Thailand Power of Ten Update – 15 Nov
Rolling hills to Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai; just a word we kept throwing around every time someone asked us where we were running to.
It was a dot on the map, sounded cool and created quite a stir of disbelief, a head shake and a long babble in Thai as we trotted off down the road.
The heat was subsiding, the average temperature for the first 10 days has been 33-36 degrees Celsius, but this has been substituted with gradient and with this comes serious hard grind up these snaking passes.
The hills just seem to be growing all around us, like fury mushrooms popping up out of the soil, covered with the densest lush vegetation. Massive Teak trees claw their way up between the rest of weaker trees of the forest and head straight up towards the misty clouds as if they are in search for more moisture to sustain their never ending thirst to grow. The trees are much like our own quest as we grind and shuffle up these mountain passes. Sweat just gushing down our brow as our chests heave and burn for every breath of oxygen that we can suck out of the humid atmosphere as our legs burn, dragging our exhausted bodies up these hills.
Just behind us we can hear the growl of a truck fighting up the hill, a double growl as the gearbox is crashed into a lower gear and the sound grows closer. Eventually the ground is vibrating with the drone right behind us then slowly this metal beast edges next to us, spewing clouds of black diesel smoke into the delicate atmosphere. We pick up the pace to save our lungs from this toxic gaseous invasion. The burn in our legs intensify as we push on, but its just too steep and the beast is back alongside us and with one massive exhalation it smothers us in its toxic breath as we turn and back off to survive this onslaught. The beast grinds on up ahead, engine screaming in victory over the crest of the hill and crashing down the other side.
Weather conditions, terrain, lack of a rail network and the huge overloaded Armadas of trucks are all the ingredients that are in the brew of road destruction. It’s a constant battle to keep the delicate balance in place.
Keeping the veins of Thailand unclogged and in good repair is a 24 hour job. As one section is refurbished, replaced and up graded the next is crushed under the wheel of a massive road train. The asphalt gives way and through this squirts the muddy interlayer. The next truck hits the same spot and the asphalt goes flying. The soft underbelly of the road is now exposed and it a matter of time as the scar grows into an open festering road wound.
Bright orange sign ahead – it’s actually playing into our hands. This means that all the traffic is now being diverted from the one freeway into the other and a section of road is being closed off for repair works; this section is normally about 10 km – what a pleasure. No more running into the oncoming trucks – it’s 10 km of a 3 lane freeway to ourselves to float down, get into the runners zone and just switch off and dream in the this special space without the isolation of sleep.
The resurfacing of roads has been a common sight to me all around the world and back at home, but when one gets up close it’s a whole different story. We had run up to this one section of road with frantic work going on. It was a long section where the asphalt laden trucks, rollers and asphalt laying machines were at work, replacing the outer skin of the road, sealing the surface for the future onslaught that was to resume once the road reopened.
Running up to the section, the chemical smell hits you first, but the heat radiating off this new section was something else. Running over it your shoes tends to stick a little, but within a minute or two the heat begins to permeate through the soles of your shoes. Then the real heat hits you in a wave from the road. It surpasses the 30 degrees of the ambient temperature. A small sense of panic overcomes you as there is no escaping this, it’s just run and get over the section.
Die “Hoender se Hol”
This has become an important piece of my daily survival kit – the home shaped bamboo stick packed with energy and flavour. But best of all, it tastes damn good. The smoke and smell is like the honey to a bee, it draws me as I drool up the road following the scent to a piece of succulent soft fatty meat.
It had been a long day; 40 km was a big morning section, and now it’s time for a lunch break and a bit of a leg up. We were plodding the freeway and there was a foot bridge over the freeway and on the other side was a big market area. Lots of food stalls billowing smoke spiralling up into the air. This means one thing; “Kai” chicken kebabs. There was a selection of stalls with lots of food to offer, pork, chicken, fruit and a selection of cooked vegetables and rice. As usual it was the “Kai” that caught our attention.
We walked over to the stall and to our surprise a bigger selection than usual was on offer. Wings on sticks, thighs, legs as well as spicy sausage. The thighs looked the best, it was a close call, but at the last minute the large kebab caught my eye; it was about 30 cm long, a massive feast on a stick. Each piece uniformed in size were perfectly cut into shape and covered with this sticky yellow basting sauce. I looked at Andy, that’s it. We pointed to them and gave the sign for 2. Paid and off we sauntered to find a spot in the shade to sit and feast.
I could not wait, found a perch and tucked into the kebab, the first bite was 3 pieces, pulled them off the skewer, and I began to chew. It tasted great but something did not feel right, they were a bit gristly and had funny bits that I spat out – I then gave my kebab a closer examination. “Shit!” I shouted, “dis net Hoender Holle op a stok”
Andy didn’t even wait for a second look, he just spat out what was in his mouth. We had just purchased 30 cm of chicken ring pieces. Popes noses on a stick.
It is live and let live out here, life is sacred and every creature big and small is just left to get on with life – rumour has it that you don’t actually know what you might come back as in the next life, so be kind to all creatures as it might be you.
We were staying at a temple on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, a great refuge from the current spate of storms that were hitting us over the past few days, very late and unusual for this time of the year, but in a way welcoming from the heat.
I was in the washroom trying to get my running gear down to a reasonable “Pong zone” so that I could run in them again tomorrow. Something caught my attention out of the side of my eye, I looked down. A mouse! It casually hopped past my feet and across the floor into the corner behind a bucket, sat there a while and then returned into a little hole in the wall. “Mmm”, I thought, “quite cool” as I carried on with my washing chore. Andy was next in line. A little while later he emerged and asked if I had seen the mouse in the wash room. I said I had and was amazed at how chilled the mouse was as if he knew he was safe and had no enemies – basically life’s a jol living in this temple.
I returned to the wash room to rinse my gear. By now a small group of monks had arrived, all with brooms in hand and were doing a quick sweep through of the area that we were about to sleep on. It was a usual ritual, the monks would always do this sweep past as if to just check us out.
The one monk entered the washroom, broom in hand brushing as he went. The next thing I heard a bit of a commotion and a squeak, followed by three more hard swats and then silence. There was then a grunt behind me. I turned to see old “Friar Tuck”
Bending down to pick up the poor swotted mouse by its tail. Mumbling he sauntered out the washroom with his buddy by the tail. I followed him out in shock. What had I just experienced and looked on as he tossed the limp mouse out into the rain.
Now I know and am quite certain that I don’t come back as a mouse!