Thursday, October 05, 2006

In the Jungle

28 September, 2000 Trekking in the Jungle of Northern Thailand

When we arrived at our resting place near the waterfall it had been sunny and hot, but by the time we left the clouds had taken over and rain was pouring down through the dense canopy of trees. I was thankful for the cheap plastic rain poncho I'd bought at the last minute before starting our trek. The trails quickly became small muddy streams and the hard red dirt became slippery underfoot. We hiked along the river and had to cross it several times; sometimes we could step across on rocks, other times bamboo canes or an old log served as our bridge. And still other times we just had to wade through, up to our thighs in rushing water the color of chocolate milk. I slipped a few times and feel into it, as if I wasn't wet enough!
We eventually came to a place where the river was wide and we couldn't cross. The "bridge" had washed away. Instead we headed straight up the hillside and away from the river. Our guides cut vines and fallen bamboo to make a trail, and where the ground was too steep and slick one of them would gouge footholds for us with a piece of bamboo. Even still, there was much slipping and sliding in the mud and I fell at least once. It was slow going, our two Thai guides ahead and the eight of us following. There were three from our team and the rest we'd just met, travelers whom we hoped to share the love of Jesus with. We slowly made our way up the hillside, then across a ridge and down toward the river. I began to envision us wandering for hours, lost in the jungle, in the dark, with no food, huddled under our ponchos trying to stay warm.
(And all those creeping, slithering things I associate with the jungle appearing!) But our guides didn't fail us, and after an hour or more of trailblazing they led us directly back to where the trail was passable.
The rain had let up quite a bit by this time and I hardly remember the rest of the hike. It may have been another half hour, and then- wonderful sight- there were elephants waiting to take us to where we would stay the night! We climbed up a platform, stepped across the great beast's head, and onto a little wooden seat, two of us per elephant. A little rope tied across our laps secured us (sort of!) into our seat. A young boy sat on the elephant's head with his feet tucked behind the great floppy ears. And so we were off, through the lush green jungle, this time high atop a swaying elephant. It was a bit scary at first, so be so high and unsure of what this creature could do. We started out by going down a steep, narrow, muddy path and I wondered if the elephant would lose his footing and I'd tumble to the ground. Once I realized I was quite safe it really was fun. Sometimes their feet would slide a little in the mud but they never lost their footing as we had done. They would stop to tear up plants with their trunks for a little snack; their strength is impressive!
We went though the jungle for some time and then came out onto a road, and finally to our destination, the Elephant Camp, where we stayed last night. We arrived wet, cold, hungry and tired, but very happy to have made it! After changing into semi-dry clothing we began to warm up a bit. A delicious supper of rice and pumpkin and a stiri-fried green vegetable followed by hot tea and good conversation by candlelight was the perfect way to end the day.

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