On Thursday morning we set off first thing for our trek. The first half of the day was spent rafting the Meklong River (not to be confused with the Mekong), which was pretty great. We were told we'd be whitewater rafting through rapids, and I had this vision of us strapped in with helmets and paddles and my exhausted aching arms and shoulders and absolutely hating life. There were rapids, but they were pretty small and manageable, and only one big enough to splash us. That, and our two guides -- Tom and Chief -- did the paddling for us. (I say "us." It was me and a Belgium guy named Tyl on the trek together.) I felt like a spoiled tourist, sitting there admiring the scenery and enjoying the river breezes, while the other two did all the work.
Chief & dinner
At one point early on, Chief and Tom paddled to the side of the river, toward a bright green line going into the water. Tyl was all "what's that?" And I said, "dinner." Well, turns out I was right. Chief pulled up the line and there was a big catfish caught on it, fighting to get free. He threw it into the front of the raft, and let it sit there, slowly suffocating, over the next few hours. Poor thing. We passed another line or two as we went, but they were all slack, so we didn't bother to stop and investigate. I was silently happy for that.
Our next stop was at a natural hot spring. There was a big Thai tourist group there as well; I asked how many there were of them and they said twenty-three.
And they couldn't be happier to come across two foreigners -- it was like we were rockstars. They ask where we're from and Tyl gets the "oh, Belgium" response and then it's my turn and the AMERICA!!
comes out. (I say this as if it isn't standard protocol at this point. I'm used to it by now. Everywhere I go everyone is all glee and awe and wants to take their picture with me. Here I am the tourist and yet somehow I'm the main attraction. Weird.) So we splashed in the hot spring and I posed for something like four dozen photos with the Thais, it was fun. Hilarious, actually.
We stopped and sat on the riverbank for lunch a little after noon, devouring delicious Thai fried rice that was sent with us in little lunch packs.
Yum. I LOVE Thai fried rice. Forget the Chinese, they don't know what they're doing. Thai fried rice is fresh and tasty and loaded with veggies, and accompanied with spicy chilies and vinegar and cool cucumber slices and fresh lime wedges to squeeze on top. Soooo yummy.
An hour left on the river to go, then we finally pulled to the side and the "trekking" began. I don't know why everyone calls it trekking, it's hiking to me. But I guess trekking is the all-inclusive term, and it's the one everyone uses and you instantly know what they're referring to. So trekking it is.
Forget hiking, I'm not sure even trekking covers it. I'd say we were full out bushwhacking. The jungle is thick, dense, wild.
Thai tourists loving the American
Everything you'd want it to be. There's no way in hell I'd ever want to do that on my own, but felt perfectly safe with Tom (Chief bid us adieu at the river). He's known the jungle his whole life, and was pointing out all sorts of neat trees and mushrooms and a spider big enough to make a tarantula look wimpy. He actually sought out the spider, knew where to look for one and dug a hole at the base of a decaying tree and was like look! Tyl and I recoiled and Tom was all "Not poisonous, not poisonous. No kill. Only paralyze. No walk." Oh, is that all? That fucker was HUGE. (And my picture doesn't begin to do it justice. It was easily bigger than my hand. Easily.) Talk about all the nature you can handle.
The trek was pretty strenuous.
I can't remember the last time I sweat so much, and I've been saying that quite a lot recently. I was drenched. Drenched. My shirt, shorts, backpack, everything -- slick, sopping wet with sweat. We hiked for three hours, half uphill and then half downhill, and I downed two liters of water in that time. It was HOT. And here we are climbing over rocks and fallen trees and through tall bamboo reeds, the works. Up and down one of those massive karst peaks, just to get to the other side. At one point Tom mentioned how the Thai tourists were lazy and didn't like to walk and instead were driven from their rafts to where they'd stay the night, no trekking or sweating or camping involved. Why wasn't I offered that option? Who said anything about liking
this rough 'n tumble stuff??
We got poured on pretty good, for the last forty minutes or so of our trek.
We were still going downhill when it started, and then finally the terrain evened out, but we were walking in slick muddy tracks and it was slow going. Our three hour trek turned out to be a good thirty minutes longer, slopping around and dragging ourselves through the mud. It was miserable. I was exhausted, and hot and filthy and disgustingly sweaty, and the rain was COLD. By the time we made it to the campsite we were soaked to the bone and somewhere between hot and sweaty and cold and shivering. Like bizarro world.
How's that for an introduction to trekking? Thrown in face first. Oof.