Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Brenda takes on the challenges of the trek.
The trek group in front of our hut.
We have been in the busy historic city of Chang Mei a week. We spent several days exploring the city, finding the extensive markets, and walking to Wats (Wat=temple). At one the sign encouraged us "chat with a monk" so we did. He spoke English, and even had a greeting in Gaelic when Brenda mentioned Ireland. We discussed his life and the practice of meditation. What he said about it is very much what is being taught here in the US, although he lives an cloistered life unlike most meditators.   A  highlight was a trek in the mountains to visit the Karen hill tribe villages. We walked for a few days and finished with a bamboo raft trip down river. It is hard to believe, but the Karen people live in mountainside villages, farm rice, corn and veggies, hunt and gather, and use bamboo for everything, including the houses. They also practice some slash and burn agriculture. We slept in bamboo huts for 2 nights and the guide and villagers prepared great fresh meals over a fire. The people here know very little of the outside world and very few have left the mountains ever. Motorcycles, solar panels and TV have made some inroads, but not much.

The trails we followed were all local hunting and farming trail, passing thru dense jungle and passing seasonal farming sites, where people spend the rice and corn growing season out in huts away from the village.

The first evening after dinner, we spent some time with an older village couple having tea and talking with Dat, our guide. Dat told us that he had never seen the ocean, and in his one trip to Bangkok he was so perplexed by the traffic that it took him an hour to cross one of the major streets. Dat is a great person, a Karen villager learning English.