sabato 12 gennaio 2013

Fourteenth and Fifteenth Days, Dulcis in Fundo

The sweet is at the end. Or also, take the dessert at the end. Dulcis in fundo. This ancient saying applies also to sticky rice cooked in the bamboo on the fire at night in an elephant camp in the middle of the jungle. The sweeter part is at the end.

Let's go in order.

The last two days of of the #piovonontheroad trip were mainly spent in the jungle.
We were a group of eleven people plus two guides: six girls from Ireland, a couple from Germany, a Belgium, a French, and an awesome Sicilian.

We were picked up at the hostel and carried far far away. First stop at a waterfall, where we had a short glacial bath. Then to some pools of thermal water, where we had a long warm bath.

From the thermal poos we left for a 9k trek in the middle of the jungle. Up and Down three gorgeous steep hills. The first slope left me with a tremendous will to run. The second slope I didn't resist and started. Adrien (Belgium), Guillaume (France) and Nu (one of the guides) followed straight away. Somewhere on Facebook there must be videos of these fast downhill runs. Guillaume is on a 8 months journey around the world, has uploaded over 5000 pictures and videos so far.

On the way we stopped at two villages. We were supposed cross villages of the Karen Tribe. If you check on Google, Karen Tribe is the hills tribe where women have long necks after the rings which were applied since the were kids.

No trace of long necks. Better for them, I must say. The reason was, as always, religion. Karen tribes used to be all animist. As it was explained to me by Loso (the other guide), who is from the Karen tribe, when people got sick they sacrified a chicken to nature. Then a missionary came from France, 50 years ago, and he brought medicines. Now the six villages of the Karen Tribe of that area are catholic. No more long necks.
Villages were quite amazing anyway, for us people from the cities. No electricity, terrace rice fields, and animals hanging around undisturbed. What do you think when you see a big black pig lying peacefully on the ground? I got hungry.

We reached the base camp. Five buildings where two men, one woman and a baby waited for trekkers. Our dorm, like all the buildings we had seen on the way, was in a palafitte.

It was already a little bit cold. The bravest (or the dirtiest) took a cold shower with the water pumped from the river nearby. A piece of fabric avoided debris to fall with the water.

Our dinner was luxurious. Three main meals with steam rice. For the joy of the Irish girls, there were also some potatoes, floating in the chicken curry.

We warmed up at the fire with Adrien playing any kind of unknown song (including Tryo "Hymne de mon Compaignes" and the main theme of 1970s Italian tv show Pinocchio). A good help for warming up came from the "happy water", a home made methanol rich rice liqueur. And of course the sticky rice: rice coconut milk and sugar stuffed in a bamboo, closed on top with a banana leaf, and cooked on the fire.

We went to bed at 22. At midnight I woke up. The cold night was barely stopped by the thin cover we had been provided with. The humidity had wetted the mattress. I woke up again at 1. At 2. At. 3. At 4. At 5... At 6.30 I thought it was enough. There was enough light to understand where my frozen feet where. Went out of the dorm and walked around the camp. Everything was under a thick fog. Surely thicker than our cover. The river streamed placid. Everyone and everything was asleep. I missed my running shoes.

At 7 the first human beings showed up. At 8.30 we were all awake, having a massive breakfast around the fire with eggs, toasts, tea and coffee. And sticky rice, of course.

Then came the elephants. Two, big, calm. Guided by two skinny and skilled locals.

We collected our stuff and divided in two groups: the girls left with the elephants. The other five and the guides left with a long bamboo raft, and the will to ride the elephants.

After 45 minutes we changed means of transportation. Me and Adrien went on an elephant, Guillaume, Nikol and Antja went on the other.

I was against riding elephants. But they're treated with a lot of care in Thailand. There are governmental programs to protect them, and when they get too old to carry people they are brought to specific camps.
Riding an elephant in an organized trip is like when you were a kid and they made you ride a pony. With the difference that an elephant can squeeze you.

There are two places when you can stay, on an elephant. On the comfortable chair safely tied to its back, or directly on the elephant's neck, keeping your knees behind its ears.
I stood on the neck. And found out muscles of my legs I didn't know to exist (I would have been happy also if I remained ignorant).

The elephants carried us along the river. Often crossing the river and sometimes climbing up and down of scary hills.

After 45 minutes of childhood I had to leave the elephant's neck. It was extremely painful. Emotionally: to come back to a life without an elephant. Phisically: to have my inner legs devastated John Wayne style.
We took another raft and all together navigated the river for another 2 hours. It was very funny, with some rafting and some race. Everything in the quiet and placid streaming of the river in the forest. Some poop of elephant floating from time to time (they are huge).

After two hours we reached the final camp, had lunch and headed back to the hostel.

I was full of energy for the days spent in such a great atmosphere. There was only one thing I could do: run.
Old Chiang Mai is surrounded by a squared canal and some remainings of the walls which protected the city. The whole perimeter is 6,4k, I found out. Started and never stopped. The elephants, the rafting, the new friends. The humid and cold night. Altogether there with me and my legs. I climbed the walls, where it was possible. And came back at the hostel tired and fully satisfied.

The evening went on with a solitary dinner in a restaurant which served typical northern Thai food. It was advised by the guide. The first meal was a raw sausage with fresh salad. Very good. And I'm still alive, chances are I won't die even this time.

After the dinner, a goodbye drink with the adventurous mates of the jungle trip.

Piovonontheroad is at the end.

Pictures of these two days will be posted later, on a Picasa album attached to this post. [Done on 17 January 2013]

The very last day, the sixteenth one, was spent in four airports. Chiang Mai International, Kuala Lumpur Budget Terminal, Kuala Lumpur International Airport, and Changi Airport Singapore.

Not much to say about it, apart that it left me with a great desire of home. And of running. Well, for the second thing it's easy. Just need to upload this post, share it, and I'm ready to hit the road of Botanic Garden, Singapore.

See you soon on Piovono Runners.

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