With our main backpacks safely stored at Rama, we set off with our small packs (praying that we hadn't forgotten anything essential to help us survive our jungle experience) & took a 2 hour bus ride to an elephant trekking trail. Carly had come down with food poisoning the night before & had to stay back at Rama - so I got an elephant to myself. This was all fine & good until, my guide also decided to hop off & leave me to it! After I overcame my nerves & got used to the elephant stopping every 2 seconds for me to place bananas or sugar cane in it's enormous trunk, I started to quite enjoy the experience. Especially as one of the babies came along for the walk & amused us all highly by taking a bath in a huge puddle of mud & blocking our path by refusing to move.
After the elephant walk, we drove about 10 minutes further to the base of our hill trek. We were fed energy food of noodles & bananas & met our trek guide & water porters. We then jauntily set-off for our first 4.5hr walk. Optimistic isn't the word! After the first 20 minutes, we all congregated, huffing/puffing, red in the face & dripping with sweat, at the bottom of what appeared to be a completely vertical hill, where 'Bob' our guide cheerfully announced "NOW we begin uphill"! Despite turning round to Lin in horror at one point and declaring "This is actually going to finish me off", I did miraculously survive day 1 which we'd already been warned was the hardest of them all & although I was slightly slower than the rest (always bringing up the rear with Sila & 'Banana Man' - one of the water porters), I felt a huge sense of achievement when we arrived at the bamboo rice hut that was our 'hotel' for the night. This feeling soon turned into a sinking sense of dread, when I checked out the 'bathroom' facilities - our bath was in fact a stream that looked inviting but filled me with horrible images of leeches covering every inch of my body the second I set foot in it & our toilet was of course a dirty hole in the ground of a flooded little hut with cobwebs in every corner, that had to be flushed manually by pouring a bucket of water down it! We had been warned what to expect, but there's something quite different about the mental image of these things & the sod's law reality of turning up & then instantly needing to go for a pee, the second you see how gross the 'nature' facilities really are!
Once we'd washed (leech free I'm pleased to say) & layered up into our warm pj's & fleeces, we were served a most delicious dinner of vegetable sweet & sour, tofu thai green curry & steamed rice, that had been lovingly cooked by Bob using local veggies in what appeared to be a big cauldron over a fire. After dinner, Bob invited us into his hut to discuss the agenda for Day 2 & to share his magic tricks & anecdotes, which turned increasingly bizarre the more 'Moonshine' he consumed. It transpired that 'Moonshine' was sake wine that they mixed with berry Fanta, but to me, it still tasted like Absinthe mixed with lighter fluid! Sleep did not come easily that light, lying freezing cold on the rock hard bamboo floor & mentally torturing myself with 'do not need a pee' on a loop in my head, which of course made me need to practically every hour!
We were woken at 0700 for toast, boiled eggs & coffee (thank god)! We set off at 0800 before the sun got too hot & although the Day 2 walk was much shorter (only 2.5hrs) it still involved a lot of uphill. The disappointing thing about these treks is that you spend the whole time walking with your head down, praying that you can make it to the top, rather than enjoying the beauty of the jungle. We arrived in the 'Karen Tribe' village of Khun Puai around lunchtime where we had some noodle soup & then enjoyed another stream bath.
That afternoon we were taken a bit further up into the village to see where the tribe families lived. I was quite surprised to see a number of very young children home alone while their parents were out harvesting the rice but it was explained to me that they were home because it was a saturday & they only get sent away to school from sunday eve-friday. That evening, we were joined by the children of the village, of all ages, who formed an orderly queue & waited patiently for us to serve them their dinner. After we'd had our dinner (curried potatoes, chilli tofu with cashew nuts etc - again more delicious food than I've even eaten in restaurants) the children gathered to introduce themselves & entertain us by singing Thai songs. We of course had to reciprocate & the best we could come up with was 10 Green Bottles & Baa Baa Black Sheep - needless to say, they didn't look overly impressed! So we wracked our brains harder & came up with the genius idea of Heads, Shoulders, Knees & Toes so they could mirror the actions. Feeling very pleased with ourselves, we burst into song, only to discover that they already bloody knew it, in English, actions & all!!! Before heading off to bed, the children patiently gathered once more to collect the gifts that we had all brought for them (notebooks, crayons, toothbrushes etc) & we all got lumps in our throats when we saw how taken they were with the little 'I Heart Australia' clip-on koalas that Brendan had brought from home for the children in Peru & had been carrying round in his backpack for the last 6 months! Headed to bed exhausted but content, a feeling that unfortunately didn't stay with me throughout my second nights broken sleep!
Without wanting to sound ungrateful, I can't tell you how relieved I was when a rooster woke us up at about 0600 on day 3, knowing that I was mere hours away from a proper shower & a toilet with a seat! With that false sense of security, we set-off for our final 2.5 hour walk which was mainly downhill. However, about thirty minutes into it, I was on the verge of tears. It turns out that a combination of no sleep for 2 nights, intense muscle pain & bleeding toes from the pressure of holding your footing, so that you don't tumble freefall down the steep hills was nearly enough to tip me over the edge! Day 3- despite being the shortest, was by far the most difficult & I wasn't the only one who suffered that day.
However, we all survived & as a reward to ourselves, we decided to go bamboo rafting, which was one of the most fun things I've done yet & exactly what we needed to wake us up & put some life back into our drained selves. Shared a raft with Lin, Jill & Nat & we all screamed with laughter as we coasted along the rushing stream & clung on for dear life while our guide tried to capsize us (which he failed to do, so Lee & Brendan did it for him.)
Back at Rama in Chang Mai, had the most enjoyable warm shower I've ever had in my life & after some food & a little kip, we all headed to an Irish pub near the hotel & got nicely pissed to celebrate surviving our jungle experience & being back in civilization! I also met a very nice Australian guy called Mick who I'll hopefully be catching up with down South.