Sawatdee from Chiang Mai. We’ve done so much since our last update! First, we are all open water certified scuba divers with dives under our belts. Hooray! We celebrated our certifications with a night dive– I think we scared some of the fish off with how much fun we were having. Everyone loves Henry’s unique scuba swimming style. He certainly has his own indescribable flair under the water and always has a huge smile on his face after a dive. Our advanced divers, Wyatt and Kevin, had the chance to do a wreck dive where they swam around a World War II ship complete with a canon on the bow- unforgettable! After a relaxing few days on the island, we braved our longest travel day and made our way North by night train.
The past two days climbing and caving at Crazy Horse mountain have been both fun and exhausting! Yesterday we honed our climbing and abseiling skills. We learned to tie climbing knots, arrange our harnesses and carabiners, and belay each other, in addition to mastering the climbing lingo necessary to get everyone up and down safely. The rock climbing portion of the day included three routes, all challenging in different ways. Graham might be part monkey because he scampered up all three. Originally thinking she’d be too scared to climb, Kristina is proud that she made it to the top and enjoyed it! Tilly, too, has been particularly impressive in how she has tackled this challenge (which she says is not her “thing”) with an infectious positive attitude. In fact, all of the girls deserve to be commended for seizing the day and trying new things. They took their first bucket showers last night, which they loved.
Marshmallows are hard to come by in Thailand, so there were no s’mores last night, but we did grill sticky rice with butter and added sweet coconut milk after we had toasted our rice mounds over the fire on bamboo sticks. Sound strange? It’s a bit like sweet and salty popcorn. After dessert, we threw our cares to the wind, literally. We lit four traditional paper lanterns and cast them into the sky, which Thai tradition says is a way to get rid of your worries. Kevin said this was a highlight- as was all of the wildlife at our campsite.
We camped in tents last night, and this morning we visited a Buddhist temple inside a cave. We then returned to Crazy Horse to put our skills to the test. Today was our caving day. We ascended the mountain by hiking and climbing using a system of ropes, but the way up was the easy part. Next, we repelled down a 35 meter rock wall into a cave. We made our way through the enormous cave using our headlamps and more ropes. We learned about cave formation, cave protection, and cave navigation with the help of our guide, P. At the bottom, surrounded by glistening stalactites and stalagmites and more than a few sleeping bats, we turned off our headlamps for a moment of the darkest dark imaginable. Isabel loved this part and remarked that it looked the same with her eyes open and shut. We ate lunch in the cave but we still had to get out- back up the 100 foot cliff! What a challenge! It was both mentally and physically taxing, but we encouraged each other when it got really tough.
Tonight, after well-deserved showers, we celebrated our caving accomplishments with a feast at Chiang Mai Gate market, which we have visited a few times now. Everyone is happy to explore the market and it’s both fun and challenging to order Thai food and have the vendors put it in our tupperware; we are trying to reduce our use of plastic and styrofoam as much as possible. Adeline had spicy papaya salad from the northeast region, Isaan, known for having the spiciest Thai cuisine. Impressive, Adeline! Alex can’t get enough of chocolate, banana and egg roti for dessert. Wyatt’s pleased with his adventuresome eating–grilled chicken hearts on a stick.
After dinner we circled up back at the guest house. Yolanda, our wonderful leader of the day, debriefed us on today’s activities and led our nightly discussion which usually includes everyone’s highs, lows, and a shout out to a group member, as well as a question of the night. Yolanda’s question had us all talking about childhood stuffed animals and other sentimental attachments.
Tomorrow we head north to a home stay in a fairly remote village with a Karen ethnic minority community. This will be the first service portion of our trip. The slow pace of village life will be a big change from our action-packed first two weeks. Wish us luck!