Chiang Mai Travel Blog› entry 8 of 15 › view all entries
You know I had been a bit reluctant about this entire jungle thing. When Ils was showing me the program of this trip - before booking - I had something like, okay temples, crocodiles and speed boats and such I can handle... but "an adventured filled 2 days in the jungle, spending the night with some mountain tribe" seemed a little too thrill-filled for little ol' me. Though at the time I had something of, it's only 2 days and it is still ages away so....what the heck. But now with the kick-off so dangerously close, I surely felt pretty nervous about it (although the stressed nerves could also be the side-effect of those dreadful malaria pills I have been taking, as the indications so joyfully print out, I am quite lucky not to be depressed, suffering from insomnia or paranoia... )
It was a bright and sunny day....wasn't this supposed to be the rainy season? But no complaints, with the sunshine putting me in an extremely cheerful and courageous mood, I jokingly said "today is not a good day to die" ...which actually became our motto for the remaining mornings of the trip :)
Despite the early hour, I indulged on a huge breakfast of fried eggs, toast and pancakes. Perhaps a little heavy before an intense physical effort, but hey...I was already seeing visions of us eating roasted worms, grasshoppers and even snake at that mountain tribe...(see, that happens when one watches too much Indiana Jones...) so I stocked up on energy to survive the next 36 hours.
Two small trucks were supposed to bring us to the beginning of our "trek" and much to my joy, our regular - never ever shutting up his mouth guide - wouldn't be joining us. Though instead we were accompanied by one funny professional jungle guide named Sammy, a drunk cook who went by the extremely convenient name of "Eat" and a few porters who would take our "food and drinks" along. It still was quite a drive until we reached our 1st stop: a splendid waterfall. Right after that we had an early lunch (it was only 10.30) of fried rice to then fully initiate our trekking.
It was extremely hot and humid over here again and my thick sturdy cotton pants were already sticky and uncomfortable. But I really wouldn't risk wearing shorts out here. There were mosquitoes and other flying biters and stingers all over the place; not even to mention the sharp edged leaves and / or thorns of certain forest plants; lizards and other sleazy animals that can crawl up one's pants....Also, my hiking boots were feeling much too hot and heavy too - but at the end of the day I was so glad to have worn them as I survived this trip totally blister free! In the beginning our little group (24 people) staid pretty good together up until the hot springs and I managed to keep pace with the first 5...
I can't say that I am in outstanding shape, but at least all those evenings of step aerobics paid off for now! Drenched in sweat, I reached the top of the hill, where a few others were already waiting at a little path crossing. About half an hour later, our group was together again and we could go on. After another few kilometres, we reached the 1st tribe village...which wasn't inhabited by savage natives, as one would vision to encounter in such a remote area. But nope, instead we found smiling people in ragged t-shirts and shorts selling coca-cola, which was very welcome after the tasteless sips of my luke-warm water bottle. Sammy, the guide, now said that we could all get going again at our own pace, (he had to stay at the rear with a young lady who had twisted her ankle) just to make sure to wait at any possible crossing until the group is together again. There could be one, maximum two paths crossing and we should reach our "camp" at about 5.00 PM, about an hour before it gets completely dark... So off we went for several hours.
With the little path (it wasn't really a path, but more a vegetation covered trail of footsteps formed as groups of trekkers use the same way daily in the season) going up and down, we soon fell apart in smaller groups again. At first we split into a group of 7 with the others far behind; but after a few more hours, Ils and I had to let go of those going first too, who were a few minutes ahead of us now.
We had stopped talking altogether to save our breath and with not a voice within reach, the rainforest could now fully put its spell on us. The scenery is magnificent....mountain flanks covered with dense tropical trees and bushes, all sorts of plants and beautiful flowers, colourful butterflies flying up as we disturb their rest, a termite hill now and then... Like I found myself trapped in a Jacques Cousteau documentary. And then the sounds... the sounds are simply awesome, almost magical... Dozens of different birds, insects buzzing, the light breeze into the bushes. And then as it started to rain, the tickle of the drops falling on leaf after leaf until finally gliding onto the soil. If I had brought a tape recorder with me, I could have made the ultimate new-age relax cd and strike it rich :)
One sound struck me in particular, at a certain point we were hearing something like a chain saw. And I kept wondering, where is it coming from and who the heck would want to cut trees in this part of the forest, so far away from the road and all.
But the mowing sound held on for minutes on end. Until we finally discovered the source. The sound was very near now... and then we saw it, on the bark of a tree there was this giant (about 10 cm) beige cricket kind of beast, moving rapidly with all 6 legs and so creating this extremely load chain saw-resembling sound.
Then at once, Ils and I came at a crossing again, but none of those ahead of us were in sight. Strange, because we were supposed to wait at any possible junction. Anyway, I shouted to those in front, who shouted back that it was obvious we needed the big path. I wasn't too sure of this... this was a strange type of junction. There was one small foot step path going on, slightly upwards and then a larger, broader and seemingly more walked on path going quite steeply down. How could they be so sure it is the big one, still flashed through my mind, but I didn't have any desire to sit around and wait for all those others now that I was in my good walking pace. So Ils and I caught up with the front group again a followed them down....
The way down went steeper and steeper and was doing havoc on my knees... meniscus started hurting, but well, it was still bearable. The further we went down, the nearer a sound of water came and suddenly we found ourselves at the river. A bit further ahead, there was a not so stable, small bamboo bridge across, leading to some pole houses a little further up hill. Could it be so that we already reached our camp? It was only about 3.00 PM and we were only supposed to get their around 5.00.... Anyhow, we made our way carefully across the wangle bamboo sticks until the bottom of the hill. We were all pretty tired and two men said they would go up to the pole houses already and bring down a few little bottles of coke for us...
Several minutes passed but the guys weren't coming back. Then the wife of one of these men decided to go and have a look, but also she didn't return. Okay, this is starting to look strangely familiar to the Blair Witch project, there's gotta be something up there. So I decided I had enough of a rest and walked up the hill to see for myself what is out there....
Some village children looked at me with real big surprised eyes as I walked by, towards my 3 fellow trekkers, who seemed to be in a tiring conversation with a few locals. Turns out they did not speak any English at all. At first we started laughing and thought this was a good joke. They were only pretending they aren't used to seeing foreigners here, aren't they? They gotta be kidding, right??? But NO!!! They weren't kidding at all - it soon became clear to us that we were in a totally wrong place. Especially after one native started to follow us, repeating "opium" time and again. Oh-oh, this isn't all that funny anymore, we obviously must have taken the wrong path at that crossing ages ago!
In the mean while, the remaining few had come up too, and we discussed what we possibly could do. Hike back to the crossing where we went wrong would be madness, it would take hours to get back so steep up hill. And even if we got there, we wouldn't reach our eventual camp before sunset.
Then again, we were 7 people out here...so they would come looking for us, not? We could either stay in this village or....Suddenly it struck me that there were supposed to be elephants in the camp where we were going. These people would know where there are elephants, not? The word "elephant" disn't mean anything to these people here, so our fellow trekker Kathleen tried to draw one on a paper napkin...still nothing but a blank stare... Until we got the genius idea of imitating an elephant. The villagers started laughing, but it worked! They knew what we meant. The started pointing towards the river, to the left; motioning to go on...
Could there be several places with elephants around in this area? I dunno, it was a risk we had to take and on we went. Everyone silent, caught up in thoughts, worried about us getting lost out here. Until after some time, we noticed Sammy, the guide, walking towards us from the other direction!!!! "I thought you guys would have gone this way". he said. Still we didn't quite understand. Turned out that we didn't follow a broad path as we thought, but an empty water bedding, of which water comes down the hill at the peak of the rainy season. He said he knew there are villages all along the river and so is our camp, so we would have gotten there anyways, even if he hadn't come to look for us! What a relief that was! I already feared us being in a very real version of "Alive".
When we finally reached the Aka-people's village, I was completely exhausted, soaking wet in sweat and hungry as hell! A few of our group members went to take a swim into the river, and I figured the best I could do was follow their example. But as I took off my trekking pants, I discovered to my horror that my legs and thighs were completely covered with enormous mosquito or insect bites. Well how on earth...? I was completely covered with insect repellent and deet of the strongest kind and this were sort of jeans like pants. What kind of monstrous beasts can still sting thru that!!!! Anyway, the bites were the least of my worries, the water was too inviting and refreshing. One of the Aka women had brought out a bar of soap and it looked like we could take a very real river bath. Very primitive, but very adventurous at the least!
When I returned to the camp, Ils and Nancy were already putting up our mosquito nets in the pole hut where we were supposed to spend the night. There were a few blankets and little mats provided to sleep on, but they were moving from the zillions of fleas and lice in it! Oh my goodness, how am I gonna survive this night, I couldn't stop thinking. But then I realised I still had the plastic wrapping of the mosquito net and my little raincoat...I could sleep on that, using my backpack as a pillow. Talking about going back to basics!
In the mean while our cook Eat had started to boil rice in the dirty river water (hadn't we just washed ourselves into that same water?!??) at least now I understood why I needed so many injections and vaccinations before! Anyway I hoped that dinner would be ready soon, because I was really starving and all my survival packages of cookies had been long eaten too. Dinner here tasted much better than in some of the clean restaurants we had been earlier on this trip. Watery curry with rice...but it tasted delish...and so did the pumpkin chips and ramboutans for dessert.
In less than half an hour, it had gotten completely dark...and I mean COMPLETELY...like someone had switched off the light in a closed room. And that while my flash light was still in my backpack in the hut. Candles were lighted at the big table, which immediately made for a cosy, camp-like atmosphere! Then Eat handed out a large bottle of Thai whiskey. Ah now it is clear why he is in a constant state of drunkenness... :) Now whiskey is totally not my thing, but after I had seen in what conditions we were going to spend the night, I more than ever needed a drink for courage! Not only did Eat provide the booze, he also turned out to be an excellent entertainer, clueing us in to all sorts of Thai games, which require a lot of thinking and leanness! One by one, our group members started to return to their huts; but I definitely didn't want to crawl on the plastic underneath my mosquito net. As far as I'm concerned I would stay up all night!
But then around three and countless glasses of whiskey later, even the late few went off to sleep, so I had no choice but to go and doze off too. Aaahhh, there was already a big grasshopper om my provisional mattress...what a night. I kept lying awake, listening to all the noices outside: the insects, the froggs, the chickens underneath our hut...and who knows what else is out there... ?Somehow I fell into a sleep like state, though constantly on my guard, until the first rays of light in the sky became visible between the rips in the wicker roof.