Hiking in the rain Part 1
I’ll be honest, being from Scotland, I pride myself on my ability to brave the wind and rain, mostly, without complaint (okay maybe that’s a lie); and the prospect of hiking in Thailand during rainy season was not something that phased me. However, it would only take my first ever elephant hike to wholly change this perception and to alter my opinion of hikes for the rest of my trip. Don’t get me wrong, I am having the most incredible time with the GVI Chiang Mai project, and hiking through the forests around Huay Pakoot for the first time was an experience that I will truly never forget; but this does not take away from the fact that I have never been as wet in my life as I was on this day. Leaving aside the physical struggle involved in the hike, of which there was much (maybe I should have gone to the gym more before I left?), this hike marked the first day that Thailand decided to show us what the true meaning of monsoon was.
As the small group of us scaled the dry rice field at the bottom of the village and the steep hill which follows it in search of the Thong Dee herd, it’s safe to say that we were hot, sweaty and pretty much begging for rain. This was our first mistake. Swiftly following our comments of “Gee, it really would be refreshing if it rained” (okay so maybe there was a touch of profanity in there, but that hill really is steep), a soft drizzle started, which was absolutely perfect. However, within five minutes of the beginning of the light rain things had really started to pick up. Terrain underfoot was starting to get loose and slippy, there was a waterfall running down my nose, which by the way is upturned at the perfect angle to encourage the rain to literally run off the end in a heavy stream, and I was regretting ever uttering the word ‘rain’. The mahouts on our hike: Old Chief, Patti Syee, Lookay and Gallipay, all looked to be as displeased as we were with the sudden and rapidly progressing change in the weather and as we came to a plateau at the bottom of the hill it looked like luck might just be on our side; for the first and only time during the entire hike. Old Chief ushered us up into the mouth of an incredible cave and, much to our relief, told us that the rest of the Mahouts would go and get the elephants and bring them down towards the cave.
Relieved, the 6 of us settled ourselves down on some large rocks and make-shift wooden benches, peeled our sodding wet rain coats from our saturated t-shirts and skin, and set about exploring. Sitting in the entrance to the cave is an incredible, intricately decorated statue of Buddha, which is surrounded by incense sticks and many offerings which have been left by the villagers. Due to the spiritual nature of the cave, we were not allowed to explore deeper into the cave without the accompaniment of a villager; luckily for us Old Chief (the nicest man in the entire world) was more than willing to take us into the depths of the cave in search of bats. Donning our torches we made our way back into the cave. It was staggering just how quickly we were plunged into complete darkness, our little head torches seeming to become incredibly insignificant. With Old Chief heading up our group, we progressed deeper into the caves, now I’m clumsy at the best of times, seriously I’m practically as useless as a new born giraffe so in the dark this was amplified, the only advantage being that nobody could see my limbs flailing around in the darkness. It was honestly incredible having the bats flying over our heads, it made me think about how different the world could be from what we experience day to day. I felt like I was a privileged visitor in the bats’ little world, so foreign to our own. Old Chief stopped us in a cavern where the cave opened up and told us to turn off our lights…without the aid of our very piddly wee head torches the darkness was absolutely complete. We could no longer see the quick flashes of the bats past our heads, we could only listen as their paper thin wings zig zagged above us…and silently hope that they didn’t poo on us; contrary to the myth about bird poo, I don’t think bat poo is lucky.
Turning our lights back on, which were practically as bright as the sun after their absence, we moved further again to see a broken wooden ladder. The ladder leads up to an adjoining tributary cave which, when followed, eventually leads out to the other side of the hill, although apparently it does get very small…maybe not one for all the claustrophobics. As we made our way back out of the cave, grabbing the broken ladder to use as fire wood (the almighty downpour had ruined any potentially dry firewood to be found in the forest around the cave), I was leading the group. Now ordinarily I have a great sense of direction (laugh all you want about women and directions, I’m more reliable than google maps) however, it is very difficult to explain the impossibly confusing network of tunnels which formed the inside of the cave, and inevitably I started to choose the wrong one; not to worry though as Old Chief soon noticed and set us on the correct path. Clambering back into the mouth of the cave, firewood in hand, we were all starting to feel the chill from our now soaking clothes. Soon the fire had really begun to grow, and perched back down on the wet wood and rocks, I looked around at my surroundings. I don’t think I could really have asked for a better first hike. I looked at the people around me, the mahouts whom I already trusted immensely, people who had been complete strangers not two weeks before who I now considered close friends. Despite the rain, there was really no other place in the world I could have hoped to be.
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