Hiking is one of the best ways to explore a new country. For $1600 Baht ($53 US) each, we embarked upon a journey that included our transportation, meals, water, local tour guides a village homestay, and stops at caves and waterfalls.
The hike began as an exciting adventure. For over an hour we climbed up a steep mountain, stopping for the occasional water break. The views were even more beautiful as we climbed to higher altitudes. For lunch, we stopped on a plateaued part of the mountain and our guides handed us individual packages, wrapped in banana leaves. Our meal consisted of, fried rice with egg, sticky rice, and a lychee type fruit for dessert. The food was delicious and our bodies happily absorbed the fuel.
As we continued trekking, we found ourselves caught in a rainfall that varied between light and heavy. We kept putting our jackets on and off to avoid getting soaked, yet avoid the muggy heat. The rain was cooling, but it created a slippery mixture of leaves and rocks. With every step, my foot slipped, my ankle twisted, and I nearly slid down the entire mountain! With a bamboo stick in one hand and our tour guides hand in the other, I cautiously made my way down the steep sections.
Three hours later, we were about to stop at a stream when my ankle twisted and crashed against a rock, ripping the side of my sock. It was a breaking point for me. I was exhausted, sore and covered in mud. Not only was it painful, but it was frustrating that my mind and body wanted to persevere, but my ankles were making it nearly impossible. My clumsiness was actually becoming a safety hazard. Perhaps high hiking boots could help me in the future. Just at that moment, Robyn's backpack fell into the water and as she tried to save it, she slipped and fell hard against the rock. We sat together, recuperating from our injuries, sipping hot tea from bamboo cups. It was peaceful and beautiful and I tried to prepare myself for the final journey.
We arrived at the Karen village in the early evening. The population of the village is 160 and everyone lives in wooden bamboo huts. Solar energy provides light in the evenings and a squat toilet and hose are used as an outhouse/shower.We me the family who would be accommodating us during our stay. They spoke very little English, but they greeted us with smiles and a hot cup of green tea with a dash of salt. Together, we walked to the small local store and purchased items to cook dinner and two big bottles of Thai whiskey (78 proof). It was going to be a good evening!
Dinner was cooked over an open fire within the hut. We all gathered in a circle on the floor around giant servings of rice, coconut curry potato, vegetables, and fresh chicken. The food was amazing and the whiskey was strong. We alternated between the Thai custom of passing around one shot at a time during the meal and the Canadian custom of having a "cheers" and taking the shots together. They sand Thai songs and we sang English songs. Together, we sang Bob Marley, "Don't worry about a thing, cause every little thing gonna be alright." We learnt about the Karen traditions and we shared a few travel stories. It was an amazing evening.
As the night carried on, our fellow kiwi traveler purchased a live chicken from the family for $5, which they proceeded to kill and cook. I sat there having a moral tug-of-war. I haven't eaten chicken in nine years, but part of me wanted to fully embrace this new experience. After all, this chicken was free range, organic, and not mass produced in a factory. I decided that I would try the chicken, just this one time. The bones, skin, meat, and cartilage were combined in this traditional Karen barbecued dish. It was somewhat enjoyable; flavorful, but quite chewy. I don't regret my decision, but that is the end of my chicken eating days! (If you think that's extreme, I also ate a cricket that was crawling towards me on the ground and then later roasted over the fire. Our guide ate the wings, the kiwi ate the head and I ate the body. It tasted better than the silk worms in Thailand! Protein, right?!). That night, we fell asleep on the semi-cushioned floor, listening to the sounds of live crickets outside.
The next day, I decided that my ankles could not endure another mudslide. Robyn and the group pushed ahead on a 5 hour hike, while I explored the village, colored with the children, and picked up a bit of the Karen language (Butterfly= Jogapea. Necklace= Tacoo. Chicken= Cha. Egg= Took).
Robyn was exhausted by the end of the day and my own body still ached. We ventured back into Pai, enjoyed a much needed Thai massage, and ate some delicious pad thai street food. Overall, a sometimes painful, but valuable and worthwhile experience :)