Christmas in Chiang Mai

Day 298 – 24 Dec, 2015

On Christmas Eve, I was trying to sleep on my rock hard bottom bunk when the dorm door creaked open and some drunk whispers and giggling filled the room.  I turned my back to the roommates with the intention of ignoring them.  A few minutes later, I realized they were in the same bed and clothes were starting to hit the floor.  “Oh, please no!,” I sighed.  Making my best attempt to show that I was, in fact, awake, it became clear that they just didn’t care.  Completely disgusted with the situation, I left the room for almost an hour only to return and discover nothing had changed except 3 more people were in the room apparently sleeping through this porn show.  I went back to bed, but turned my lamp on and started to read my book.  This tactic seemed to work – they finally gave up and passed out in a tangle of blankets and extremities.  Merry Christmas to me!

On Christmas morning, with 3 days to kill before friends from Chicago were due to arrive, I made it my mission to find another place to sleep….and quickly.  I decided to go on an overnight trek in a “non touristy” area.  This would be a treat for me for Christmas!  After telling the hostel that I would not be utilizing the additional 2 nights I had already paid for and explained why, the poor girl at reception offered to intervene.  She was willing to confront the exhibitionists on my behalf. A nice offer, but no thanks.  In an attempt to salvage what they presumed would be a bad review from me, they offered me a private room for that night before I left for my trek the following day.  The room belonged to their housekeeper so it was lived-in, to say the least.  Family photos and dirty laundry littered every piece of furniture.  A significant layer of dust made it clear that the housekeeper was not such a good one.  I spent Christmas night nestled into a sunken old mattress with a throbbing upper arm from where I had received a Japanese Encephalitis immunization earlier that day.  Yes, I voluntarily got a jab on Christmas Day.  I was determined that the trek would improve my weekend!

I was picked up in a songtaew, a pickup truck with seats in the back.  There were already 4 attractive guys in the back.  Not such a bad way to start!  Four MBA students from Wharton, Andrew, Bill, Colin, and David were on a 3-week whirlwind tour of Asia.  They turned out to be great fun, if not because they reminded me of people I may have been friends with in my other life back home.  We picked up an Argentinean family with 2 young daughters and we were on our way into the jungle.  The first day, I immediately noticed how hot it was.  A sauna, if you must know.  I’m not accustomed to trekking in warm weather.  Thinking back, I’m not sure I ever have.  Every trek I could recall had cool temperatures.  We stopped early in the day for a dip in a waterfall.  The waterfall itself was mundane as far as waterfalls go, but nevertheless, it was extremely refreshing.  Two things happened at the waterfall.  Andrew stepped on a piece of glass and did a number on his foot – so much blood!  Trekking for two days on a foot that probably needed stitches was not going to end well.  The other thing that happened was we acquired a pack of dogs, two of them fighting to be alpha, but all of them protecting us from I don’t even know what.  It seemed normal that the dogs must follow every group of tourists, probably hoping for a handout.  What wasn’t normal was that we also had a puppy.  One of the Argentinean girls couldn’t part with it and against the explicit instructions of our guide, she carried the puppy far enough away from home that we had to keep it.  She named her Casey.

   
   

The trekking itself was not incredibly difficult but the heat spent all of our energy.  At one point, our guide lagged behind only to return a few minutes later holding an odd-shaped rope out from his body.  I say it was odd-shaped because it wasn’t hanging exactly straight like you would imagine a rope would hang.   Oh my, that’s because it’s not a rope!  The silvery snake was still a bit coiled in spite of the machete that had so easily sliced through its head.

  

Our dinner was steamed rice and vegetables, prepared by the villagers, but the special appearance was reserved for the snake.  The chef sliced it up into thin pieces, stir-fried with lemongrass and scallion, and served it to the group in a large bowl.  Surprisingly, it looked pretty tasty so I was game for a taste.  The verdict?  It wasn’t bad (I even went back for seconds), but there were so many bones that it was entirely too much work to get to the meat.

     
   

We would be spending the night at a village homestay.  There was a long room lined with 10 bamboo mattresses and wool blankets.  The resident dogs of the village were not pleased with our pack invading their territory.  Poor Casey was caught between the two groups and suffered a nasty bite.   The pup, only about 4 months old, was learning the rules of the game way too early. Now we know why the guide wanted the puppy to stay behind.  We were kept up most of the night between roosters who couldn’t tell time and dogs fighting underneath our elevated hut.   By the time morning finally came around, we were ready to trek again.

Exiting the village required some careful maneuvering through the dogs.  Andrew held Casey out of the line of fire but her breathing was raspy and it seems like the bite may have punctured a lung.  The second day’s trek seemed very forced.  I suppose the reason it was a “non touristy” trek is because there wasn’t much to see.  We were walking through farmland and rice fields, not a jungle trek as we had expected.  The best view we had that day was at the end while we were waiting for our return transport.  The Argentinean family had booked an elephant ride so we were separated for a few hours.  They asked us to take care of Casey.  We spent a large amount of that time waiting for our guide, who was watching a soccor game.  When it came time to leave, we had to leave Casey behind.  We weren’t returning to her home and we clearly couldn’t keep her forever.  She had curled up underneath a picnic table and was sleeping peacefully.  As we walked away, I turned to see a small boy, perhaps 5 years old, throwing rocks at her under the table.  A difficult image, man’s best friend is not always treated as such in this part of the world.  Just heartbreaking.

     
 

We returned back to Chiang Mai in the evening, just in time for the Sunday night market.  I joined this group of guys for a night of street food, classic American music, and tall Chang beers, but in reality, I was just biding my time.  Tomorrow would see the arrival of friends from home and I was too excited to sleep!

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