Saturday, January 30, 2010

12,277 Miles Traveled

Jan 30, 2010
Overcast, hot, humid

Two days in a row I have been woken up before dawn by flashing lights. At four this morning, Denny flashed the lights on and off in our dorm-style room, and we stumbled out of bed and pulled on some clothing. Two trucks came at 4:30, and we scrunched onto benches in the back. As the cold night air blew across our faces, we raced over unpaved roads at around 50mph for two hours. We finally got to the peak, and ate some fried rice with eggs for breakfast, and got back in the bumpy trucks for about half an hour.
This was the beginning of our jungle adventure. Our guide met us at the trail head, dressed in camo complete with a bird pattern. We began our trek completely downhill , and immediately heard the gibbons singing. Not half a mile down the hill, a pair of gibbons swung through the trees, right above the trail. Unfortunately, this was the only time we saw them – but for the rest of the hike, we could hear them singing in the distance. There were also huge areas of trampled palms, complete with the ultimate elephant track: gigantic piles of poop. I was surprised we didn’t see more beetles. Most of the bugs we saw were vicious biting ants and flies that left huge burning lumps all over my legs and arms. There was also a fabulous collection of butterflies. The kinds that I saw most often were a black and green butterfly, about 2.5 inches long, and similarly sized black and blue butterfly. There were also tons of moths that landed all over me, with brown outer wings, but brilliant purple inner wings.

We walked through the jungle until we got to a stream. Our guide sloshed through the water in his boots and socks, and the rest of us stood on the bank, wondering what to do. We began by hopping on rocks to the other side; my awesome expedition hat fell in the water twice. By the time we all had crossed, the guide and a few of our group had gone ahead and we were in the middle of the jungle with no idea where to go. Luckily, we followed the most obvious trail and found the guide bushwhacking his way through the thick vegetation. About 10 meters in, he gave up and led us back to the river, and trudged down the knee-deep water. We kicked off our shoes and trudged along too.

After about 30 minutes of walking in the creek, we came to the waterfalls that we had seen earlier in the trip from a distance. This is where we sat down to have our lunch, along with a few picnicking Thai families. It was relaxing and idyllic; big brown trout swam up to the bank, expecting to be fed. The trees were thick around the edges of the stream and the waterfall pool. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Nate runs into the water in only his underwear, shortly followed by John. They scrambled up the edge of the rocks and began jumping off into the shallow pool. Unable to resist, Denny joined them (probably just to get closer to the fish). Brenna and I exchanged a look and stripped off our clothes and got in too. By this time, the Thais were completely amused/scandalized. Our guide gave me the strangest look as I pulled off my shorts and ran into the water. It was icy-cold, but felt so refreshing after a long sweaty walk. I crawled up onto the rocks and stood under the falls for a few moments. A Thai teenager immediately grabbed his camera and took a few pictures of me standing in my underwear. Feeling very immodest, I counted to three, and took the leap too. A few more people joined us in the scrumptiously cold water.

We began to get a little too cold, so we got out and pulled our wet clothes on. Our hike was halfway over, and what comes down must go up, so we went up the huge slope. We saw significantly less wildlife on the way up than the way down, just because the hike was so strenuous that it was necessary to constantly focus on the group to keep from tripping on a vine and falling. It seemed that there were never more people on the trail than when I desperately had to pee. Every time I thought I found an appropriate location, more people came traipsing up and often stopped to see if I was looking at something cool just off the trail. Between groups, I once again counted to three, and just sucked it up and squatted.
The journey continued and we walked up a final intense hill and arrived back in trucks. We got back in, but had to wait an hour and a half up at the visitor center. The road goes one direction, and it switched over every two ish hours. Finally, we got back into the trucks, and when the wind wasn’t so cold the drive seemed a lot faster. Our driver was a bit crazy, and every time we came upon another car, he would honk and zoom past. About 3 miles from our dorm, we saw a group of monkeys playing along the roadside. The monkeys were about two feet tall, and mostly gray with pink throats. I think that seeing primates in the wild is one of the coolest parts of the trip.
We got back to our dorm, ate dinner (with some delicious papaya), and now are just relaxing and working on homework. The whole hike was twelve kilometers, but with the huge hills, it seemed like a lot longer. We go back to Bangkok tomorrow, then leave for India the next day.

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