After being woken up by a cockerel in a hilltribe village I will never curse when my alarm clock goes off ever again. The noise came from beneath us, from under the supports of the longhouse. It regulates the life of the Karen tribesmen who rise with the sun and there is nothing quite like descending from a hilltribe longhouse to be greeted by the view of the vertiginous jungle stretching away to the horizon.
One of the Scots lads was seriously ill when we woke up and despite insect repellant we had all been biten by mosquitoes. The lad was probably suffering from simple heat exhaustion but was very weak and couldn't eat. Toilet amenities are very basic in a hilltribe village. You have to brush your teeth with bottled water and the toilets are of the slop variety. Toilets in Asia take a little getting used to with the one in the hilltribe village being just a hole in the ground flushed by a bucket of water nearby. But to watch village life go on around you is fascinating. Every so often you would hear the sound of cowbells coming down to the village and buffalo would be driven along the trail to pasture. A villager was spurring them on with a catapult and grinning and giggling when scoring a direct hit.
After saying goodbye to the family and giving them parting gifts, we hitched up our packs and were gone from the village by 10.00am. Due to one of our group being very weak we were going to do the easier descent along the spine of some mountains. The pace was gruelling but we were rewarded with some beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. You can't really enjoy them as you are concentrating on keeping up and dodging stones and roots on the trail. Soon the jungle closed over us and we were dripping with sweat, the descent was steep and soon we were running down the mountain with the back of our calves taking the pressure. This went on for four hours and eventually we reached level ground and crossed numerous streams on slippery rocks. A further walk through paddy fields and we were at the road. I had never been so glad to see the bemo in all my life.
For the next part, after an eagerly devoured lunch of garlic beef and rice, we were driven to a wide river flanked by jungle where bamboo rafts were drawn up on the shore. Each raft consists of 15 bamboo tubes lashed together and with a Thai man propels the front of the craft while one of us has the rear. The current takes you downstreams past jungle, rocks and rapids and it was very relaxing trailing your fingers in the water in the bright sunshine.
At one point I took the rear of the raft and concentrated on keeping us away from the rocks with the pole. It was very enjoyable with cool water rushing over your bare feet, trying to keep your balance on a tiny raft, and the guide telling you which side to pole. The exhileration of the raft rushing tiny rapids is terrific. The only problem is when are not quick enough with the pole and the raft hits the rocks with a jolt. This can knock you off your feet (as happened to one of the Scots)or the raft can get lodged and you have to rock it from side to side to get it free.
As we approached the finish we got a round of applause from Thai picnickers who were nearby. And it was a very wet and exhausted group who climbed back aboard the bemo. When you think of it we are quite mad - most of the year we do no exercise unless it is running for the last tube. But because we are in Thailand we think we can climb jungles in high humidity, ride elephants and negotiate rapids - and we do! Very proud of ourselves we laid down and relaxed returning to Chiang Mai. It was seriously agreed that what was needed now was a beach....