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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Queen of the Jungle

As I was squatting over a floor toilet in a muddy shack in the middle of the jungle, I pondered to myself - hot and sweaty, covered in mud and dirt and bruised from the knee down on both legs - how in the world did I get here?  What a random moment.  Here I was in a jungle in Thailand, in this state.  I had to laugh at my own expense.  I am not known for being graceful, so I know that this story will not come as a surprise to those of you who know me well.

The day started as an eco-adventure.  Heading north out of Chiang Mai on a truck with a group of people from Canada and Germany, and Tara and myself from the U.S.  We had signed up for a one day trek that included many adventure-type activities.  We made our first stop at an Orchid farm with a butterfly sanctuary.  It was incredibly peaceful and serene.  The butterflies weren't really out though... but the orchids were stunning.  Rows and rows of hanging orchids in nearly every color of the rainbow, and lots of other lush, tropical plants.  And the smells were divine.  It was a short stop - but definitely worthwhile.

Next, we headed toward an elephant park.  We got to ride on elephants for about an hour up and down hills around the base of the mountains.  They were such gentle creatures - I named mine Gertrude ;)  Gertrude took Tara and I on a ride that was so much smoother than the truck that was jostling us around the hills in the park.  She loved the bananas that we bought and kept bringing her trunk up to us to meet the bananas that she knew would be waiting for her.  She stopped whenever her guide stopped, and delivered us safely to our destination.  I took her picture and will post that when I can...

After we dismounted (is that the proper term for getting off an elephant?), we hiked along a steep embankment by the river, where we had a large iron cage waiting to pulley us over the river.  I think it was designed to make us feel like monkeys at the zoo (ha).  It was a trip!  Soaring over the river in an iron cage - not something I do every day.  On the other side, our tour guide Tik Tok, was waiting with water and a ride to the edge of the jungle.

We were fed a lunch of Pad Thai wrapped in banana leaves, fresh watermelon, and fresh pineapple.  Tik Tok kept saying it was "five star meal".  I had to agree.  I didn't even know I was that hungry, but I ate with relish.  Maybe it was the fresh air (finally) and being out in nature.  It was perfect timing though, because we had a hike awaiting us.

I use the word hike very loosely here.  I described it more as adventure hiking - not for the faint hearted.  We hiked up sharp rocks, steep inclines, edging our way on narrow paths with drop offs right next to us.  We navigated over pipes (picture me walking slowly, one foot in front of the other, arms out in the air to maintain my balance).  We inched over bamboo poles and makeshift ladders with either rushing water, large rocks or gorges open like mouths waiting to swallow us below.  45ish minutes hiking up to a waterfall (after minute 35, I didn't care anymore - I thought we were never going to get there).  I was so focused on watching my footing and marveling at my newfound agility (thank you two weeks of Thai massage), that I didn't even realize we arrived until I looked up.  It took the breath that I had remaining in my body completely away.

It was a quiet yet powerful waterfall.  Just right there in the midst of all of the raw beauty of nature.  It was an oasis just waiting to cool down our bodies (drenched in sweat and jungle grime).  It took me a quick couple of moments to change, and then I was in the water.  So cold and so refreshing at the same time.  I had to be careful with the sharp rocks in the water, because I couldn't see what was below me.  I did slip a bit (bruise #17 at this point on my right shin - which is now a lump), but I could have cared less.  I stood right underneath the waterfall and felt all the force of the water rush over me.  There was no other way to be at that point in time but in the moment.  It will stay with me forever.

After swimming around a bit - we got out and dried off as best we could, and then it was the hike back down the same treacherous paths.  Some of the group groaned - they thought we would have some sort of ride back down or something.  I didn't really care.  I was enjoying the screaming of my legs and glutes.  I was a bit cocky too - I had literally danced over some of the bamboo poles and pipes in my elation, and was deep in thought on the trail when my foot gave away quickly, and I found myself dropping down the side of the cliff.  (Yes this really happened).  It was one of those slow motion things - I remember falling, and I remember reaching out to grab onto something (It was a bamboo pole next to the side of the path), and I just stopped - suspended in the air, knocking against the side of the rocks like a loose door knocker in the wind.  I tasted dirt, and could feel it in my eyes.  I knew something was below me, but didn't know how far.  So I just went for it.  I dropped and my feet hit the path below.  I was lucky I didn't roll... 

The group was rather shaken - as was I, but I wanted to reassure them that I was ok.  I really was ok, so I laughed it off and began the hike down again.  I tore my pants, scraped and twisted my knee (the same one with the torn MCL two years ago, ugh), bruised my shins (bruises 18 - 39), bruised my arms, and pulled something in my shoulder.  But, I live to tell about it :)  All in all, I am doing ok.  And I was able to continue on the rest of the adventure - which I will continue in my next post.  Good thing I have had much practice falling in my life.  And truly, good thing I did have the agility that I have and the reflexes and instincts to grab on to that pole.

So, that's what I was thinking about as I sat in this tiny bamboo hut in the middle of nowhere, Thailand - hovering over a toilet, covered in dirt and bacteria and all that good stuff :)  Keep reading to find out part 2 of my adventure ;)  Oh, and if you like my blog, please click "follow" - it helps me get more exposure, and I know who you are.  

:)  Charlynn

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