Saturday, March 29, 2008

Thailand day 3- Chaing Mai

March 25.
I'm behind in this blog because of spotty Internet access. We were unable to go on our 3 day bike tour because Jurij was suffering in bed. Luckily they postponed the trip one day and let me go for a day trip. There was only one other person on the trip. A Danish gal named Kathrine. She was 37, cute, an engineer for an oil company and traveling by herself. She was strong on her bike and confident on the crazy one track and mountain bike trails ( I was not). I was even thrown off my bike once by a mean little pebble, luckily no major damage.

Before our ride we were taken to an elephant farm where we watched the elephants bath in the river and then perform some circus tricks. I felt a little embarrassed for these majestic creatures. But consoled myself with the fact that these elephant camps generate money from tourism to protect them. Elephants are endangered in Thailand with only 5000 left in the wild. There were also thousands of domesticated elephants that used to work for the timber industry. When lumbering was outlawed in 1989, these elephants were "unemployed" and homeless.
The elephant is the symbol of Thailand and after the show everywhere I looked, at the leaves on the trees, clouds in the sky, foods that I ate, I saw the shape of an elephant.

Before we left the elephant farm I caught a lizard. Yes I thought I am my brothers sister and was very proud. And then I saw the shape of an elephant on the lizards back...

Afterwards we visited a cave. It was well lit and contained your average limestone stalactites and stalagmites. The stalactites hang from the ceiling and the stalagmites grow up from the ground. This is a mental note to myself because I keep forgetting which is which! And yes I saw and elephant shaped stalactite. I've seen more beautiful caves than this one, like for example Carlsbad Caverns which is really one of the most beautiful caves in the world. But Carlsbad didn't have a Buddhist statue in every nook and cranny! I learned from the tour guide that the here to the left people make offerings to the lion statue for fertility. People make offerings to the different spirits that inhabit places and animals.

Outside the cave the cicadas were deafening. Where was the forest mute button? The sky was clear but felt a mist while walking under a tree. Not a rain cloud in sight. Then I learned from a monk that actually I was just peed on by one of those noisy cicadas. Some nerve.

This reminded me that I needed to use the "bathroom". Really, squatting over a hole is easier on the back.

Finally we began our ride in the heat of the day, 2pm. We covered only 25 miles on either paved roads through farmland and rice paddies or dirt paths and one track mountain bike trails. We rode through a village that looked like it hadn't progressed on a 1000 years. Except some of the women sold me souvenirs that were definitely made in this century!

The scenery was beautiful but I think it was 100 degrees and humid out. The forests around us were burning from slash and burn agriculture and the sky was gray from the smog. When we finished the ride, I looked up at the sky and saw that it was raining ash. For the first time since I lived in NYC I felt asthmatic.

Perhaps it was for the best that I could only ride for one day.

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