I wanted to get into the jungle, and I wanted to get far enough in that I wouldn’t be thinking of cars and computers, of metallic hulls bringing me rocketing around u-turns and the neon flash of need.
But that’s not where it began. Actually, it began with elephants, in my “let’s try to take every form of transportation as humanly possible” quest. I’ve taken motorbike, truck, three-wheeled motorbike, train, plane, car, van, ship, slowboat, longtail boat, horse, bike…the list goes on. So my friend and I looked for elephants, and in the pursuit of them, found a three-day jungle trek through Sabai Tours in Chiang Mai that vaguely included elephants, but mostly involved…the jungle!
I ended up on an impromptu jungle trek when I went to a national park near Krabi, Thailand. The sign said “nature walk” but what it failed to say was that it was the kind of walk that would take me up and over a terrifying combination of vines, deep forest, and loud crashing sounds that did nothing to assuage my pounding heart. I was terrified. Which, of course, meant that I wanted to go back.
“Today we will be walking, yeah?” said our guide when we met him. He was a smiley Thai guy with a tiger on his shirt and a machete by his side. (NOTE: in all the time that we trekked, he used said machete to cut walking sticks, chopsticks, and then a random hair accessory that he promptly chucked into the forest again. When I asked him “Have you ever had to fend off an animal with that?” he said he’d seen an anaconda on the road once during the rainy season, but didn’t even try filleting it, rather saying “Okay, now we all RUN!” Good man.)
The weather was fine, blue, and clear. The walk was up, up, up, first along a dirt road with tamarin-brown earth, and then along some rocks and through tall grasses. In my company: my friend, a French couple, a couple of mysterious background who sort of kept to themselves, and then 5 Korean guys who produced an endless supply of oranges, snacks, and these bottles of what looked to be milk. We trooped through the forest, took turns shooting our guide’s slingshot at an empty bottle of water, and then after breaking several times, arrived at where we would be staying the night. In a village, on the side of the hill overlooking palm trees and grasses, in a bamboo hut.
I was charmed by all of the roosters (animals that you just don’t hear in urban China) and as the day died down, we all gathered for dinner and then a campfire under the stars. As it turned out, the milk cartons that the Koreans were carrying were all cartons of whiskey.
“We sing Korean song!” they garbled after we had sung through some random English songs. And while I was expecting some strange convoluted mess of notes, they all broke out into full-throated song, deep and resonating. And then they danced around the fire, and I joined them, as though it was a natural thing to do. Considering the jungle, though, I guess anything goes.
And then I retired for a moment to look up at the stars.
I think a lot of my friends in China agree that stars in the PRC are hard to come by. I take them as they come, because when people say “there are no stars” I don’t believe them and always look up. There are usually a handful that I can see between apartment towers, and this handful is something I cling to. I look every time I’m outside at night, because if I’m lucky, I’ll see them. My handful.
But imagine–the entire sky.
The guitar behind me still thrummed and sang but I was enchanted by above and beyond. And the more I stared, the more it looked like my interpretation of the skies, or of my expectation of it, I’m not sure. All the same, it took my breath away. It’s amazing the things you adjust to without realizing it.
I stayed up late that night until the stars were occluded by the clouds, and then went to bed with the buzzing of wildlife, the distant flutes from the village, and then the growl-like rumbles of motorbikes putting through the village.
And as our guide had instructed us to do all day, we took it “slowly and smiling.”