For the past five weeks I've been travelling, for the most part, on my "dignified best". New situations every forty eight to seventy two hours. I've learned a lot, have been taught a lot, and hope I've taught and shared the equal amount, and more. I've read a couple of great books. One on early 20th century in Cairo, Egypt. The other about Sir Edward Shackleton's quest to sail through Antarctica. One is fact, the other's fiction. And how appropriate on my return trip, I'm reading a book of light-hearted Asia Pacific anecdotes that capture tiny misunderstandings. All three speak to facts of the time. My trip? Completely non-fiction. Even now. My weeks have been structured for the past five weeks. Everyone who comes to Chaing Mai signs up for a Trek, I created my own; the fact that it was Sangkron may have helped: The water fight/ festival of the year. AKA: Thailand's New Year, a countrywide wet T-shirt contest and more. While I wasn't in the mood for thinking, I also knew I had a couple of days to get "lost". So I arrived in Chaing Mai with no reservation and no plan; just an outdated Fodors to entertain me and as I later found out, the inability to stay dry.

I happened upon a shuttle service just north of baggage claim. Luck was with me, as it was through the whole stay, and I secured a room at the Royal Princess Hotel. At first I needed to decompress, write some mail and have some conversations with clients. However, it didn't come without surveying the land first. Everyone had treks going here, there and everywhere. I rented a motorcycle instead. The tricky part was the acceleration, not driving on a new side of the street. One test run, a good night's sleep (to consider the consequences) and I was ready to roar. Off I headed in the direction of the golden triangle-- where Laos and Burma meet with Thailand and where I could have encountered some local opium-- however, a left hand turn got the best of me and I never made it. I have no idea where was but I found a dirt road leading up a mountain, saw a beautiful waterfall, hill tribes and endless views. Had I gone with a group I probably wouldn't have had trouble getting up a hill, and subsequently soft-crashing on my motorcycle. (Then again, I wouldn't have had the kind experience of eating some "road-food" and the woman who served me splashing water on my leg and cleansing my scrapes and dirt off my shorts.) Once I ended up on a quasi-familiar road, the water started. It didn't make a difference that I had a helmet on disguising my race. At the elephant camp I was an outsider, all the Thais were there for the afternoon performance. On my way down the mountain there was a festive spot that I stopped at for no other reason than a lot of other people were there. Turns out it was the American equivalent of a rest stop with little thatched huts to which they serve you food. I, however, found a rock at the stream, where numerous children frolicked in the water and took a nap. As I descended the mountain, with the race-disguising helmet on my head, I encountered more water. Some was water was warm, and other water came straight from the run off of the ice cubes so many pickup trucks had in their bed. Ouchhhh. And then I hit the main gates of Chaing Mai.

It was the water gauntlet of dancing Thai teenagers. I also discovered the family car of Thai families-- pickup trucks. Why? Because once a year you can get family into the truck, put a couple 55 gallon barrels of water in the back and have four full days of entertainment. The driver rolls up the window to stay dry while everyone in the back sprays everyone and thing in sight. The most favoured targets are first female Caucasian tourists, women, and then the men: Thus the big wet T-shirt contest. A warm bath at the end of the day was a welcomed treat. The next day I discovered that the elderly are spared. I found this out when I hired a private taxi and then those that we picked up weren't sprayed. I also found out that no one sprays a taxi, that is, until they discover a Caucasian female inside. I was leaving that afternoon-- and relieved to get away from frenzy. It was so odd. The scene that is. Looking out the window, locating the dry spots in the street to influence my direction. I suppose it t has to be experienced once. While I love new years, this is another new year's that's pretty anti climactic.

I didn't return my motorcycle until I had my early morning spin around town on the back streets. I came upon a day market for food, clothing and other items. There was everything there from fresh fruit and vegetables neatly lined up, endless flowers, fish, eels, crabs and numerous butchers. Right on down to the four beheaded pigs, also neatly lined side by side.

The reference to Sir Edward Shackleton? When Shackleton returns to the island to pick up the rest of his crew they don't recognize him because he's shaved his seventeen-month beard, had a haircut and changed into fresh clothes. Note to self: change before L.A. arrival


© 2002 MW Sears