AbigailSingleton's Travel Journals

AbigailSingleton

 
What do you want to do the next time you travel abroad?

learn a language, volunteer in a needy community, experience a new culture through volunteering, go sightseeing, meet new people, gain professional experience, change the world [somehow], adventure travel

  • 24 years old
  • From Massachusetts, United States
  • Currently in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Thailand

I will be leaving for Thailand on July 4, returning August 20th, for an internship at a rural district hospital in Om Koi, 3 hours outside Chiang Mai.

Mountain Trek

Thailand Chiang Mai, Thailand  |  Aug 15, 2012
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The trek started on Monday, August 6th. Before setting off, there was a sendoff at one of the buildings at the hospital. There were some speeches, including one from Dr. Lek, though my Thai is still not very good, so I don't really know what was said. Anyways, we piled into the trucks, and drove 2-3 hours to a village. As I've come to expect when driving in the mountains, we nearly got stuck multiple times, but these drivers know what they're doing, so we got there eventually. When we got to the village, a number of the "strong men" carrying all our heavy bags were actually quite old. But they managed fine, if not better than us, though I suppose they're used to it. It took me a little while to get used to the idea of old men carrying our things, but I guess it's a cultural difference. I decided to carry all my own things, except for a bag containing my bottles of water.

The trekking itself was difficult. there were steep hills, both up and down hill, and it started raining early on. Plus there was the mud and rivers. I knew that it would be raining, and my hiking boots can handle a fair amount of water. What I did not know was that we would be crossing ankle-deep (and higher) rivers with no bridge. Though that was easy compared to walking upstream in the rivers/streams. You see, from time to time, the path would disappear, or at least seem to disappear. Turns out the river itself was the path. So hiking boots were not by best choice in foot ware and were soon quite soaked...I could feel the water sloshing around. On the plus side, the scenary is breath taking! We saw 2 waterfalls, side-by-side, the rivers are beautiful, and the vast expanse of nature here is enough to make anyone feel small.After about 4-5 hours of hiking, we arrived at the village, where we spent the night in the school after having dinner in one of the villager's houses.

The next day, we set up a clinic in the school after breakfast. The place was packed with villagers: children getting vaccines, people getting checked by Dr. Lek, people getting medicine fro out make-shift pharmacy... The whole thing was awesome to watch. Unfortunately, the little Thai I've learned did not help because most of them speak Karen, not Thai. The plan for the trek has changed; due to the fact that we can't cross one of the rivers (it's chest high), the trek will only be 4 days long. So today we're going to a village on a moutain. We left around 10ish, and stoppef or lunch at a village with just 5 houses/families (we went the wrong way about 3 times to get there...). To try to keep my feet dry, I had wrapped my socks in plastic before putting on my boots. Well, it worked for a little while...sorta...but was abandoned at lunch.

After lunch, we made of the mountain. Now, I am not entirely inexperienced when it comes to climbing mountains and trekking. Well, this was the hardest mountain I have climbed yet. It would have been steep if it was stairs, plus it was mostly a straight path up the mountain, no winding around the sides. most of the time, it was on soft, slippery mud. I slipped (and fell) more than my fair share of times. The path was a lot of the moutain was little more than plants that were slightly more flattened, or there was no path, per se, but rather a pick-your-own-way up. I was exhauted when we reached the top, which took a while. Fromt there, we started to go down, then level, then up again. We were on a steadily rising ridge, though you couldn't see more than the first couple rows of trees on either side because it fell sharply down, and there was a thick layer of clouds/fog. It was like being on an island surrounded by fog rather than a mountain. You could not see how high up the trees ahead were because of the fog, so it was impossible to tell how much higher the moutain was nor how high we were. I kept thinking it didn't go any higher or this was the last  hill - but was always wrong.

Around 4 or 5:00, we got there. That means it was a 6-7 hours hike, and our only break was lunch. Once at the village, we bathed in the river, which was fairly fun. Unfrotunately, I was covered in various injuries. There were cuts and blisters on my hands from trying to catch plants and branches to keep from falling, abrasions on my legs and hips from soaking wet pants, and blisters on my feet. The second day was definitely the most challenging. I was exhauted, and was in bed by 7. Intresting fact about this remote village on a moutain, there's a church. Apparently about half the village is Christian.

The next day, Wednesday, (Day 3), we set up the clinic after breakfast, just the same as the day before. It seems like half the villagers are kids. Although the number of kids might be due to the fact that karen people get married and start having kids in their teens, and still have kids in their 40s. Because we were still in the village a bit after 10, we had an early lunch before setting out.

Thankfully (especially after yesterday), today was mostly downhill, with the occasional uphill bit. It wasn't raining at first andt he path was the most defined one we've had yet, so i could actually enjoy the scenary. Although it is the rainy season, so of course it had to start raining again soon. We crossed more rivers, so I utterly gave up on keeping my feet dry. Changing into dry socks wouldn't help either because my boots are soaked, plus we cross a river at least every 30 minutes. It was especially hopeless after crossing a knee-deep river. It was only 3 hours of not-so-strenuous-but-still-super-wet hiking when we got to the village. By the time we got there, I had blisters on both pinky toes, both heels, my hand (from the walking sticks), and the abrasions on my legs from soaking wet pants looked more like open, oozing wounds that stung with every step. But Thursday was our last day, so all I had to do was survive on more day.

Once at the village, we had an early dinner, and then set up the clinic. Because it was a short hike, we got in early enough to have the clinic the same day. That way, we could have breakfast the next morning and leave straight away. There was one boy at the clinic who was 12, but looked 7 due to malnutrition. Another little boy had a bloated stomach due to parasites. About 20% of students are malnourished. Parasites are also a huge problem because most people do not have toilets, so it contaminates the soil. Dr. Lek has a project where people donate money to build toilets and feed children. As it turns out we were only about a 10 hours hike from Burma, so a lot of teh villagers were Burmese refugees. As I learned from one of the proworld journalist interns, things are very bad in Burma politically. Being able to be at these clinics and see these problems first-hand is amazing. I'm glad I have the opportunity for this experiance.

On the last day (Thursday), we headed out shortly after 8am. The first part of the trek was much the same as the day before: some uphill, some downhill, walking through rice fields, wading through stream, etc... One thing that we had to do today was cross many bamboo bridges. We crossed quite a few on previous days, but there seemed to be more this day. Some were just 2 things of bamboo over a river. Others were 4 bamboo wide, and had a railing, but that was only for crossing wider rivers. One thing they all had in common is that they're slippery when wet - very slippery. Which is nerve-rackignw hen you need a railing, but it's starting to fall off and ends a yard or so before the bridge does. Also, they're all very shaky and rickety. Scary to think how easy it would be to slip and fall in the rushing, white river below.. I mistepped on one of the bridges and twisted my ankle slightly. Slightly uncomfortable, but not bad.

Shortly after twisting my ankle,w e got to the bottom of the mountain. We had been hiking 2 1/2 hours at this point, so I was doubting Dr. Lek's initial estimate of 3 hours of hiking today, considering we still had a whole mountain to climb. The path up the mountain was more of a road and it was no where near as steep as the mountain on the second day (thank god). Still, it was a long, tiring walk. We would reach the top of a hill and walk straight for a while, so I'd think we reached the top of the mountain. Of course, another hill would appear around the curve, more trees higher up would become visible through the fog, etc... This happened at least 20 times or so - it seemed that the mountain enver ended. Though I may have been impatient to finish up because I got super hungry half-way up. At 1:30pm, we got to the village, so it actually took 5 1/2 hours isntead of Dr. Lek's estimated 3 hours. We didn't stop on the way for lunch, so it was 5 1/2 hours of hiking with the occasional <2 minute break for water.

As we approached the village, I couldn't help but be proud of myself. This trek showed me I am weaker than I thought, but also stronger. I thought I was in good shape and had done treks before, so it would be a breaze. I thought I would excel and not need any help. The fact is, I struggled - big time. But I think that's what amde me stronger than I thought I was. I was exhausted and had more than my fair share of pain (mostly due to improper gear). I stumbled and fell mroe than I care to admit, but I got up again and kept going every time. I'd be ready to stop 2 hours in, but would hike for another 3+ hours. When every step I took hurt, I kept going for a thousand more. I also found the strength to swallow my pride and accept help. I recognized I have no balance (not one of my strengths) and need a helping hand when crossing bridges. Sometimes, I needed someone to grab my walking stick and pull me up a particularly steep/slippary part where I just could not get my footing on my own, even if others could.

But isn't that what strength is? Struggling, but pushing on? Falling, but getting up? Not giving up, but percevering? The strength to recognize your weaknesses, and accept help from others? I'm glad it wasn't easy. I'm proud of myself for accomlishing something that was difficult for me. I'm glad the trek was shortened from 5 days to 4, but if it was 5, I would have pushed on just the same. Although, all my little wounds would have been worse...so it would be unpleasant, but I could still do it. Honestly, by the time we finished, I felt like I could do anything I pushed myself to do. There's something very empowering about accomplishing something you struggled with. The whole trek was an amazing experiance I won't soon forget.

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