04/01/2011 – Jungle Trek Day 1
After a light breakfast, we were picked up for our Jungle trek outside the hostel by jeep around 9am. Being the first ones, we spent the next 10 minutes being driven around town to the other local hostels in search of the rest of the party. At a set of traffic lights, I noticed a building opposite midway through construction, with Bamboo used for scaffolding. I was going to take a picture as it reminded me of something from the Um Bongo fruit drink adverts but then I was instantly shamed by my ignorance. Why take a picture? Did I find it funny that poor people in the development world still had to use natural resources for construction? Although this gave way to a good discussion about what constitutes a developing country. Ben thinks the use of Microsoft WordArt on advertising literature is a good indicator of where a country sits. You see it everywhere, from adverts for mini cabs to adverts for various excursions throughout Chiang Mai. It’s almost like when you learn Word Art half way through a Design and Technology coursework project and you’re determined to use as many fonts, colours, shadow, bold and italics as possible. Hence, as soon as a country welcomes Word Art into their economy, they can begin to call themselves developing. Once the novelty wears off, they are developed.
After picking up the last few guys, we’re off. Well, we have to make a detour to a butterfly and flower orchid on the way to the jungle. Few flowers, even fewer butterflies and a whole lot of bored and anxious faces. After this, we headed to the outskirts of town and into the Jungle with the rest of our fellow travellers.
Firstly, we met Benedict, a financial consultant from Dusseldorf. A real nice guy who seemed to understand British sarcasm and wit, confirming the Germans as my new favourite race of foreigner. Especially after my trip to Berlin and Melt Festival in 2009, I find it hard to dislike Germans. I admire their way of thought, and their pragmatic approach to potentially awkward situations. Me and Benedict talked about the recent student riots, but he was even more amazed to hear about the legendary David Beckham degree that has been offered at some Universities. His sympathy for those affected by the education cuts was significantly reduced after I confirmed this. Next we had up was an Irish teacher who was perhaps in her mid/late 30’s, a seasoned traveller yet confessed her “rave days were over” when recalling a recent trip to Barcelona. She was really quite cool, kind of like one of the cast of the popular Chanel 4 show Teachers. I was quite surprised she had not seen the show. She was with Ryan, a Canadian English teacher who had drifted around the world after leaving Canada in October 1992. Then there was the 20-something English couple, who felt like they were running a modern day Pride and Prejudice type relationship; an aristocratic arranged marriage, in which the Duke of Windsor had paired his son up with the pretty daughter of a wealthy yet common land owner. The boy looked like he could have easily fitted into a Hugh Grant film playing the snobbish antagonist. Maybe he was just really good looking and rather smug about the whole thing. Unlike the rest of us, they had come from the east and were heading west and then south back to Bangkok.
Then there was Nick Bennet. I knew I had seen him or his type somewhere before. He looked like he came from a town with a DFS or Carpetright. Turns out he did, hailing all the way from West Thurrock. But there was something else. That’s it; He was the sort of bloke who would be interviewed by Sky Sports after England’s dismal performance at a World Cup or European Championship. Turned out I had it down to a tee. He had been interviewed at Table Top Mountain at last year’s World Cup after England’s humiliating performance in the group stages. I had never seen the interview nor had I ever met somebody from West Thurrock, but I just used the power of instant judgment. People who say you can’t judge a book by a cover, really need stop being so pig ignorant.
After lunch on the mountainside, we left the truck and began our trek with our friendly guide Sunny, who lived in the village we would be travelling to and spending the night. After walking through the hills and forest for about an hour we came to a quiet dirt-beaten road where me and Ben, having fallen behind, got chased by these stick wielding children. Once at a safe distance and nearer the rest of the group, I got a photo of them. There are probably more photos of them on Facebook then you or I. While taking these photos, I had to stop and think “who in the world is really going to be interested in these photos?” I wouldn’t be, if they weren’t mine. I’m much more of an action photo man to be honest, and think there are few better indicators of a man’s plastic existence when all his Facebook photos are of him with a pre-planned pose. If you’re going to get a picture of nice scenery, at least get somebody in it, preferably yourself. Otherwise, it might as well be a postcard. Keep it on the automatic setting, no good photo will ever come about from deviating way from this setting as it is designed to be the best one to suit the current shooting conditions. Also, make sure you get somebody to take it, taking it yourself with your outstretched arm is just going to end up with half your fore arm in the photo with your head in the top corner of the photo with the background out of focus. Plus it looks like you’ve got no mates. Finally, if you are getting action photos, ensure that there are no other camera’s in shot as it will look like all you did was go out to get pictures of each other. I knew you’d learn something from this tour diary.
But to be honest, it did still feel like we were the only ones trekking this mountain region. We had got left behind from our group whilst putting sun tan lotion on. Sun lotion must be the most archaic and impractical necessity still in production not to have been graced by the technological boom. It’s hard to put on (especially the shoulders), its nasty to put on (gets on your clothes and makes you feel clammy) and it’s so expensive for what it is (nearly as much as luxury aftershave). Surely, after they first landed on the moon, the next thing to do was design a pill that you swallow which protects you for a sound length of time from the burning sun. Surely, what with all this global warming, that should be on somebody’s list of things to do. I would look into inventing this myself, but I just can’t be bothered. As more little kids with sticks appeared on the horizon, we rapidly caught up with the rest of the group.
We passed a village where the locals were all playing native games. A couple looked quite fun actually. One in fact looked a lot like bowls while another involved spinning a piece of sharpened wood with a string like the ones our ancestors would have played with, while your opponents try to knock it over by throwing rocks at it. The longest running one wins. I wanted to bring some of these back with me, but know the only way to get my mates interested in this sport would be to incorporate it into some sort of drinking game. After activities, such as football or sailing, we were all quite accustomed to suggesting “yeah good laugh today, but next time we should bring a load of beers down with us”. The Anglo-Irish disease.
I noticed some of the kids had Chelsea shirts on. I didn’t want to see that. Not only as they’re Chelsea, but because of the impact it had on the sincerity of the village. I had even brought a pair of floral trousers that I picked up in Chiang Mai to fit in. Although is it supposed to be an exchange of culture? Like, I wear their clothing and they wear mine? Or should I wear my national dress so he can see the world without leaving this playing field? Should he feel obliged to wear his national dress to justify me coming here? People bang on about the best cities in the world for their “multiculturalism”, but if I travel all the way to one I want to see local lifestyle’s, not a global one.
We continued on. A Czech guy who we had been travelling with us, had constantly moaned about the lack of challenge in the trek. At every stop he would take off another piece of clothing and announce that “this is just sun bathing for me”. He was a bit of a cock and everybody knew it. By the time we got to the top of the mountain we’d began to ascent after the village visit, he was in nothing but a pair of tight fitting Speedo’s. It brought to mind the old age question: Is Britain the only country where wearing Speedos carries a stigma? But Benedict also had a smile on his face at the sight, as did the Irish teacher.
Atop the summit, flanked by endless hilltops and woodland below, we walked a bit further before descending back into the jungle, where our destination was only a few hours away. Half way through, the group got separated in two parts. As Sunny’s group kept marching on, I stayed back with some of the others who were looking after Ryan, who had a bad leg. After it was clear we might get lost, there were few paths leading in different directions now, I decided to run ahead and tell the others to wait up. I was running for quite a bit when it dawned on me that there was no way we were this far apart, and so I headed back to find another path. I took another one which looked a lot less beaten. In the dirt I could see the trainer print of a Reebok Classic. Shit! Nobody in our group was wearing Reebok Classics. In fact nobody except Geography teachers on own-clothes-day wear Reebok Classics. I wasn’t even too sure I’d even gone this way and already I was starting to panic a bit as the thought of being stranded here overnight began to set in. I had gone round in circles and had no idea which way to go. Maybe if I had listened in Geography more, and not ridiculed the teacher for his fashion choices, I might have learnt how to find my way out of this mess. I couldn’t even remember which way I had come down. Which way to go? Everything looked the same. I headed down one path and came to a stream. I began to recall shortly after setting off on my own, that I’d had crossed a bridge over a river which due to a natural dam, had a large volume of water built up on one side. So, knowing I had only crossed the stream once I headed towards where the stream was widening. Hence, where the water had built up. Somebody in the know may say my theory based on the river flow was geographically incorrect. Well the jokes on them, I’m no longer stuck in a forest!
That night at the village, we ate and got merry with a big bonfire. We helped Sunny construct it while the Irish Teacher and Ryan had a cigarette break. Looking at them, Ben noticed how much they looked liked (or how he imagined) a cameraman and producer from “that show with Charlie Boorman and the other bloke”. He of course was dead right, spot on; they really did look like Production Crew from the Long Way Down or the Long Way Round. It was as good a made up lookalike as you can get. Also, I’m sure that’s the first time I’ve heard somebody use the name of Charlie Boorman over Ewan McGregor though in reference to the show.
We were introduced to Sunny’s children who no doubt wondered why every night Dad brought home a load of his pissed up mates. Sunny then introduced us to his favourite group game called ‘Black Face’. Bit hard to explain, but basically, everybody gets a number. Everybody claps and beats their knees while somebody calls out their own number followed by another person’s number. The person whose number is called out repeats the process. This goes on until somebody forgets their number or is too late to respond, in which they lose. As a punishment they must let the last successful person smear them with black soot from the fire. They are completely out when their face can be blackened no more. So, the loser ends up with a black face? Oh the stigma of it all. They must have ruled this game out in British Primary schools sometime ago.
After putting out the fire and finishing the last of the whiskey, we all headed back to the communal wooden cabin to sleep.