Tuesday, May 18, 2004

*New and improved* Now with more live insect eating!

So I am bound for Dehli tonight, just in time to get in the middle of the new Prime Minister mess. The last few days in Thailand were spend roaming around the northern hills near Chiang Mai. After I last left you, I took a day offish. I slept in, took the bus to Chiang Mai, checked into my guesthouse, painted my toenails (what color?), took a nap, leisurely cruised a couple of wats, and when shopping. The only thing noteworthy that happened the whole day is my adventure coming from the bus station. There was no more room in the covered pickup (songthaew) into town, so I had to throw my bag onto the roof, squeeze my feet onto the running board with three others, and hold onto the luggage racks as we sped into town. It wasn’t as dangerous as it may sound (relax, Mom), but it certainly made me miss the relative safety of New York taxis. And I guess “Monk Chat” was pretty amusing. “Monk Chat” was set up at Wat Chiang Man to help monks work on their English and to let tourists have an “authentic experience.” (OK, that is freaking bizarre) You can sit at a table and talk to monks about anything you want, for as long as you want, for free. Unfortunately my monks were about 16 and couldn’t speak any English. It was painful for both of us, so I called it a day.

Then I went trekking. I signed up for a two day trek into the nearby hills. My group included 4 Americans, 2 Swedes, a Brit and a Dutchman. Our first stop was a local market. Eh. Toothless ladies selling mangos. Been there. Done that. Then it was elephant trekking time. It wasn’t really as much of a tourist-trap train wreck as it could have been, but I didn’t feel all that authentic (of course LI Girls rarely ride elephants so how authentic can it be? LOL). Luckily authenticity has nothing to do with fun, so I enjoyed myself. I was paired with Lillian (who just happens to live two blocks from my most recent haunt on the Upper West Side), and we got the little girl elephant with the teenage handler in a deathmetal tee-shirt. I named her Packy (as in pachyderm) and off we went through the jungle.

Not unlike puppies, young elephants like to be in front of the line (NO PACKY! You are two tons, you can’t squeeze us through there), and, somewhat unlike puppies, like stop to wander in the forest looking for bamboo shoots. All in all though, elephant trekking kicks camel trekking’s ass any day of the week. After the ride Lillian wanted to feed the elephant. I wasn’t really interested, but I went with her to buy the green bananas and take her picture. Well ol’ girl Packy got one whiff of those bananas and, I won’t say go so far as to say charged, but walked purposefully at Lillian, swinging her trunk in a way that some may interpret as aggressive. (The handlers were there laughing the whole time, so I don’t think we were in any real danger, but that was less apparent then.) Lillian tosses me the bananas and jumps back. Great. So here I am, holding a bag of green bananas, bobbing and weaving like a sub-par boxer as this elephant swings its trunk at me. Okay, when in doubt, give the two ton animal what it wants. I tear off a banana and give it to her. She tosses it in her mouth in one smooth motion and swings at me again with missing a beat. Eventually I fill her with enough of the bananas that she calms down and Lillian takes a turn. We take pictures and then head off to grab a plate of rice and start walking.

The walk up to the Karen ethnic village where we would spend the night was uneventful. We stopped at a waterfall for a much needed dip and continued up. On the way the guide asked us if we liked lemon candies. Well, anyone that has ever seen me in the relative vicinity of jelly beans or jolly ranchers knows that yellows are my absolute favorite. I piped up enthusiastically with this information. “Great” he says, “because red ants taste just like lemon drops.” Great? We stop at a particularly active ant hill and the guide sticks his finger in it and then sucks them into his mouth. He explains that you have to kill them quick with your teeth or they will bite your tongue. A couple of the guys had some, and there was no way I was being called chicken. What do you know! They DO taste like lemon drops!

The camp we spent the night in was a small village of 40 people near the top of the mountain. It was so peaceful. The shower was a piece of pipe sticking out of a hillside with the pressure of a fire house. And, we slept under mosquito nets in an open air thatched bamboo hut. There was no electricity, no running water, a latrine complete with palm sized wolf spider . . . it made me a little homesick for the Peace Corps. Children playing, stupid roosters with no clue when sunrise is, dogs laying in the shade . . . . The rain put a little bit of a damper on things, but it didn’t last too long.

Next morning up and at them bright and early. We hiked down the mountain through the forest. On the way down we stopped and made a new friend, a pointed natter (elaphe oxyehala) Which is what?. He was about 3 feet long and bright green. He crossed in front of us too quick to take a picture, but the guide grabbed him by the tail and brought him out for the waiting cameras. According to the website I found later that night, they may bite, but are relatively harmless. We continued down the trail, stopping at another waterfall, and for me to poke at a pill bug the size of an Egg McMuffin, and then lunch. We had street food, phad thai street food! Some countries have all the luck.

After lunch there was one more stop on our trip, bamboo rafting. It is supposedly relaxing, and for the most part it was. Lillian and I claimed the better looking of the two 20 year old Swedes to row us gondala style down the river. We had water fights with swimming children and braved very little rapids. It was cool too because the bamboo raft sat about 4-5 inches under the water because of our weight. It was all really very idyllic until Mr. Bocourts Watersnake (enhydris bocourti) decided to join us. That bugger was fast and only missed my left foot by 6 inches. (“Don’t be a hysterical woman!” “Don’t be a hysterical woman!”) The website said that it wasn’t poisonous, but highly aggressive and can inflict nasty bites. Luckily it didn’t stay long enough to do that. Just long enough to stop my heart and continue swimming to a rock.

After that it was back to town. Charlie the Alaskan Fisherman insisted we all go out for drinks that night. He bought bottle after bottle of Thai whiskey. (ooo. More on Thai Wiskey! Tastes like ether, no?) I went home early because I didn’t want to drink any more of the firewater. I don’t suggest it. Your stomach lining will thank you.

Unclear date ref. Yesterday I took a day long cooking class. It was a little expensive, but I made some kick-ass thai food, and learned how to make sticky rice, another life goal to check off. Let me know if anyone wants me to whip up some coconut cream of chicken soup or warm mushroom salad with bean sprouts when I get back.

That is pretty much it. I got the bus down to Bangkok, sitting next to a Dutch guy who was a dead ringer for Iceman from Top Gun and seemed to have a serious and frequent muscle twitch in his spine. Then did a couple takin’-care-of-business things, like getting more pages stapled in my passport and trading my Lonely Planet Southeast Asia for a Clive Cussler novel.

I am off to Delhi in a few hours. I hope all is well and I will e-mail you from India!

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