Sunday 7 February 2010

The trek – day three

Little did we know when we tended to our mosquito bites and scratches the next morning that we’d be starring in our own episode of Peak Practice. Our first aid kit, the smallest we could find, could have had blue and red flashing lights for the attention it attracted. Alex dealt with the first, a tiny little boy with a mean looking cut on his toe who watched with mild curiosity and without flinching as Alex dressed his wound. Next, a lady showed me an enormous bruise on her leg onto which I massaged a healthy dose of tiger balm-like ointment that we’d picked up in Krabi, so strong it coated your throat if you smelt it. When I looked up, a queue had formed. One tub of ointment and nearly all the contents of our first aid kit later and it was time to make our way again. The whole village waved us off.

Whoever designed our walk decided to let us take it a bit easier on our last day. There was some obligatory up and down stuff, but mostly the narrow path teetered almost horizontally along the side of the hills, our feet occasionally slipping off the side to keep our concentration up. We’d been able to see rain clouds throughout the trek, usually below us, but now Sao thought they might be scheming against us. “I think we should take a short cut,” he said giving the clouds a sideways glance. The shortcut took us off the path and through a rice paddy that covered an entire stretch of hill with a view for miles of the surrounding hills covered in a patchwork of fields, disappearing behind us in a grey fog of the approaching rain. We walked with the extra excitement of being chased.

Finally, we arrived at another Akha hill tribe where the swing celebration marking the end of the weeding of the rice was in full… swing. Built with three large branches lashed together at the top, the swing seat hung down some twenty feet. Villagers took it in turns and were pushed by others to reach full momentum in what would have been for me a terrifying oscillation, but these guys weren’t nearly as wussy as I am and yelled with excitement. We’d have watched all evening, but our truck was waiting to take us back to Muang Sing. It was a fitting and very lucky end to the trek.

It was the best trek I’ve ever done. The scenery was beautiful, the food was outstanding and we were treated like guest of honours at the hill tribe village. It was the kind of hill tribe trek that any potential hill tribe trekker would want. Though if the route becomes more popular and the hill tribe becomes more regularly visited, it’s hard to see that it could remain as special an experience as it was for us and, hopefully, for them. Which, ultimately I guess, is the nature of hill tribe trekking in particular and tourism in general.

When we arrived back in Muang Sing, it didn't go unnoticed. The girls in the small bamboo shop were waiting for us. They hadn't forgotten my promise to see them wan jan (Monday). "You remember!" they said as they saw me. "Of course I remember," I replied. "How could I forget?" They laughed and looked me up and down before suggesting, "You go take shower first?"

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