We were off by about 8:30 having thanked our hosts and gleefully lauched ourselves down the path. We threaded through bamboo and grass jungles so thick and close you could hardly believe that the trail managed to exist one day to the next. I could ramble on and on about what hiking in a jungle is really like, but I don’t know that it would be that easy to understand or believe. You’re not aware of the bugs until you’re aware that you forgot to use your bug repelant and you’re bleeding from your bites. You’re not aware of animal calls — and in fact we never saw anything alive. We were too loud ourselves I think. All you think about is keeping your footing in the grass, not getting tangled up. Getting an anchor for your walking stick so you can haul yourself up another foot. It’s beautiful, but you’re not looking. That’s what Thailand was like. Constant beauty you could never quite stop your balancing act to appreciate. And if you had stopped, maybe it would have been less beautiful. The whirl was part of its charm.
So we climbed for a couple of hours and eventually came upon a dramatic waterfall that felt personal and private and earned in some way emerging out of the jungle creating its own mist. The waterfall we had visited the day before was trivial. Anyone could get to it and its beauty was the beauty of a received image. Someone in a government office had said “go here. admire this” to the foreign tourists and in droves they had. The waterfall we found that day was incidental and discovered. It’s not that our guides didn’t lead us there. It’s not that we weren’t supposed to come see it. It’s just that we had paid a price to see it that made it worth something. We hadn’t known it was coming, but there it was.
So we arrived at the second village around lunchtime and went exploring. This was a much larger place. Maybe 50 or 60 families, but still the same bamboo huts with leaf and straw roofing. We were less shy and so were the locals. They saw more tourists. In this village, Oii fed the children when we ate and it emerged that although the other village was smaller and more remote it was healthier. It needed her less. In the larger village opium abuse was more of a problem. Opium in the villages used to be the vice of the old. When you could do nothing else, you could at least drug away the pain of dying. Unfortunately, some tourists actually come on adventure travel trips specifically in order to smoke opium once as part of the trip. The kids see rich tourists smoke and emulate it. In a world where a boy and girl are adults and marry at fifteen you can imagine what happens. They’re young and curious. They live every day with what the tourists do once and then leave. Instant opium addition. One parent, usually the wife doing all the work and caring for the children while the other gets high all day. A mess. Oii has been working hard at feeding these kids and impressing upon them the fact that her tourists do not come for the opium. Hopefully her work will show results. Apparently the kids are better fed than they used to be so at least that’s something. We took pictures. We went swimming. We took some more pictures. I pounded rice. Reed and I watched some kids playing a game that looked like volleyball only you play it with your feet. We stopped into the school just as it was breaking up for the day and watched the kids streaming past us as they ran home.
And it was evening and it was morning. And then it was the third day.