Pushing our limits (by Addie)
Our climbing and rappelling adventure was—for many of us—a trip outside of our comfort zones. However, despite some initial apprehension, we embraced the challenge as a growth opportunity and discovered new aspects of ourselves.
On Day 1, we braved the courses on the side of the cliff, assessing our climbing skills by trying routes of varying difficulty. (Some of us—myself included—made an immediate beeline for the “easier” routes, only to find that they were still quite hard.) Towards the end, we also completed a rappelling exercise down part of the cliff, which came in handy later in the week. Eating electrolyte packets like Fun Dip, many of us were surprised by our own tenacity.
On Day 2, we headed to Thamphatai National Park for a cave exploration. The hardest part was hiking up to the natural cave entrance; everything was (literally) downhill from there. One by one, we rappelled ~15 meters into the cave chamber, enjoying the view of our friends both far above and far below us. In the cave, we learned about cave formation and cave formations, including stalagmites, stalactites, soda straws (which look like opaque icicles) and flow stone (which is white, smooth, and glittery like snow). In groups, we then explored the cave and used a hand-held measurement device to calculate distance, direction (N, S, E, W), and upward/downward changes in elevation between numerous stations in the cave. We also filled in missing cave formations on a map, using our headlamps to discern the shapes in the dark. Before exiting, we switched off all our lights to briefly meditate in the pitch black cave, emulating the Buddhist monks who do the same exercises. On the way back to the campground, we stopped to admire some prehistoric human hand paintings on a rock cliff, spotting ancient handprints and animal figures.
On Day 3, we all got Thai nicknames upon arrival at the climbing wall from Day 1. For instance, the Lucys were “mango” and “sticky rice,” and the Ethans were “fried egg” and “boiled egg.” We then braved the same set of routes from Day 1, pushing ourselves to attempt more difficult options. Steadfastly determined, we drew upon reservoirs of grit we didn’t know we had, stretching our limbs and our limits. Belaying one another, we also cultivated mutual trust through effective communication; I for one certainly benefitted from others’ guidance and suggestions as I climbed.
On Day 4, we embarked on an exciting rappelling expedition. First, we hiked up part of the mountain into a little cave alcove and then scaled ladder-esque rungs to climb up into the cliff. Clipping ourselves on to horizontal ropes, we navigated the tunnel to where we rappelled downwards. The view of the mountains was incredible, and being so high up in mid-air felt so liberating even though some of us (me) kept spinning like human piñatas. Back at the campground, we learned about permaculture farming (growing a bunch of different things the family wants to eat instead of growing 1 cash crop for commercial sale). We took turns chopping up the soil with a hoe, planting bok choy seeds and covering the area with hay. Then, we crumbled dried buffalo poo with our bare hands to make fertilizer (definitely not as unpleasant as you’d expect!). Lastly, some of the more intrepid members of the group helped harvest red ant eggs; this process involved prodding their tree nests with a spear, collecting the ants and eggs in a bucket, and then—with bare hands—separating the ants from the eggs in a tray of flour. (I enjoyed spectating from a distance.)
Luckily, our experiences over these 4 days went far beyond just climbing and rappelling. Daily bucket showers—using a smaller bucket to scoop water from a larger bucket to drench oneself—were frigid, character-building exercises that never failed to make our evenings more interesting. Thankfully, we could always look forward to our nightly Thai language classes with Add and Bo, two of our climbing instructors. Over the course of a few days, we learned conversational basics (such as “What is your name? My name is ___” and “How are you? I am ______”), food vocabulary, and useful phrases for everyday life. At a local market, we had the opportunity to practice some of these phrases, especially “How much is this?” to ask about prices. (It was during this outing that many of us discovered an affinity for Thai milk tea.) Another highlight was definitely the food, especially samples of local dishes that were a bit too unique to be main courses. For example, some of us tried red ant egg omelettes, red ant soup, chicken lung, and other unfamiliar foods, oftentimes surprised by how much we liked them.
From the climbs to the food to the language courses, this particular adventure not only expanded our limits; it redrew them. Armed with new skills, we can now approach the rest of the trip with more grit, patience, trust, communication, and cultural awareness.