I am having a ball on this trip. The group is into short runs, yoga, and muay thai in the morning, followed by breakfast composed of tropical fruits and flavors seldom found in North America. They are challenging themselves physically through trekking activities, emotionally through the difficulty of interacting with those of different cultures, and mentally as they try to understand the history and languages of SE Asia. And through it all they are smiling and laughing.
This past week I especially enjoyed interacting with our Burmese guides on a short trek in Western Thailand. Our guides were Karen- which is a 'hill-tribe' of Thailand and Burma with different cultural and ethnic roots than those of the Thai majority (Tai). A memorable evening around a charcoal fire included fashioning cups from fresh cut bamboo using a leaf blade machete and trying frogs' haunches to one another to make them less mobile but keep them fresh before cooking them. I was one of a few on our trip who decided to actually eat the frogs, but I can honestly say that this was the best frog I have ever had (yep, I've eaten frogs before). The guides were amused.
After an appetizer of frog it was time to get the pig out of the bag. Three Karen men dressed in brightly colored sarongs held the pig down while it was killed with a knife and butchered. I have butchered only small animals, and was amazed by the skill of our hosts as the pig was gutted, splayed-out, and cooked on a spit over a fire. An hour later and those of us without dietary constraints were eating very fresh bacon washed down with the occassional glass of rice wine- suddenly much more aware of where our food actually comes from.
The next day we rode elephants out of the village and back to our songtaos (pick-up truck taxis with benches in the back) and wound our way out of the mountains and down to the former capitol of the ancient Lanna kingdom and the second largest city in Thailand- Chiang Mai. Here we are currently resting, getting massages, and taking Thai cooking class for a day before we begin climbing and caving tomorrow.
It's been an action packed and eye opening start to a great trip with some wonderful people.