Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Thailand And Laos 1998 : Day 4

Today the hiking section of the trip was to begin. Our main luggage was heading on to Chiang Rai without us and in five days time we would catch up with it. For our first day on the trail things were to be relatively easy. It started with a jolting bruising ride in the back of a vehicle that resembled the Filipino Jeepneys both in design and complete lack of comfort. We were not intending to start walking until shortly after lunch which was taken at the 'Cabbages and Condoms' restaurant.
'Cabbages and Condoms' is as peculiar a venture as its name suggests. It is a chain of restaurants where decent Thai food is served and where the associated shops sells condoms both in a usable form and made into a variety of tacky and tasteless souvenirs. The intention is to raise awareness of family planning and protection against disease in a country where overpopulation and Aids are both significant problems. The off-putting nature of the name is as nothing compared to the downright surrealness of the shop. T-shirts and ties with a variety of condom designs printed on them are the most tasteful items on sale. Others include artificial flowers made from coloured condoms, condoms wrapped up in papers and disguised as sweets and small, intricately made paper swans constructed entirely from empty condom wrappers.

We continued our drive for another half an hour after lunch and disembarked at the village where the walking would begin. Here there were vast sheds filled with root ginger waiting to be loaded onto lorries and taken to the city for export. The people of the village seemed curiously indifferent to our presence ignoring us completely apart from one or two of the children who came up asking for sweets. A woman carrying a child in a sheet wrapped around her shoulders glanced at us as she passed but there was no real curiosity there it was no more than the momentary gaze of someone whose eye has been caught by a motion or a colour but whose mind a moment later dismisses it as irrelevant.
After a few minutes of waiting around we set off along the trail. It was a clear wide and dusty track that would have been suitable for rugged vehicles. Indeed half a mile along it was a motorbike leaning against a tree with no sign of its owner or anywhere that he might have gone. We turned from the main track onto a lesser one and meandered our way across a field.
"Hardly off the beaten track." I remarked noticing that the crops were being watered by an elaborate sprinkler system worthy of the gardens of an English stately home.
After no more than an hour we came to a stream where we took off our shoes to wade across, Wit making the crossing in a more spectacular manner with a barefoot run up the bank and a prodigious leap that landed him on the opposite side just barely clear of the water. He grinned at his own success and pointed up the hill for us to proceeded. Half a mile further on we reached the Karen village that was to be our stopping place for the night.
The Karen are one of the hill tribes that populate much of Northern Thailand although national borders mean little to them and they are spread in greater or lesser degree throughout the whole region. The total population of such tribes is around half a million. The Karen people who are the largest of the hill tribes but nonetheless number in total fewer than 300,000 are subdivided into White Karen, Red Karen, Black Karen and Pwo Karen. Our village for the night was White Karen. It consisted of a group of about thirty wooden buildings, mostly raised by wooden pillars so that the floors were about four feet from the ground. Under some of the huts domesticated pigs were taking a siesta, under others there were ducks or dogs or cockerels. A group of women sat in the centre of the village weaving. Children were playing with rather incongruous plastic tricycles and trucks in the dirt. After a few brief words with one of the village men Wit showed us to our luxury accommodation. It was a single-roomed hut with a bamboo floor. Wooden steps led up to the bamboo balcony which ran along one side of it. As is the custom we left our shoes outside and went in to set out our sleeping bags and mosquito nets. With that done everyone seemed to simultaneously realise that it was still only late afternoon and we all wandered around looking at people and animals and rather obtrusively pointing cameras everywhere until I felt sure that the villagers must think we were lunatics.
"Yes I have very fine pig. Every month many English take his picture. In England they do not have such pigs."
"Ha, your pig is fine but my latrine - everyone takes picture of my latrine."
With all the pig and latrine photographs out of the way we sat around drinking beer and waiting for dinner which we ate at a table outside the hut lit only by the light of a dozen small candles. The food was excellent but when we had eaten it we realised that it was still only nine O'clock. One or two people went to bed. The rest of us stood around talking until it became obvious that our increasingly eccentric conversation started to border on the manic and we too retired.