05/01/2011 – Jungle Trek Day 2
After breakfast and the obligatory group photo with the locals, we started off on our hike to the Elephant reserve some 4-5 miles away on the other side of the mountain. It was a long old hike up through the hills, and the intensity was different from the last day. Hardly anybody spoke, we were far too concentrated on getting to the top and over to our destination, the Elephant Reserve. After a while we had all unwittingly synchronized our walking steps. We were all now walking as one. I used to have a theory as to why older couples begin to look like each other. When they’ve been together that long, they have laughed together, they have cried together and felt the strain together on so many occasions throughout life that their faces go through the same strains of emotion and begin to age in the same way as a direct result. The parents of Milhouse from The Simpsons are living proof of this.
The dogs from the village had been following us for a good couple of miles, flanking us on each side making us feel like Roman soldiers on the look out for the enemy, using Man’s best friend to detect their presence. At least everybody in the group had to stop once on the way up. Me and Ben who were at the back to begin with, were at the front by the time we reached the elephants.
“I suppose its like Mario Kart. When you’re last in the race you get all the luck such as lightening, triple red shells and consequently you normally end up winning” Ben reasoned. And it was exactly like that.
It’s this understanding of each other’s observations which served as the first sign of the level of fun we’re going to have travelling together for the next 6 weeks. This kind of mutual understanding and perception of the world has taken many years to tune. Now, I didn’t know Ben prior to University, we grew up in parallel worlds, me in North-West of London, him the North-East, but nonetheless we had developed a remarkably similar outlook on life. Well apart from the possibility that we perhaps met at a Merlin Premier League sticker swapshop and traded observations and social commentary, I don’t think we had any interaction in youth. Although, in the first semester of University, Ben revealed a copy of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace that he bought off the eBay the summer before. It was roundabout the time that my school friend Tom was building his piracy empire, with Darkplace being his biggest export, to fund our post A-level holiday and keep him in a summer of BBQ’s and beer gardens. There was a very good chance that Ben had been one of his customers. I do take great pride in reminding the pair of them, two big fans of the show, that it was this black market that they both created, the buyer and the seller, which perhaps denied a second series from being commissioned, as their love of the show was not accounted for, either in sales of box sets or the viewing of the original public airing.
We both went to school with the boy who boasted of having 10 computers and can remember being born. The old lady who waltzes with the 5-year old girl at a wedding. The bloke in the pub who starts a sentence with “I’m not being racist, but….” The soft touch Scout Leader with “I know boys will be boys”. The boy who wore Astroturf trainers to the disco and the girl who danced the Tutti Frutti. I think these people, I’m sure you’ve all met them at some stage in your life, have given me and Ben free reign to accurately stereotype who and whenever we like.
“Also, an example of reading from the same hymn sheet could be how we both independently incorporated ‘Jonathan’ into our parlance as a humorous name to supplant other words, and as a haphazard colloquialism to drop in various situations i.e “I am the Jonathan of the night”. We both came to University separately with this in our lexicon.
It’s convergent evolution: like how the octopus and humans, two animals with very different ancestral lineages, conditioned by similar stimuli, have independently developed a remarkably similar eye.”
As well as the Mario Kart reference, and his joint prediction that Nick Bennet came from a town centralised around a large retail park, we were both on song when discussing the whereabouts of all the Slush Puppy machines that used to occupy the canteen area of Leisure Centres across Britain. We both had sneaky feeling they’d probably ended up around here in this pocket of the world.
After more hiking, we finally came to a road and crossed it to get to the elephants. The Aristocratic Couple were the first to get on their elephant. I’d decided the boyfriend, the baddie from a Hugh Grant film, was pretty sound after chatting to him last night around the campfire. After all, how could he be a Hugh Grant baddie? If he had been, the elephant would have surely detected this and threw him off into the mud or at least hosed him down with dirty water. They always do to the bad guys.
Me and Ben boarded ours, who took us through his well beaten path into more jungle. Their clear lack of enthusiasm prompted Ben to remark “The elephants remind me more of a 16-year old working at Cineworld on a Saturday morning than an exotic animal in his natural habitat”. We got bored of the whole experience unsurprisingly quickly and began our usual discussions. We had been a bit miffed at the absence of Bainos on this trip so far. Bainos? You’re confused, so let me explain.
A Baino is the name me and Ben give to a type of character, aged 18-28, normally from the Home Counties though probably moved to one of London’s trendier areas post graduation, talks of the latest internet funny clips (at time of writing it was the chain smoking Indonesian toddler on Youtube), banal drinking achievements (“I downed 7 Jagerbombs, and about 6 pints of Snakebite”), the latest techno sensations (Deadmau5 or Kissy Sell Out were “AAAAMMMMAAAAZZZIIING last night”) yet still loves the classic (“Radiohead’s OK Computer is a flawless album”), overuses the word ‘legend’ and ‘literally’, has minor high-brow connections (“my mates Mum writes for The Observer”), gets tingles down his spine when walking across a crowded park with a crate of beers under one arm and a rugby ball under the other, probably played for his school team. They don’t possess the same vulgarity as the obvious pub lout and are slightly more sophisticated and cultured than the average spokesman for Booze Britain (“would love to go to Sri Lanka”) but nonetheless is still partial to the odd traffic cone theft on the way home from a night out. As usual, Ben’s sums it up in one condensed sentence; “somebody who systematically and mercilessly fulfils all of the target consumer stereotypes identified by the Nuts and Zoo magazine’s marketing team”. But than again, as Ricky Gervais said about David Brent; everybody knows one, and if you don’t, it’s probably you.
After lunch, we took a bamboo boat downstream. Nothing massively happened, we just did. Ben got on the first raft, I on the second with Benedict. It’s amazing to think how far the German’s have come in my list of favourite countrymen, even swapping places with Australia who were once my favourite but have now dropped to the bottom of my Top 10 list. Something I would have thought impossible back at the height of the anti-German days of Euro ’96 right through to Germany 1 -5 England. It’s even mildly surprising how far the Spaniards have come over the years, although I think it has a lot to do with the sportsmanship of Rafa Nadal and the strong unity of the national football team who were victorious at the last European Championships and World Cup. I’m sorry to say, but as for Australians, I’m not so sure. So far, in this small amount of time I’ve been in Asia, the only ones I’ve come across have been the mindless morons (known in Oz as ‘Bogans’) in their Chang Beer vests (known in Oz as ‘singlets’) forcing their loud anti-social drinking games on everybody else. Of course, the trip is still young and they have plenty of time for a comeback. And of course, I’m quite partial to a loud antisocial drinking game….
Then onto the white water rafting and me and Ben reunited to join two girls from Warrington to form a four-man boat (5 if you include the guide). They were the typical brace of girls you’d get on that reality Chanel 4 show Coach Trip, with their ‘game plans’ and Northern accents, but they were quite a good laugh to be honest. There was also a group of English school kids (school trip to Thailand = minted parents) who thought it was funny to splash us with their paddles, but soon realised this was not the case after Ben’s polite order to “fuck off you little dickheads”. To be fair to him, he didn’t know they spoke English as they were wearing big chunky safety helmets and also the water was unbelievably cold and not something you want splashed in your face when trying to guide your way through an assault course of sharp rocks at life threatening speeds.
We got back in the truck, which I’m sure has heard its fair share of over exaggerated rafting stories over the years, just like a coach driver who takes parties to and from a paintball centre. Before heading back, we dropped the moaning Czech guy off at a roadside so he could engage in a tougher trek. For an additional fee, he could travel with some of the village people back to Chiang Mai on foot. Basically they just charged him to help bring some documents they needed dropping off at the local Land Commission.
“So everybody, during the past couple of days, what moments would you say brought out your Karl Pilkington and which moments brought out your David Attenborough?” Ben asked the rest of the truck.
For me, my Pilkington moment came at the orchid farm – what was the bloody point! As for Attenborough, I would say playing the game ‘Black Face’. That was really getting into the native spirit, even if the punishment of having your face covered in charcoal was substituted to downing a shot of whiskey once Sunny had gone off to bed.
Got back to the Little Bird to find it over run with pissed up 19 year old Australians doing some drinking game that involves lots of shouting and swearing. This scene is the basis for the above reasons why they slipped down to the bottom of my Top 10. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good drinking game and know that it’s this sort of behaviour that gives a place the legendary status that I certainly will be looking for over the next four months. It’s probably just me being a bit grouchy having completed a trip to the other side of the world and a mountainous jungle trek within only a few days. I contemplate joining them, but they are too far gone and besides, as social as I am, when I haven’t had a drink, I feel like I’m one notch more sober than the average sober person. But for now, best ways be bed ways. Ben manages to knock off but I have trouble sleeping. It’s about 6.30pm and we were going to meet Nick and Benedict in town later for a few beers. I get up to head into town, as I’m aware the West Ham v Newcastle game should be on.
I find myself in some hideout run by some friendly English guys and my name is quickly added to the pool table. I’m accosted by a girl who can’t be any older than I was when I first smuggled my first alcoholic beverage up to my room for a cheeky drink. She’s working and it appears she’s my host for the night. A couple of games of pool later, I’m sure they’re letting me win, I down my whiskey and head out. I just fancy a few quiet drinks and head to another bar, hoping to bump into Nick or Benedict. It’s the same in every one; walk in, warm welcome, shown where to sit, girl comes over and sits with you. A group of English lads from Wolverhampton are getting quite the treatment so I give it a go myself, trying to persist with all the small talk coming from my little cute Thai Lady. I don’t like to reveal to much about what goes on here due to fear of breaking some sort of code or lifting the lid on what your husband really gets up to when he comes here, but I do consider myself somewhere between the Honeymooners and Sex Tourists and so like to think of myself as the middle man. Problem is, I can’t even maintain a conversation with a prostitute and how fucking bad is that for one man’s self esteem. I tell myself it’s just dislike for small talk and make an escape to the toilet where I find a spider the size of my hand. There is no way, I’ll ever enjoy this sort of thing and right there and then my curiosity goes out the window (along with my used toilet roll that your not allowed to flush down the loo) and shamelessly sneak outside just in time to see some bloke pick up one of the obvious Lady Boys on his scooter, who had offered me a blowjob earlier on in night.
Better go and find Ben. The hostel is near empty and Ben is nowhere to be seen.