I've been home for just over a month now and I don't want to leave things unfinished, so I will try to recap the rest of my trip over the next few blogs.
From my journal: Saturday, June 9th
We've had an exhausting couple of days. Yesterday our trekking guide, a local Thai woman named Chan, picked us up at our guesthouse at 8:30. She dropped us off at a nearby mountain top temple while she went to go register her truck with the local authorities. Not the most professional thing to do, but we are in Asia so it wasn't too surprising. After wandering around the quaint Buddhist temple Chan picked us up and took us to her village, on the outskirts of the town. From there we hiked for ages, past farmers and fields and through small streams. My socks were soaked and we were fighting of mosquitos at every turn. It was exhausting. We eventually stopped for lunch by one of the many streams. I sat on a dirty log while Chan whiddled us some spoons out of bamboo. We dined on delicious rice she had cooked that morning and mangos she picked along the way.
The trek didn't become any easier from there. We climbed up and down the mountain sides and the mosquitos were eating Katalin alive. We asked Chan if malaria was prevelent in the area. "Yes, you can get a little bit of malaria," she replied. A little bit of malaria? That sounds like a little bit too much for my liking. But my immediate concern was the dirty sweat running down every crevice of my body. I wasn't the only one suffering. Chan's dog, who had followed us the whole way, was also completely exhausted. He was having trouble keeping up. But Chan assured us we were nearing the Karen (long neck) village. She was hardly breaking a sweat!
As we descended the final mountain we spotted an elephant in the river below. When we at last arrived at the Karen village, Chan left us to get her truck (her friend came to pick her up via motorbike). The Karen village was small. I felt rather uncomfortable entering it. . .there's a fine line between being a tourist and being a spectator. I know the Karen's are accustom to tourism and it's their livelihood, but I'm undecided whether that's good or bad. The tribe has sought political asylum in Thailand from their native country of Burma. Now they have more comfortable lives, but they must share those lives with hordes of tourists.
All the women there were selling crafts, mostly handmade woven scarves. The first women we saw was gorgeous. She looked so young, but said she was thirty and her 7-year-old daughter sat with her. Both had gold coils around their necks. The coils push down the collarbone and the ribs to create the appearance of a long neck. They aren't exactly sure how the custom began, but it's believe to have been around for nearly one thousand years.
After leaving the village we sat aroudn waiting for Chan for over one hour. The road (ok, really it's more like a path) up the mountain had been under construction and she had trouble getting her truck through. But really that's small potatos compared to the waiting we did today. . .
We began this morning with a one-hour elephant ride. I'm not sure how I feel about this. Ok, I am sure. I feel a bit guilty. Katalin points out that people ride horses all the time. But I still feel bad these huge and amazing animals are being taken out of their natural environment. The ride itself was rather terrifying. The man who guided our elephant sat on the elephant's head while humping it, which gets the elephant moving. Strange.
Once the ride ended Chan was suppose to be waiting for us at the designated ending point. Surprise, surprise, she wasn't there. After waiting an hour by the side of a rustic road, we asked some local girls to give us ride back into town (about 3 miles). There was a flurry of excitement amoung them and I'm almost sorry to say that just as we got on the backs of the bikes Chan pulled up. Chan was as apologetic as an Asian can be (admiting to fault usually means losing face, not good.) She even bought us lunch to compensate.
The rest of the trek was pretty low key. We insisted Chan drives us everywhere after all the hellish walking we did yesterday. Next we visited another ethnic village, the Lisu tribe. They lived, like the Karens, in a small and humble village. The men were away farming and the women and child hung around the village huts. They also sold crafts. Last we went to a country club and had a bath in a mineral pool (for just $1.50!). The pool and its surrounding were gorgeous-paradise.