Mar 09 2008

Trekking Adventures in Thailand: Day 2

Published by at 10:25 am under Chiang Mai,Thailand

We were woken up the next morning by the crowing of the village roosters. As least once an hour, starting shortly after midnight. I was under the impression that roosters crowed at dawn (an assumption that was validated in Italy), but this hilltribe has been blessed with one rooster that crows at any old time. And whenever he does, he sets off the rest of the impressionable lot. None of us enjoyed the restful sleep we’d anticipated upon first seeing our floor mats, but on the bright side, being awake at 3am allowed us to enjoy the music of pigs rooting around under the stilts that supported our hut.

There was little time for grumbling once the sun rose, as Johnnie Walker hurried us through our toast-and-jam breakfast (now I finally understood why he’d been carrying a loaf of white bread the whole first day) and back to the jungle trail. Walking up the mountain had been strenuous, but walking down the other side was even more difficult, due to the slippery slope, and inviting footholds that gave way once you put your weight on them. Falls were commonplace in our party, but no one suffered real injury.

In the waterfallOur first stop of the day was the foot of a waterfall, where icy mountain water filled a rock basin before continuing on downstream. We quickly stripped down to bathing suits, and found the water to be every bit as cold as we hoped it wasn’t. Because it’s the dry season in Thailand, the water level in the basin was only thigh-high, but we all took pictures of each other enduring the freezing showers in the waterfall. It beat the showers back at the hilltribe by a mile, but is that really saying anything? How can you make a trash can full of cold stagnant water and a floating spoon any worse of a shower? I should probably take that back before the next village I visit takes it as a challenge, and finds a way to replace the spoon with Enrique Iglesias.

Confident that we’d washed all of last night’s shower off our bodies, we pressed on in order to reach whitewater rafting by lunch. Along the way, we passed one very small village (more like an outpost) whose principal source of revenue seems to be selling hand-made slingshots to passing trekkers. A lucrative trade it is too, because I think every male in our party bought one. After jealously watching Johnnie Walker shoot things out of trees over the past couple of days with HIS slingshot, it was with great excitement that we discovered this slingshot outpost. I suspect that the Thai villagers believable innocence belies a calculating marketing savvy, and that Johnnie Walker has already spent his kickbacks on bamboo bong refills.

Around noon, we reached our whitewater rafting launch point. Despite the fact that our brief instructional lecture consisted almost entirely of Johnnie Walker pretending to help buckle my life-vest, but instead tugging on my armpit hair and laughing hysterically, we were deemed fit for whitewater. Just like we’d found at the waterfall, the dry season makes the water levels low. We were able to get up good speed in some parts of the river, but in others, we spent an inordinate amount of time dislodging our raft from rocks that will be submerged in the summer months. Nevertheless, the journey was enjoyable, due in no small part to our Thai coxswain, who boasted a strong English rafting vocabulary of “to the left,” “to the right,” and “forward, forward!” but a poor grasp of each command’s appropriate use. If you’ve ever been frustrated by a lack of spinning in place during an American whitewater rafting trip, I can strongly recommend that you come to Thailand!

The most eventful moment of whitewater came when we were cruising through a deeper, murky section of the river, and all the raft guides began to loudly slap the water with their oars. I asked ours why he was doing this, and he replied, “scare crocoliles.” Crocoliles?? I tried to take over as coxswain by paddling furiously and shouting “forward, forward!” to my teammates, which was notably successful in spinning our raft in slightly tighter circles.

We stepped dizzily out of our rafts at the end of the whitewater line, and waded to the bamboo rafts that would float us to the trekking finish line. Sitting cross-legged and properly spaced apart, we were propelled down the river by a polesman who seemed sufficiently adept at his job. Until he got us stuck. While every other raft cruised down the deeper center of the river, our polesman managed to take us into the shallow water by the riverbank, and wedge us there. As we watched him vainly struggle to free us with his bamboo pole, crocoliles were in the front of everyone’s mind. Until we saw the snake coiled around a rock near shore, maybe 15 feet away. Then that was in the front of our minds. We reassured each other that everything was fine: so long as we could see the snake over on his rock, he wouldn’t be bothering us. We sat there up to our waists in river for several minutes (our weight made us ride low in the water), keeping constant tabs on the status of the snake. And then, I looked back at the rock, and saw that the snake was no longer there. I immediately informed my raftmates, and we all had the same reaction: stand up. Except for Raphael, our young French companion. He either doesn’t mind tropical water snakes, or he likes them even less than we do, because his instinct told him to plunge into the river and start tugging at the raft himself. Whatever his motivation, I still owe him one, because his tugging proved far more effective than a bamboo pole: we were soon free and on our way, with nary a snake among us.

As we approached shore, I’m sure that our raft made a funny sight for those waiting to receive us. While every other raft arrived full of happy, cross-legged passengers, photographic evidence reveals that our party arrived at the finish line looking like this:

Heading back into shore after dealing with the snake episode

AND CAN YOU BLAME US?? I think I’ll title this photo, “treasured river memories.” By the way, that’s Raphael’s dad, Alain, sitting down on the raft, looking gleefully oblivious to the fact that a snake ever existed in this cruel world.

And so concludes our 2-day trekking experience. But never fear, Thai economy: we weren’t done spending money in Chiang Mai yet. After five months with the euro, all this baht was burning a hole in our pocket…

The whole trek crew. Go Johnnie Walker
The whole trek crew at the finish line. Go Johnnie Walker!
NEXT: Chiang Mai Finale: Three Stories »



2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Trekking Adventures in Thailand: Day 2”

  1. Hollyon 09 Mar 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Thanks Raphael!
    I love my cousin Ben and I would hate to lose him to a snake or a crocolile.
    - Holly

  2. Enrique Iglesiason 10 Mar 2008 at 10:11 am

    Worst. Blog. Ever.

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