One of the highlights of my entire trip happened in the Mae Hong Son area, which is in northwest Thailand near the Burmese border. Here I decided to go on a 3 day, 2 night trek into the jungle. My guide was named Pordee, and he offered me a cheap deal if I wanted to add on to the group he had going out the next day. I thought, “Sure, why not? I want adventure, don’t I?”
The group consisted of 6 young French people, one young American guy, Pordee and me. We walked into the forest along a path by the river for a while. After about an hour, during which time I was thinking, “oh, this is great, no problem, very nice hiking,” Pardee turns to us and says, “now uphill. Two hours. Then 3 more hours.” And hike we did uphill, sometimes straight up, stopping infrequently for water or lunch. He knew the landscape, which was fortunate, because sometimes I could discern a trail, sometimes not. By late afternoon, hot, sticky and tired, we reached the first village.
This village is now just three bamboo huts in a clearing. It used to be a proper village, Pordee explained, but now everyone had left for the city except three elders, who offered us their hospitality. Being the elder myself in the group, I got my own small room to sleep in. Since there was no mattress, just an ancient and decrepit camping mat, I folded up some blankets underneath me and whipped out my brand new silk sheet and tiny down pillow. Wow, was I prepared! The girl scout in me claimed her badge once again.
The bamboo houses here are built well above ground on stilts. The space under the homes is reserved for the animals. In this tiny hamlet, the people were rich with animals. They had a rooster (of course), chickens and chicks, a couple of cats, 3 dogs with 2 nursing puppies, (one of which I doubt very much would survive a week , poor thing), several squealing pigs and plenty of water buffalo. None of the animals were tied up and they all wandered about freely, except the water buffalo, which were scooted out by the old woman at 5 pm. They leave at night to find food in the forest and come back in the morning. I wasn’t surprised to be awakened by the rooster at 4 am, but the pigs did give me a jolt at about 3 am when they joyfully snoggered their way under the house, right below my room. I wasn’t sure if they were going to enter my space and stampede with their sharp and tiny hoofs all over me, or what. Though untrammeled, I was definitely very awake most of the night.
These mountain people farm rice and speak the Keren language. They were very kind, vibrant and grounded. I learned a lot staying with them (& their pigs, chickens, water buffalo, dogs and cats). They live close to the Earth, in the indigenous way. Their lifestyle is about as far from what I was born into (suburban NJ, USA) as could be. Our common language is one of smiles!