True Currency

100% chance of rain…yeah, I went motorbiking anyway…I’m laughing even now at myself. Sheesh. What an experience. I alternated between singing Eponine’s dying song “A little fall of rain can hardly hurt me now” from Les Mis and grinning my fool head off as I puttered about a very wet Thai countryside taking in the vistas, coffeeshops, elephants, hot springs, and Buddhas. Oh, did I mention it was my first time ever on one of those scooters? Don’t tell my mom, ok?

Anyway, it was exhilarating and beautiful and I got very wet despite my $3 rain jacket. So after a hot shower I’ve been spending the afternoon in my hotel room getting lost in computers and pictures, laundry and writing, and chocolate bars.

…I’ve migrated to a new setting: a lovely little café/restaurant owned by an Italian (yay!). Already ordered a whole carafe of wine (which the owner has already teased me about) and mushroom bruschetta…anyway …this post is supposed to be about my trekking trip to the Karen tribes outside Chaing Mai…

My good Swedish/San Diego friend, Karin, has told me for ages about her time with the village people years ago and what an incredible experience it was (it was partially her stories that started the flame of desire to visit Cambodia); and then one of the British girls I met told me about HER time doing the same thing and how amazing it was. So, I knew then and there if I made it up to chiang Mai, a multi-day trekking tour was a definite must on the agenda.

The way everything worked out still just has me SO grateful!! I ended up with another fantastic group: A dutch guy, another American girl my age and her brother and sister-in-law, and two guys from Paris. We all got along spendidly, laughed and talked a lot and had about the same level of ability and shared topics of interest which just made the experience that much better. Harald, the Dutchman is a great photographer, so we had a lot of fun with that as well.

Our guide, Supot, being half Thai and half Karen brought not only a deep respect and knowledge to our time with the villagers, but the authentic love and friendship between him and the villagers was beautiful and inspiring.

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We drove a couple hours outside chiang Mai before beginning our trek to the first village. The first thing Supot taught us was how to say “hello/thank you/goodbye” – all the same word, which we practiced and used constantly over the next couple days. I might add that I am impossibly hopeless at languages. We enjoyed greeting people as we passed, learning about their culture and watching the kids go through their little kindergarten drills. Supot was amazing: as we trekked up little mountain trails he was constantly pointing out little things from huge termite hills (the villagers put little sticks on the top of them every time they pass one to help out the termites) to huge spider holes; had us chew tangy flower buds and sour monkey fruit. Taught us about bamboo trees. History. Science. Geography. He is a wealth of information with a peaceful, confident demeanor. He spent 12 years as a monk which might explain a lot. I think we all emerged from this experience with a great respect for him. It says a lot about him that his best friend is this 72 y/o Karen elderly man. Wow. I loved that.

We trekked 2-3 hours up to another village, where we spent some time with the villagers before settling in and getting set up for dinner and the night. I had just so much fun getting to know the people and trying to communicate. Its amazing what one can convey with such a great language barrier. One guy I was “talking” to while he cooked us some soup over a little outdoor fire was absolutely ecstatic to learn I was the same age as his (rather shy) wife. They thought it was quite funny that I was mildly distressed by the slaughter of our poor chicken we brought live all the way from the market. Truly farm to table that night. Doesn’t get much more organic than handfuls of herbs from the forest, fresh chicken, open fire…

In the evening, we ate on the floor, family style and just enjoyed the next few hours of each others company – looking at pictures, asking questions. Laughing uproariously. Arm wrestling on the floor. Passing around hand rolled leaf and tobacco cigarettes, shots of (horrific) sake and vodka. Occasionally the villagers would break into a raucous round of “jingle bells” which still makes me laugh. They always loved to get to the “HEYYY!!” part. We kept them up much too late and finally retired to our communal “sleeping” room. Im not sure how much sleep I got –It got VERY cold and I kept waking up. But we had a pretty fun time – felt like a grown up slumber party.

We started trekking again the next morning above the clouds – absolute pure, foggy beauty. Little did we know what was in store for us: this day’s trekking was not for the faint-hearted. It really was TOUGH. We waded through rivers, over slippery rocks, up muddy inclines, clambering along unmarked trails. Wet, bruised, muddy, scraped, we finally made it to a little waterfall oasis where we had lunch and a bit of a swim. It was absolutely amazing: during one of our breaks, these incredibly talented guys MADE us chopsticks for our lunch – out of bamboo – with a MACHETE. They are SO talented with their machetes. Absolutely use them for everything. Same goes for Bamboo: baskets, bridges, houses, chopsticks, cups, railings, etc. etc.

Next came the cave (homemade bamboo torches too of course). I felt exactly like I was in the pages of Jules Verne’s “journey to the center of the earth”. So romantically adventurous – one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.

After a VERY hot, sunny uphill climb, we clambered into the back of a truck and started our homeward journey home.

Take-away memories: The universality of love and humor… Language barrier simply fades away. Meeting new people and the kindness of strangers. Attention to details: what a difference it makes (homemade chopsticks! Real bamboo torches! Banana wrapped packed lunches!) . How LABOR intensive life without technology is: we watched these two guys HAND-saw whole planks of teak wood.

Memories I will hold forever.

Traveling has only reinforced my beliefs of the primal needs of the heart for love, belonging, community. No matter where our feet take us, we need that person and/or people with whom we can feel HOME, safe and completely accepted. Personally, I find contentment elusive without that. So, now having almost completed my carafe of wine (no judging)…here’s to unconditional love and friendship.

“The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool.” Lester Bangs

Aaaanndd I have all these amazing photos I picked out to go along with this whole trek but I just started shooting in raw format and am not having an easy time figuring out how to transfer to JPEG and upload so I shall have to repost this with pictures or something when I figure it out… sorry!

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5 thoughts on “True Currency

  1. Harald

    What a great blog did you write about our trip! I am reading this while the rain is pouring down in Khao Sok and you describe it so detailed and exactly how I experienced it as well. And I am looking forward to your photos. Hope you figured it out yet! 🙂

    Reply
  2. SpanishStudent

    Hi, Sista! Do you know you keep “stirring up the pot” when I read your blog – to go abroad again…. The trekking sounds thrilling! I hope you figured out how to upload those photos. Are you heading back to cambodia know? Miss you.

    Reply

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