Sunday, March 1, 2015

Trekking in the Foothills of the Himalayas!

Chiang Mai was our jumping off point for probably the absolute highlight of our whole time in Thailand--trekking through the mountains in the northern part of the country.  Jeremy had planned  our itinerary for us to spend just one night in Chiang Mai before our trekking adventure, and then come back for several more days after the trek.  When we checked into the hotel, we were delighted to learn that the owner said we could just leave all our luggage in the room while we were trekking.  This made it so much easier, as we only took the bare essentials for the trek.  So glad we didn't have to pack everything else up and leave it at the trekking company office, and that we were able to have the same suite on our return!

When Jeremy had been teaching in Cambodia the year before, he traveled extensively in Thailand as well as some other Southeast Asian countries and had done a good bit of trekking, so he was pretty experienced.  He also had a pretty good idea of how to separate the good from the not so good trekking vendors.  There are many, many trekking companies based in Chiang Mai, but they definitely are not all equal.  By law, every trekking company is supposed to register with the national park service and obtain a permit before beginning any trek, but we learned that many of the companies don't to this, trying to cut corners by not paying the registration fee.  This poses the risk that park rangers could stop the trek to check on the registration, fining the company who did not properly register, and possibly ending the trek.  Jeremy had read lots of reviews and talked extensively with the owner of the company he chose for us and it was a super choice.  It's called the Trekking Collective, and is owned and operated by a British woman and her Thai husband.  They advertise themselves as offering ethical alternative treks, and they have not only group treks but also hikes where it's just you and the guides.  The mountains are populated by a number of different tribes, who really are not technically Thai, and they certainly don't consider themselves Thai.  They are indigenous peoples who originated in China, then were forced out of China into Burma and eventually settled in the mountains of northern Thailand.  There were several different tribes that we encountered along our trek, but most of them are subsistence farmers, growing rice and other crops.  A few of the tribal people can speak Thai, and a little English, but mostly they speak their own tribal language, and there are a number of different tribal languages throughout the mountains.  The Trekking Collective is very sensitive to the plight of these very poor people, and over half of the fees they charge go directly into support services for these people--building schools, helping provide education in better farming methods to maximize the yield of their crops, installing plumbing systems to collect rain water and pipe it throughout the villages, etc.  We were very pleased to learn this as well.

We opted for an individualized trek, so it was just our Thai guide, Manit, and the three of us.  Manit and the driver picked us up at the hotel and took us first to the Trekking Collective office, where they provided back packs, sleeping bags, water bottles, etc.  We met with Caroline, the owner, who was just super nice.  Jeremy had been in contact with her about the fact that Trisha and I are vegans, so they had planned accordingly--Jeremy, on the other hand, is definitely not a vegan and, as he told them, he would eat anything!  So off we went, riding in the back of a compact pickup that's outfitted with bench seats under a roof in the truck bed--this is a common form of taxi service throughout Thailand--the driver stopped first at a small town before entering the national park in the mountains where Manit bought food and supplies for our 3 day adventure.  Soon we left the paved roads and the driver, fortunately, was quite skilled at keeping us on the road as we encountered many huge potholes and washouts, often with very little room to spare on the edge of the road before a very steep dropoff.  Next stop was at a little village along the river where the driver left us to begin our trek.  The people in this village depend heavily on the revenue they get from preparing lunch for the trekkies, both at the beginning and the end of the hikes--pad Thai and lots of wonderful fresh fruit--they even had tofu for us!!  As we waited on lunch, we ventured out over a swinging foot bridge across the river, and met several women from the Acca tribe, all decked out in their traditional tribal dress, lots of brightly colored dresses and head scarves, selling little trinkets.  Always feel a bit conflicted at times like these, as we really didn't need or really want any of the things they were selling, but realize, too, that this is basically the only way these women have to try to make a few pennies to help support themselves, so we ended up buying a bracelet or necklace or two.  These women are quite small in stature, but very expressive!

After lunch, we shouldered our packs and headed off on what was to be an incredible adventure!  We first met up with a local tribesman, who, along with Manit, led us on our hike for the rest of that day.  He could not speak any English, but fortunately Manit could speak enough of the tribal language to communicate with him, and of course Manit's English was excellent.  Both Manit and the tribal guide carried machetes, which certainly came in handy as we hiked along.  Most of the time we were on fairly well defined paths, but in some places they had to cut away enough of the jungle overgrowth to enable us to make it.  We spent most of the rest of the day hiking through fields of mountain rice--out in the open with no shade and it got really hot!  But it was fascinating to see this beautiful country.  We could see cultivated fields off in the distance, as well as the mountain rice that seemed to grow basically just wild and random, though Manit explained how it is indeed planted by these people.  Manit was very knowledgeable about the geography, all the plants and wildlife we saw, as well as the history of these indigenous people.  He would point out different plants could cause skin irritation, so he gave us plenty of warning to stay away from them.

Though Manit lives in Chiang Mai and is very well educated, he grew up in a small jungle village, so he came by this knowledge by experience, growing up.  Turns out his father was the village medicine man/healer, so Manit gained an extensive knowledge of which herbs and plants could be used medicinally for various ailments, and he explained those to us as well, as we would come upon a particular plant.  He also told us a truly remarkable story about his father.  He was a devout Buddhist, and was considered a very holy man in their village.  Probably as a result of that, together with his knowledge of plant and herbal healing, enabled him to live to be 110 years old!  The Buddhist tradition calls for the cremation of bodies upon death, and you can see these little outdoor crematorium structures on the grounds of temples throughout Thailand.  Well, when it came time to cremate Minit's father's body, however, it would not burn!  They tried three different times to do it and his body simply would not burn--just amazing!  Finally they gave up and buried the body, but all the people in the village took this as a confirming sign that he truly was a holy and enlightened being, so people would come take articles of his clothing to keep as religious relics.  When I was at the Zen Buddhist monastery, I had read about such instances of particularly devout and enlightened monks who died and their bodies taking much longer than normal to incinerate, but to hear this first hand account from Manit about his father was truly amazing.  I was just blown away by it and felt so fortunate to be listening to him tell this story.

When we first started hiking, Manit used his machete to fashion us each a good strong hiking stick from some downed branches.  These really came in handy, as we had many up and down places where it was pretty steep.  They were particularly helpful when we were going through the rice paddies that use flooding--here you're walking along a narrow berm with water-filled troughs on either side, making for some very slippery footing.  So we could use the hiking sticks to help maintain our balance, and especially when we came to places where we had to come down steep inclines.  As we hiked along, the tribesman would point out things to Manit and then he'd translate for us, so it was just a wonderful beginning to this experience.  Turns out that this tribesman was the head man of the tribe in the small village where we spent the first night.  We were also surprised to learn that he was a couple of years older than we are--his skin was completely unlined and his hair had not a single fleck of gray, just totally jet black.  We learned that these people simply don't turn gray or show any age wrinkles until they are much older than we are.  This also led to a funny thing--one evening at one of the villages, Jeremy overheard Manit talking with a couple of villagers who could speak Thai, and the villagers were asking how old Trisha and I were--they said they were not used to seeing such old people trekking, usually it was just young people--what a hoot!  Don't know if  this was just the result of our white hair and their thinking we must be nearing 100 or what, but we decided to take it as a compliment that we were able to handle the trekking!

When we got to the village where we spent the first night, we realized that we were going to stay in the home of the son of the tribal head man who had been our local guide the first day.  His name is Jadoo and he was our local guide for the next two days.  The house was built out of teak, with planks that looked to be roughly 2 or 3 inches thick by 12 inches or so.  There were no glass windows, just large overhangs extending out over the walls, with lots of open air spaces between the walls and the roof.  We learned that Jadoo was a carpenter and had built all the houses in the village.  The planks looked to be rough sawn, so I asked Manit if they had a sawmill somewhere nearby where they got the lumber milled.  You can imagine my surprise when he told me that Jadoo had done all this by hand--no sawmill, just hand tools!!  I couldn't believe it, and was just in awe of this man who did all of this by hand.  The house was built up on stilts, to allow for rain to wash underneath, as the village was pretty hilly.  The main floor had one large room, which included the kitchen--a fire pit over which they used large pots for boiling, a shelf for pots, pans and dishes, and a sink, which was a large square concrete basin.  Jadoo's wife would actually sit down in the sink to wash the dishes!  There was no fridge, just a styrofoam cooler.  The government has paid to put in some solar panels in the village, and there was one for Jadoo's house, which powered one small neon light tube--and their cell phone charger!!  But the cell phone had to stay in one place, on a shelf, as that was the only place where he could get reception.   They had built a table with benches for the "farang" trekkies, but all of the family either sat right on the floor or on small seats--each seat was just a flat piece of wood nailed into sections of approximately 2 x 4, about 10 inches long, so basically it was little more than sitting on the floor anyway.  And I never cease to be amazed at how these people can sit on their haunches, their butt down on their ankles, and not only stay that way for long periods of time, but can then stand right up!!  Made my knees hurt just to watch!  No way I could ever do that.

Jadoo and his wife had two daughters, one about 8 or 10 and one about two.  The younger one was not too sure about Santa, and every time I'd look her way, she grabbed onto Mom's skirt!  Anyway, Manit made us a delicious vegan dinner and then Jeremy and everyone else had the non vegan fare--Jadoo's parents came over for dinner and it was interesting to watch this extended family interact with each other--no matter how different we are in terms of where we live, what language we speak, how we dress, etc. there is still so much we all have in common.  Watching the grandparents play with the kids and laugh with them was no different than grandparents the world over.  Wish we could all just realize how we are all so alike in our humanity and not focus so much on the differences as ways to separate us from each other.

After dinner, Jadoo came over to our table and taught us a couple of card tricks he had learned from some trekkies along the way--quite fascinating, and while we know both of them have something to do with mathematics, but we still can't quite figure out how they work.  He could speak a little pidgin English, and one phrase that's stuck with us ever since:  when he would lay out the cards in stacks, he handed us the rest of the cards and said "you shuff."  So now we never say shuffle, just shuff.  During the card trick show, he brought out a bottle of what he called "happy water" and offered us a drink of his homemade rice wine.  Trisha and I both declined, but Jeremy was game--when he took a drink, though, the look on his face said this was about the strongest stuff he's ever had!!  Of course, when he killed his drink, Jadoo offered another, and politeness kept Jeremy from refusing, so he had to go through it again!

The bathroom was an outhouse a little ways away from the house, and you had to walk under the house and other buildings to get to it, which made it quite interesting during the night when we inevitably had to get up to go.  Had to carefully thread our way with our little flashlights around piles of wood, etc., dodging dogs and chickens running loose all around!  We slept in our sleeping bags, just spread out on the floor of the main room.  By this time we were tired enough to go right to sleep, but there were some village roosters who seemingly crowed most of the night!  Quite an experience.  But we woke to a wonderful breakfast of banana pancakes and hot coffee--yum!

The second day, Jadoo and Manit led us out of the village, through rice paddies, jungle trails and up and down through mountain rice fields, with some pretty steep up and downs. And the sun was out in full force so it was pretty hot.  Thankfully there were times when we went from open areas into jungle paths where there was shade.  As we hiked along, we would have beautiful vistas of the mountains above and below us--while not the highest mountains we've ever hiked, at times I just had to stop and marvel at the fact that we were actually hiking in the foothills of the Himalayas!!!  How amazing is that??!!  Never in a million years would I have dreamed I'd ever be in this part of the world, let alone trekking through these mountains and jungles!  Just unbelievable!  At one point we encountered a huge centipede, bright red, about 6 to 8 inches long and at least an inch or more in diameter.  Before I could get my camera out to take a picture, Manit jumped up past us and knocked it off the trail with his stick.  He said the bite was not lethal, but it would make you quite sick, so we were glad he took care of us.  It was the most fearsome centipede I've ever seen, though!  As we hiked along, Jadoo seemed to be increasingly more gregarious, engaging us with his halting English, but he soon realized, too, how easy it was to spook Trisha.  At one point, he pointed to some tracks in the mud and, with a serious and worried face said "Tiger!"  Turns out, though, that the tracks were made by water buffalo, but he got a kick out of Trisha's reaction!!  Amazingly, too, though Manit had some hiking boots on and we were in our running shoes, Jadoo never wore anything other than flip flops!!  Once in a village, of course, he took off his shoes to be indoors, but it was amazing to me that he could handle all the different terrain we crossed, without ever seeming to lose his balance or his footing--the result of living his whole life in this environment, but nonetheless amazing to us.

We had a pretty strenuous morning of hiking, and then came to another small village where we had lunch.  Like in Jadoo's house, there was a table with benches for us in the house where we ate, while Manit and the villagers all ate in the room around the fire pit, sitting on the floor.  Manit first made us our vegan lunch, and then Jeremy joined the locals for their lunch of some sort of fish, that was stuffed into sections of large diameter bamboo, along with rice and spices and roasted directly in the fire.  He said it was quite spicy, but he really enjoyed it.  While we were eating lunch, some of the local children came up to offer us little trinkets for sale, and they had a little pet monkey with them.  It was pretty cute to watch them offer the monkey little pieces of fruit, too.

After lunch we met up with a couple of men from another tribe, who turned out to be our elephant handlers!  They led us out of the village down to the river bank, where they had built a platform that we used to climb up to mount the elephants.  The elephants were just sort of milling around in the river, but when the handlers would call out commands in their tribal language, the elephants would respond immediately.  They called them over to the platform and then set mats, woven from palm fronds, on their backs on which they then strapped on wooden bench seats.  Then they just told us to walk out from the platform, step onto the elephant's head and walk to the bench.  Needless to say, we approached with a little trepidation, fearing that the elephants might not take too kindly to these crazy "farang" walking on their heads!!  But they were quite docile, and didn't move at all as we walked across!  Trisha and I rode one, while Jeremy and Manit rode another, following us.  One of the handlers mounted the head of one of the elephants, but the other one just walked along, as we took off for several hours of incredible elephant riding!!  Some of the time the elephants were walking along narrow paths by the river bank, but sometimes they were actually in the river.  Manit described how much lower the river was this time of year as compared to earlier when it had been several feet higher.  Not sure how they handled that with the higher water, but it was quite an experience.  The handlers would shout out commands to the elephants, which they obeyed for the most part--except when they were hungry and would get close to tree branches.  Then they would wind their trunks around a branch and twist it until it broke free for them to eat.  Once we mounted the elephants and headed off, Jadoo took off on foot and we never really saw him again until we reached the village where we spent that night--Manit told us he was going fishing, to catch enough for that night's dinner--just amazing how self sufficient these people are!

We got to another village in late afternoon, where we climbed off the elephants onto another platform that had a ladder down to the ground.  By this time we were pretty hot, so Jeremy and I decided to do a little body surfing down the river.  It was pretty shallow for most of the area around the village, but the current was quite swift.  So I was a bit more cautious as we went down, to make sure I was able to stop by the village and not get swept along past it.  Jeremy, as you might imagine, was bit more adventurous and had a ball speeding past me!!  Amazing what a difference 35 or so years makes!!  But it was a real blast, and an exhilarating way to end the day.  As we came out of the river, we watched a local villager and his daughter, who looked to be about 2, catch crickets for roasting:  Dad would use a stick to poke holes in the ground near the river bank and then flood the holes with water, forcing the crickets to come to the surface from another hole.  The daughter would catch them and put them into a plastic water bottle.  As we ate that night, Jadoo came over to our table and offered us roasted crickets--Jeremy ate a couple and said they were quite tasty, just crunchy, but with delicious spices.  I was about to try one, but then Trisha said if I ate the cricket she'd never kiss me again, so I had to pass!!

After dinner that night, Jadoo came over with a large paper contraption, that turned out to be sort of a cross between a balloon and a kite, with a frame holding a flat ring candle on a frame set into the open bottom.  He asked us to write down our wishes on the paper, and then he fashioned the frame onto the open end, lit the candle, held it over the fire to get a good start with hot air and the hot air lifted the kite into the sky, the candle providing enough heat to keep it climbing until it was completely out of sight--pretty cool!  Jeremy said that this is a fairly common practice in many of the ceremonies throughout Thailand on special holidays.  The kite is called a kohm loi and, while they release tons of them on New Year's Eve and other holidays, there is a holiday called Loy Kratong, where in Chaing Mai they release thousands of them, to the point that they have to cancel flights at the Chaing Mai airport!  I could only imagine the feeling that must come from seeing so many of them floating up into the sky--it was quite an emotional moment for us this night as we watched it ascend into the night sky, thinking about the wishes we had written on the kohm loi, and it was so special that Jadoo had done that for us.  After that little ceremony, Trisha and I were pretty tired, so we headed to the big hut they had set up with rows of mats for the trekkies to put down sleeping bags--we were the only ones there that night--while Jadoo enticed Jeremy to stay up for another couple rounds of happy water!!

The next morning, as we enjoyed another of Manit's fabulous pancake breakfasts, accompanied by lots of fresh fruit grown in the village, we watched Jadoo and the villager who had gathered the crickets the night before, as they made a bamboo raft down on the river.  But before that, Jadoo presented each of us a cup he had made from sections of bamboo.  Manit had told us the day before when Jadoo went off the trail and cut some bamboo that he was going to make something, but we had no idea what he was doing.  At lunch that day, we saw Jadoo using his machete to smooth out the top of each section, and then after dinner he came over to us and asked us each to write down our names for him.  When he presented us the cups he had carved each of our names into the cups--including "Santa Jack" on mine!!  He had also inscribed a happiness wish in Thai, as well as the universal greeting in his own tribal language:  "Abudjah!"  Manit had taught us this word on the first day--it's an all purpose word they use to say hello, goodbye, thank you, you're welcome, good luck, etc.  It was really a sweet thing for him to do.  After dinner the night before Jadoo was explaining to Jeremy how he was working hard on learning English so he could try to get a job as a full guide, so he could make more money to better provide for his family.  He said that he got about 200 Thai baht for building one of the houses in his village--but since about 30 baht equals one US dollar, that's not very much.  Just like people all over the world, he wanted to find a way to do more for his family, another reminder of the universal common humanity we all share.

Now back to the raft building!  They had a huge pile of bamboo poles by the river bank that they had cut down earlier; from this pile they took a number of poles and lashed them together with long reeds, and then built a tripod frame where they tied up our backpacks to keep them from getting wet.  After breakfast we said goodbye to the cute little girl and her family and went down to the river to board the raft.  Manit explained to us that they had used poles for the cross members that were sticking out a foot and a half or so past the last pole forming the bed of the raft.  He said they do this for a reason--they have the trekkies board the raft to see if there are enough poles on the bed of the raft to float once everyone is own--if not, they can add more poles and lash them to the cross members.  Since we were okay, Jadoo used his ever present machete to chop off the extra length of the cross members.  then off we went, with Jadoo standing in the front of the raft with a long pole, poling us down the river.  We encountered several rapids and it was quite thrilling to be riding the rapids on just a bamboo raft!!  Of course we were wet all the time, as we were just sitting right on the river's surface. Jadoo had fun teasing Trisha by watching when she was looking to one side, then he would take his pole and splash it into the water on the other side and yell "Snake!" just to see Trisha's scared reaction!  Amazing how this worked more than once--LOL!  As we rafted down the river, we encountered a couple of men who were using nets to fish; one of these guys basically hitched a ride with us and Jadoo pulled the raft over to let him climb aboard, and at some point later he just pulled over to the side to let the guy off by a path to another village in the jungle.  Later we came upon another small village by the river and we pulled over to take on another passenger--this guy had a cooler which he strapped onto the raft and he rode with us for a while, then got off at a spot down the river.  Even though a lot of these people are from different tribes and speak somewhat different languages, they all seem to know each other and get along fine.

We arrived early afternoon at the village where we had eaten lunch the first day of the trek, and this is where we got off the raft, and had lunch.  Interestingly, we watched another man take the rafts to the opposite bank of the river, where he began to take them apart and load the poles into the bed of a pickup truck.  Manit said he would take these back to the city where they would ship them to other places to be used for various types of construction--use what you have, never let anything go to waste!  They had a little room with a curtain for the door in the house where we ate lunch for us to use to change out of our wet bathing suits.  After lunch we said our fond goodbyes to Jadoo--he had a motorbike stored there so he could ride back to his village, and our driver came with his truck/cab to take us back to Chiang Mai.  As we rode back, we passed a place that advertised elephant rides, and we saw some folks riding--but they were just riding along the road, with a handler walking along beside them, right on the road with all the vehicular traffic.  This made us doubly thankful that we had the chance to do our elephant riding in the wild!  Though we were pretty tired by the time we got back, we were just so thrilled to have had this incredible experience--truly one of the most memorable things we've ever done.  So thankful that Jeremy had found this company to take us.  If anyone ever has the chance to go to Thailand, you absolutely have to have this on your list and I highly recommend the Trekking Collective as far and away the best company to use.

Breakfast on the deck by the pool on the morning before our driver came to pick us up.
 Trisha had found a jar of peanut butter in a store, so she liked to have this on her toast in the mornings!  That's the building where our suite was in the background
Beautiful fountain in this big urn in the garden, the path leading to our building--birds would come take a drink from the fountain
 Always fresh watermelon and pineapple for breakfast, along with fresh orange juice!
 Trisha and Jeremy in the back of the truck as we were on our way
 Walking through the market at this small town where we stopped so Manit could buy provisions for our meals

 Some scenes along the way to the beginning point of our trek
 Ubiquitous rice paddies in the lower, flat lands

 Just some tiny little shops in a town along the road
 And then a pretty substantial house nearby
 Coming into the foothills of the Himalayas
 Typical structures along the mountain road
 Beautiful lush flowers and foliage!

 Passing through a small village along the road

 Oops, out of order, but this is the big house in the picture a couple shots above

 Chickens are all over!
 First sighting of some folks riding elephants
 Now we've left the paved road and this is a shot out the back of the truck, this is the road we've been on for a while

 Coming to the little village where we ate lunch and where we would begin our hike.
 Swinging footbridge across the river

 Here come the Acca tribeswomen with their wares to sell!

View across the river as we ate lunch--you can see a bamboo raft on the other side

 Some companies offer more conventional rubber raft rides
 But we were excited to have chosen the more traditional bamboo raft--this is like the one we eventually rode on.
 Oops, out of order again, Trisha negotiating with the Acca women for a bracelet!
 Few shots in the village as we were about to start out on foot.

Loved all the beautiful flowers and plants everywhere we went in Thailand!

Here we are on the trail, with Jadoo's father in the lead; that's Manit in the ball cap
Jadoo's father, Jeremy, Trisha, Manit--slight correction to the text in the post--I had forgotten that on the first afternoon we didn't carry our packs--the driver was delivering coolers of ice to Jadoo's village, so he took the packs as well, and we just carried water--good way to start out!
Trail through fields of mountain rice

Gorgeous vistas!

Now the trail led us into the jungle

Just can't believe that we're here in the foothills of the freaking Himalayas!!!

Scenes as we went in and out of the jungle

Mountain rice

Jadoo's father leading us through mountain rice crops, with the little house being a resting shelter for workers when they're out harvesting

At times it would appear foggy or misty, and as we approached this little shelter it was an eerie effect

then the clouds would shift and the sun would come back out

Looking down on some other rice fields--these more of the paddie style, rather than the mountain rice
Jadoo's father showing us some of the grains of mountain rice--really crunchy, smaller grains than the rice we're used to

Some interesting terrace farming in some places

As we were were approaching Jadoo's village--all these houses were built by Jadoo

You can see the blue PVC water pipes which bring rain water down to the village and into these concrete cisterns, which have been provided some through government funding, some through the efforts of the Trekking Collective

Here you can see one of the solar panels provided by the government--like the one on Jadoo's house which powers the neon light and the cell phone charger

Here we are in the main floor of Jadoo's house; you can see the little seats I described in the text; in the background you can see the open shelves where they stored the pots and pans and dishes and the sink on the floor level, where Jadoo's wife would squat in to wash dishes--Trisha, not surprisingly, was dealing the cards!!  You can also see these teak planks in the floor and the support vertical posts--all hand hewn by Jadoo!!
Trisha playing wild boar, with tusks and horns!!
Manit in the foreground; Jadoo in the background--you can make out the fire in the pit just in front of Jadoo, and the sink behind him
Most of the bananas we saw were much smaller than what we typically see in the States
Looking down from Jadoo's house onto a badminton "court," which consisted of just a pole stretched from the bank on the left to a tripod on the other.  These kids had a worn shuttlecock and some rackets, but also used this for volleyball; you can see the soccer/volleyball on the ground on the right.  Kids are resourceful all over the world!
Looking from the table where we were out under the rest of the house, with this giant bean pod drying--at night when we had to go to the outhouse, we walked out through this gate and worked our way under the building to the toilet
Looking out from Jadoo's house to his next door neighbor's, which he also built
Mountain rice with tofu, pineapple, carrots and beans--delicious!!

Trisha relaxing after dinner--you see the candle on the table?  Jadoo's older daughter brought it over and just dripped a few drops of was on the table to hold it, for when the power ran out on the neon light in the kitchen

Jadoo and his wife
Jadoo, with Manit on the right
Jadoo's father with his granddaughter, Jadoo's youngest.  Manit's family periodically gathers together clothes and toys to bring to Jadoo and the other villagers, and the little girl is playing with one of the toys in the second picture.

Some of the village's kids

Heading out on Day 2 of the trek, from Jadoo's village.  Here, Jadoo is leading us through some rice paddies

Bananas on the stalk!
Beautiful flowers!

Through the jungle we go!
Some interesting air plants on some vines
Trisha leaving a small item on a rock which appears to have been a place where other trekkies have left small tokens along the way

Interesting huge vine growing up and around this tree
Taking a break mid morning

Jadoo in his flipflops!

Passed this tree where they tapped it for sap to make syrup

Been so long since we were there that I have forgotten exactly what Manit told us these were, but some sort of huge seed pods, I think

These were forms of orchid plants along trees throughout the jungle and along the river

Trisha climbing this "bridge" across a deep ditch

Oops, a little out of order--this was after our break and we were getting our packs back on

I thought it would be cool to make Trisha a necklace out of interesting looking leaves--that is until Manit told us some of them would cause a powerful itch

While we had typical backpacks, Jadoo's was just a woven basket!
This is a shelter that children use when they are walking several miles to and from school.  While there are a number of small hill tribe villages throughout these mountains, they only have one school to serve all the villages, funded in large part by the fees from the Trekking Collective.  As a result, the children in Jadoo's village walk many miles at the beginning of the week to the school, stay there for the week and then walk back.  This is a place where they can rest, particularly to get some refuge during the heavy rainy season

We saw these thick vines that grew between some of the trees
Coming into the village at lunchtime on Day 2

Some local bacon on the hoof
This was where we ate lunch on the second day
 this village had TV dishes!
 Jeremy, standing on the porch where we ate, looking into the room where they did the cooking, and where he later joined the locals for their fish roasted in bamboo

Incredible plant in the house where we ate lunch
The kids' pet monkey

Our vegan pasta, onions and basil lunch!
Water buffalo roaming the village
Hog and rooster, just searching for a bit of food
Some local beef
Leaving this village, on our way to the river bank where we would get on the elephants
Some water buffalo across the river

Here, the elephants were just hanging out in the river, waiting for their handlers to call out commands to come for us to saddle up!

The handlers got up on the elephants, rode them out to deeper water where they washed down their backs before putting on the mats and bench seats

here they are, coming up to the platform where we got on

Jeremy and Manit, standing on the platform, and you can see the reed mats stacked on the bench seats
Here the handlers are placing the mats on the backs of the elephants, to receive the bench seats
Strapping on the seats

Hey, we made it across the elephant's head and neck and managed to get seated on the bench without falling off--quite an accomplishment for a couple of geezers!
Looking down on the elephant's head, from our perch atop the bench
Good view of the wooden bench on Jeremy's elephant

Selfie atop the elephant!
Jeremy and Manit following our elephant into the river
Honest, I'm not scared!!
Looking down the river

Water buffalo along the river
Local tribesman fishing with nets
You can see where the elephants walked in the river, and some places they would walk in the mudflats
You can see how the strapped our backpacks onto the back of the bench seat

 Jeremy took these of us
 Here you can see the elephant grabbing a snack of some leaves and branches

At the end of our elephant ride, climbing down from the dismounting platform--several hours riding on wooden benches left us a bit sore!!

 Nice elephant, nice elephant!!

the little village where we spent the second night
this was the dorm-like building for the trekkies
Jeremy and I after we had done our river body surfing
Hung our clothes up to dry
Trisha standing in the doorway of the "trekkies dorm"
Always chickens!
Beautifully colored rooster

Looking up at roof thatching

 This brightly colored fan hung above the door of the little village store where they sold soft drinks and trinkets

 Bananas hanging along the roof

 Gathering crickets for roasting later!
 This precious little girl was helping her father put the crickets into a plastic water bottle

Jadoo brining us the beautifully crafted bamboo cups he had made--the woman in the background is the mother of the little girl who was gathering crickets, and who cooked supper for us

 Jadoo and the villager, building our raft the next morning

 Trisha and Jeremy drinking their morning coffee from their new bamboo mugs!


  1. What a great adventure! Always wanted to ride and elephant:)

  2. Chuck, it was indeed an incredible adventure--and the elephant ride is definitely something you should have on your bucket list!