating the thud. Immediately I conspire how to dismantle or soften the landing of the bamboo such that it'll be quiet. Perhaps a square of the neoprene I brought? Luckily I discover as well that they adjust for nighttime.

I have been traveling in Southeast Asia for a few weeks now and while I am enjoying my time immensely, I start to think how nice Venice might be this time of year! I can usually go for three weeks until craving familiar comforts. I longed for western home cooked food, my cushy bed, a hot shower, and walking around barefoot in my house. I had to be so careful here. You thought I was worried about mosquitoes before arriving in Northwest Thailand? Here, I'm staying in a place situated on a rice field bordering the jungle. I've learned that in addition to malaria being prevalent here, there is a new ailment called Japanese Encephalitis where upon being stung by the infected mosquito, your brain starts to swell until you die which takes all of about three hours. Oddly malaria also gives you headaches, so it’s possible one would just think they have a migraine or malaria. What am I thinking wondering around in a wet jungle under a canopy of banana tree leaves stepping over rivers and fallen trees?

The third day after hiking with guides for long days, I decide to strike out on my own near the resort. There is a large area defined as a national park with a defined path I’m told. A hostess catches me walking in this direction and hands me a bamboo walking stick. She also calls a few of the many dogs that I have seen about the campus. They will stay with me she says but I am not to trust them with regard to following as they do not necessarily know the way. The dogs are friendly and do stay with me on the trail often running ahead only to find them waiting for me around a corner. I am feeling safer already with their watchful presence.

I pay a small fee to officially enter the park and the dogs reluctantly follow after I call them. If only I knew Thai I might have a chance to command them better.

I reach a place in the trail where it begins to follow a river. The dogs decide to turn back to the resort. I call after them but without luck wishing I had some sort of treat to tempt them. I’m nervous going forward worried about why they would choose now to turn away wondering if they had a bad experience. I sum up the courage to continue. I mean really, how often will I travel to this part of Thailand? I figure I have a big stick if something comes after me but of course worrying about what could come after me [python, mountain lion, bear, the like] makes me worry more, so I push those thoughts away. I spoke with three couples who also did this four-hour hike and two of them said they got really lost. As I connected more with the couple who found their way easily, I felt confident to brave the forest.

I walk along with my tall bamboo stick planting it in front of me with every swinging step, my face bathed in speckled sunlight peaking through the trees feeling very Polly-Anna and Davy Crocket like, proud that I was taking this walk alone, feeling strong that I could handle this rugged nature, and happy just to be there. In this blissful state I walk smack into a huge spider web strung across the path. Its webbing so thick I can feel it hanging on my eye lashes. I take my backpack off and pull the strands as best I can hoping to disturb as less as possible the master of this web who must be somewhere..

Alas, I find no spider [riding on top of the bun I fashioned in my hair?] and continue walking on the trail only now instead of using the stick for its intended purpose, I hold it straight out in front of me wagging it up and down to tear any unsuspecting webs that might dare cross my path.


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