The Jungle Hill Tribes

Holy cow, I cant even believe that I am alive right now, in Chang Mai (civilization!) with electricity, and cars!! For the past 7 days, I have been trekking and living in the jungle of Northern Thailand. What an incredible experience.
Now, not having done much hiking in my life, I can thoroughly say that I am proud of myself with making it through this!! I was not at all prepared for the kind of trekking we’ve been doing. All together we’ve done about 20 hours of it, and covered about 70 Kilometers of ground. CRAZY, I KNOW! I’ve never sweat so much, or been pushed so far both mentally and physically.
Day One:
The first day was only a 4 hour hike, which wasnt so bad… until it started pouring like i’ve never ever experienced! When I was deciding what to bring with me (we were able to leave some stuff behind) I almost decided not to bring my raingear, but thank goodness I did! I immediately put it on and managed to keep myself (minus the incredible amount of sweat I managed to produce while trekking) and my belongings dry. But for many other who had forgotten their rain gear, they were drenched within seconds! The path that we were walking on turned into this beautiful (but crazy!) red river. And we had to walk uphill, against the current. It was really really slippery and difficult, and honestly pretty terrible, but i smiled. And then I smiled at me smiling! I couldn’t imagine a place in this whole entire world that I would rather be. It was incredible.

 When we finally arrived at the village (Ja Lea), I was ecstatic. Not only because I was wet and tired, but because this is the experience I’ve been waiting for for so so so long. There were bamboo houses up on stilts, with tin roofs and ramps leading up to the porch. There were chickens, roosters, kittens, dogs, pics and other creatures EVERYWHERE! We had to cross a river to get to the village and there were little boys playin in it, and they were ‘helping’ us cross the river. Once I put my bag down in the hut, I went and sat on a rock and watched the little boys play. They had a net and were trying to catch some fish, and eventually, they did! And after squishing it for a while, they found a smaller pool between some rocks to keep it in. They were having so much fun, and it was neat to watch them!

Later on we went to a beauuuutiful waterfall. Even the walk there was enchanting. There were cobblestone steps covered in moss, taking us up through some jungle. When we got there, the mist hit us first, and then our feet were in sand. The rocks were so dark and the water so clear. It was so refreshing! Those same little boys came with us and started jumping off some rocks into the knee-deep water. You would never see that kinda thing in Canada! For a short while, Kathleen and I watched one of them, about 4 years old, interact with his dad. He puffed his chest out, flexed his arms, balled his hands into fists and stomped a sure foot. It was so weird to see this, these kids are serious warriors. They are so intuitive and in so many ways smarter than me. It just baffles me.

Day Two:
Ouchimama, my body was so sore after this! Not only muscles, but joints and everything else too! There were bruises on my hips and shoulders and collarbones from carrying my bag for the 6 hours. It was crazy. When we woke up that morning, it was pouring out again. We almost decided to wait it out for the day and leave the next, but in the end we decided to go. The sky cleared up and it ended up to be an excellent day for it! And good thing, because this hike was BRUTAL. They told us that it was steep uphill for 4 hours. I thought that they were joking…. but they weren’t! It was so so challenging, mentally and physically. But I would look up, and see an incredible view, or some crazy insects, or something else totally amazing, and I would realize, I’m so incredibly lucky to be here. Even if it is killing me a little bit! For the last 2 hours of the hike it was almost all downhill. And then I couldn’t decide which I liked better, the extreme uphill. Or the extreme downhill. Because both were so extremely terrible. There were many points during this that I thought “I can’t wait to tell mom and dad that I’ve done this! They’re going to be so proud of me!” and that really kept me going to! And the hard work finally did pay off, because we arrived at the village of Ja Kha! And I arrived leech free! Which unfortunately many  of us didn’t. And this village was just so darn cool. It was bamboo houses just like the last one, but there was no electricity and the roofs were straw! And underneath the hut that I was in, there was a pig pen. Yes, a PIG PEN! It smelt like poop all day, every day. These pigs also squealed at all hours. Then there were the roosters. And the chickens. And the puppies and kittens. There was just so much life around me.

Day Three:
This is the day that I ran out of toilet paper. This is also the day that I embraced the art of the squat toilets. This was one of the many cultural things that I experienced over the week.

We started on our volunteering as well on this day. The guys went into the jungle to do ‘men work’, collecting logs for the house we were building. And us girls stayed behind to turn a hill covered in stumps and grass/plants into a flat foundation. We were all impressed with the progress we were able to make, and the villagers were extremely thankful to have us there. Between the hiking, and this hard work with the house, I could feel my body getting so strong! The food made for us in this village was fantastic, I’m trying so many new things and loving (almost) all of it! The medication that I’m taking for malaria is making me have some weiiiirdo dreams. And I had a dream that everyone on our team had a meeting and came up with reasons they didn’t like me and then they told me! They laughed when I told them this in the morning, but Christie suggested we have a ‘Love Circle’ that night. So we did! Us girls got together and told eachother things that we liked about each other. It was great to bond with them this way. And a good way to get over my dream.

Day Four:
Over breakfast this morning, Sirachai (our guide, and the only one in the village that could speak english) warned us that there was a crazy man from the next village over running around in the woods. He ran out of his medication and was dangerous, so we had to stay away from the edges of the town. After breakfast we were walking back to our hut and there he was, the crazy dude! And so a bunch of men ran after him and caught him and brought him to the hospital. It was quite the event.

On this day I was able to observe the villagers quite alot. And some of it was breaking my heart. Like the way they treat their animals. There are SO many of them ! Especially cats and dogs. And they’re all so dirty and scratched up, with pieces of their ears and tails missing. The way that this animals are kept is so so different from Canada, and they have ZERO problem using violence with them. There was one little boy, Ahboo,  who was especially violent towards them. There were 3 little kittens who he loved to drag them, squeeze them, kick them, and throw them. There was a point where I went up to him and grabbed one out of his hands because it was so hard to watch! It’s really heartbreaking, but that’s just how they do it over here. So when we had the morning off, I took advantage of these kittens love and read on the porch with a kitten curled up on my stomach! I know I know, Mom and Dad, I’m not supposed to touch the animals, but its so hard to resist!!!

While in this village, there was so much team bonding going on. And there was bonding with the community members as well, even though there was such a big language barrier. I found it so so easy to interact with the children, the evil little boy I mentioned before, and a little girl named Nah Dee. They were so interested to be around us, all they wanted was high-fives, piggy back rides and hugs! And when we gave them stickers, they went crazy!! It was so fulfilling to play with them.

With the older people of the tribe, the only way to bond with them really was to sit around the cooking fire inside of the main hut, and smoke tobacco. They grow their own, and roll cigarettes up in corn husks. I don’t even know how they can breath watching them smoke the way they do!!!

With no electricity, there was no light pollution. And the sky at night was incredible!!!! The moon was so big, and the stars so bright, and the silhouettes of the trees and hills against the sky was breathtaking. What a way to end each day.

Day Five:
This was the day I decided that I’m never going to eat pork again! The village slaughtered a pig for dinner, and invited us to watch. I probably shouldn’t have watched, but I felt like it was something I had to experience. They gave the pig a last meal, and then they threw logs at it to knock it out! But the little piggy ran for it, and got away! But about an hour later, came back, and they shot it with a musket. Then they carried it to the rock in the middle of the village and poured boiling water over it. It was hard to watch this because it made all of the muscles tense up and move. Then they pulled all the hair off. They lit some grass and burnt the pigs skin and remaining hair off and after a long while of this, they slit it down the middle. The blood and guts all flowed out. Along with some worms. They sorted out all the meat, and even the brain and liver! It was kinda cool to see them use everything and not waste anything, but sorry mom, won’t be eating that ever again!

I had more opportunities to hang out with the children again today. Nah Dee started to cling onto me this day, and hang off of me at every opportunity she got! She also started to say ‘Thank you!’ She was so beautiful, and so precious. And when us girls were all sitting on the porch, Ahboo came up to us carrying all three kittens in his little arms and gave them to us. I guess he’s not always evil! During the pig slaughter, both of them were watching and they didn’t even flinch. It baffles my mind how different these cultures are from my own.

This was our last night with the Lahoo people, and there was a traditional Lahoo dance! It was so much fun, we all got in a circle and followed along with them as they played some cool instruments. It was hard to keep up with them, but it was so much fun! These people were so welcoming and king.

Day Six:
This was an extremely brutal day. At least, that’s how it started off.

We said our goodbyes to the village people. They had us all line up from youngest to oldest, squat down and place our hands open in front of us. They gave us all white strings on our wrists for goodbye and goodluck!

Then we were headed into the jungle. They mentioned that the hike was going to be about 5 hours or so, and since the second day of trekking was so difficult, I thought for sure this one couldn’t be any worse. Haha, funnny joke! First of all, it ended up to be 7 hours. It was extremely hot out, and the trail was brutal! In fact, most of the time there wasn’t a trail, and we had to make our own trail through this jungle! It honestly felt pretty unsafe at times, it was slippery and steep. There were scary dark places we were going through, uphill, downhill, it was crazy! But also totally awesome. The views from the tops of these hills and in the valleys etc were amazing. But this was such such such a physical and mental challenge, way more-so than the second day hike. I tried to stay positive during it but at some points it was really difficult. At one point, there was a difficult section and Greg was ahead of me. He got over it okay, and I was at such a loss at how to even start. So I asked him “How did you get across?” And he didn’t even turn around, he just said ” The white bracelet.” Not gonna lie, that was irritating! I’m a small girl from Canada who doesn’t ever hike, who needs some help in the jungle! But then I realized, he was right. A little bit of hope and faith gets you a long way. I am thankful for my body, and for the opportunities I am having here, and I’m really realizing this more and more everyday. By the end of this trek, I was a grumpy, hot, hungry, thirsty, sweaty, muddy dirty mess. And then all of a sudden wonderful things started to happen!

We dropped off our bags, grabbed shampoo and soap and headed into the jungle once again for the waterfall. This was the best one I’ve seen yet. It was huge! And thunderous. And was deep enough for us to swim it! This waterfall transformed me. It was so refreshing, and I felt so clean! It washed away the days gunk and left with clean, soft skin, strong muscles and a refreshed attitude.

Then we ate dinner. It was rice, egg, mixed greens, and a coconut potato soup. AND IT WAS DELICIOUS! I’m pretty sure that Paola, Anna and Kathleen thought I was a crazy person because I ate it so fast! After dinner, there was a traditional Akha dance (The tribe in this village). They wore beautiful costumes and headpeices and so much jewelry! We all joined in and danced with them. And to finish the night off, we recieved traditional Akha massages. It was an incredible end to this day.

All of my clothes that I brought with me (very minimal amount) were so so disgusting at this point. Everything was muddy and sweaty and handwashed (I suck terribly at it still). And I was so excited to get back and shower and put on clean clothes!!!

Day Seven: 

Early early morning this day, we were awoken by a CRAZY thunderstorm. It was the most intense thing I’ve ever experienced. I could feel this lightening in my soul! Sleeping in a bamboo hut is basically like sleeping right outside. So with the lack of a barrier from the storm, I was kinda scared! It sounded like the sky was shattering, and the lightening was so bright!!!! It was freaky.

I don’t understand how it’s even possible, but everyday just gets more and more incredible. The walk from the Akha village was about an hour and a half, and I spent the majority of it talking with our broken-english speaking guide, Sirachai. I asked him tons of questions about the tribe and animism (the religion). He explained to me that there are spirits in the trees, water, mountains etc. For example, they pray to these spirits before cutting down bamboo. If they don’t do this, a bad spirit will come to them in the form of a ghost and make them sick. When they get sick they need to ask the leader of the village to ask for forgiveness on their behalf. When members of the tribe die, they bury them in the woods, and then build a house for their spirits to live in. And as for the Ahka tribe, one cool thing I learnt about them is that when they finish building a house, they sacrifice a dog to eat to celebrate! It’s really quite fun to learn all of these things.

At the end of the walk, we arrived at a boat which took us down a river to a village for lunch! There we saw some snakes, and rode elephants!!!! It was so much fun! Kathleen and I shared a seat on one elephant and had a blast. We rode them for 2 hours! And about 20 minutes in it started raining (darn wet season.). We started off on the main rodes and made our way into the jungle. These elephants are such huge, solid, strong, beautiful animals. It was kind of a rough, uncomfortable ride, but such a blast! At one point, the elephants took us up this steep hill with this BEAUTIFUL view. And as we traveled over it to the other side, we started to go down an equally steep side. It was so muddy and so slippery that the elephants started to slide down! We were skiing down this hill on elephants, no big deal! It was really really frightening, I thought for sure one of the elephants were going to fail! But they didn’t. We all made it safely down… after screaming our little hearts out.

When we finally made our way back to Chang Rai to our guesthouse, we were so so so excited to have real beds to sleep on (instead of the floor of bamboo huts) and real HOT showers to shower in! And we also ended up finding a PIZZA place on our night time bicycle tour to the bazaar. We could not have been more satisfied with cheese, bread, and beer! YUM!

Even though there are many things that I am missing from Canada, and many, many challenges that I’m having to deal with here, I love it. And I’m going to be coming home with appreciation for so many things! Like toilet paper, washing machines, DRYERS (humid air allows for mildew to grow on our ‘drying’ clothes),  pillows and comfy mattresses, warm showers and alone time. Every single day is such an adventure.


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