I awoke with a hangover (blame the German waterfalls) and stumbled out into the daylight for breakfast, but not before carefully shaking each of my shoes to check for scorpions, as I had been instructed to do the day before. Mexican showered then breakfast; Instant coffee (lots of it), a boiled egg, pineapple, and toast with butter and jam. Hangover fading, heat and humidity rising, we set off on our Trek for the day down the mountain to seek waterfalls. Early on in the trekking, Johnny Walker kept stopping and walking off into the bamboo thickets with his machete mumbling something about sticks. Many of us guessed chopsticks for lunch? No, he wanted to prepare each of us a walking stick. Myself, and some others included, thought this just a frivolous exercise by our guide as just a helpful gesture. “I don’t need a walking stick”, I thought to myself, I hike all the time. I soon realized why the walking stick was necessary; the trail proceeded straight down at more than a 45% decline on slick red mud. Have Thai trailblazers not heard of switchbacks?
Down and down we went, the foliage getting thicker and the heat/humidity rising as we descended into bamboo thickets and leafy underbrush. As we walked, we chatted amongst ourselves and found that many of us shared common interests in music, online entertainment and sports. At last, I began to hear the all too familiar faint sound of rushing water in the distance. Before we knew it we were crossing a small stream and the roar of a massive waterfall was rattling our eardrums. The waterfall was multi-tiered and ending in a waist deep pool perfect for cooling off after the hour-long steep hike we just finished. Several of my fellow trekkers shied away at the chilly water, but not me, as my upbringing in western North Carolina would suggest, my inner “hillbilly” came out and I jumped right in, being at home in ice cold mountain streams such as Sliding Rock or Deep Creek back in NC.
After everyone had sufficiently cooled off and rested, we were called over to a small bamboo hut for a lunch that Johnny had prepared. Noodles with egg and vegetables, but served in a unique fashion; Johnny had made each of us a trough from a large bamboo stalk he chopped down minutes before.
I finished my lunch rather quickly and began to wander around the waterfall area once again. Upon gazing upward to the trees I noticed that many were bearing small red clusters of red fruit, lychee! Along the entire journey so far I had noticed the remnants of crushed lychee underfoot and the common smell of rotting fruit from time to time, but I had yet to actually see the fruit sprouting fresh from the tree. My curiosity got the best of me and I tried to climb a tree to grab one of these little red balls. I managed to snag one and carried it over to show Johnny and ask if it was indeed OK to eat. He said yes and apparently I had started something, because at that point Johnny asked me to come along with him as we proceeded to harvest a butt-load of these delectable fruits. My method of leaping and grabbing the low hanging branches amused Johnny, so he showed me the more efficient way of crafting a bamboo pole with a fork at the end, which he used to then hook the thin branch at the end of the fruit and twist so that the entire cluster of fruits came down with ease. I tried on my own with great success and brought back many to share with my still lunching trek-mates. At that point, “it was on like Donkey Kong”, and everyone wanted a piece of the action. So much so that Johnny ended up climbing the lychee tree like a Gibbon to snap off full branches (but not before murmuring a quick prayer and uttering his favorite phrase – “Oh my Buddha”). Sweet lychee, fresh from the tree. I’d never had anything so delectably tasty In recent memory that I believe I ate myself sick from our bounty.
Bellies full once again and fingers sticky from lychee juice, we set off down the riverbed in search of waterfall number 2 of the day. At this point in the trek I tended to lag behind on purpose in order to separate myself from the group and enjoy a little personal time while hiking and enjoying my surroundings. This, solo hiking, was a little trick I learned on my first 50 mile hike on the Appalachian Trail as a boy scout and it has stuck with me as one of the best ways to enjoy nature and free your mind to wander. It was during this solo time that I realized once again that I was home. This creek-side trail, these waterfalls, the overhanging greenery and chirping of birds was all too familiar. Instead of pine, birch and rhododendron, it was banana, mango and lychee trees surrounding me but the feeling of being in nature and doing what I’ve always loved to do was the same. Indescribable joy, I felt like a kid again, hiking the ever familiar Graveyard Fields upper waterfall trail. I was skipping along from rock to rock, twirling my bamboo walking stick and singing my favorite songs aloud before I knew I had caught back up with my fellow Trekkers, all looking a bit concerned about me and asking me if I was OK, since I was lagging so far behind. I just said “yeah I’m fine”, with a smile (not bothering to tell them that this was just a normal weekend activity for me, at risk of sounding like the boastful American stereotype). My second realization was that we had all stopped to view and swim at the second waterfall. An even more stunning cascade of water stood before us and an enterprising local had set up a little bamboo hut selling beers, water and snacks. Swimming, relaxing and photo-shoots ensued.
Cooled and refreshed once again, our trek-weary group had only a short hike before we reached our camping spot for the night. After leaving the waterfall we arrived at a series of huts about 30 minutes downstream. We were shown around our accommodations for the night by the two Thai women who lived there and acted as our hosts. This was no hill-tribe village, this was much more basic and much less comfortable. “No worries”, I thought, normally I would be lugging around a 60 pound pack, setting up my own tent and building my own fire had I been home, so this was almost luxury for the wilderness. I can’t say that all my trek-mates shared the same sentiment.
After taking some time to wash up with the stream water shower and relax our tired feet, it was time for dinner. Another two tasty dishes were severed family style over rice; spicy chopped greens with minced chicken and a slow cooked cucumber and veggie curry, followed by some leftover lychee for desert.
After dinner, as it grew dark, we were all fairly pooped from the previous two days exercise, so we took it easy on the Chang beer and mainly sat around chatting about cultural differences in beer and similar tastes in music festivals. At one point, another Thai male entered the camp, carrying an impressive looking, but rather ancient muzzle-loader rifle. Johnny tried to explain that he was going out to hunt some sort of squirrel or rat, and the gentleman fired off a round from his rifle with a deafening blast, for demonstration. As we were all headed off to bed, we weren’t without our own animal encounters that night. First, was the typical cat that preferred to sleep inside our hut and nuzzle up to the French-Canadian couple. Second, and more surprising, was the 5 foot long snake that almost crawled across the feet of Leo (one of the German boys) as he was brushing his teeth just outside of our hut. Johnny heard our commotion and quickly jumped into action to bash the snake to death with a bamboo stick. He later told us that this was a very poisonous variety of snake.
All of us a bit more nervous, we headed into the hut, tucked the mosquito nets tightly around us and drifted off to sleep.
To be continued….