Walk, Eat, Swim, Eat, Trek, Eat, and Climb, Climb, Climb (Haven't They Ever Heard of Switchbacks?!) - Page 3

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Roong sat next to roaring fire in the center of the main room, a flat straw basket filled with bowls of various ingredients on the floor by her side. She ushered us over, and within minutes we were all preparing dinner.

Perhaps it was the rituals involved in peeling and cutting and slicing the vegetables, perhaps simply because it was the final night of our trek, but Roong started to regale us with tales of her childhood. She told us how she had to leave school at a young age because she couldnÂ’t afford to continue. How she left her tiny village at the age of 16 for Chaing Mai, where she worked cleaning a guesthouse to pay for English classes and then practiced English with the travelers at the guesthouse until she was proficient enough to move to reception.
Interlaced in her tales were directions to us—chop the garlic, peel the broccoli stalk, crush the chilies. As we finished, she added the fresh ingredients to the various pots arranged over the fire while expressing her discouragement with drug-seeking foreigners and the other trekking companies willing to satisfy their wants with opium and ecstasy.

And then, with a sip of local rice whiskey, she’d look up at us with an infectious giggle and we all remember that we shared the common bond of being young women in our late 20’s, early 30s, seeking adventure in life—adventure from life—rather than synthetic approximations, two-dimensional experiences, and the off-hand chance of life-long imprisonment.

Then I was handed Asian eggplant to slice, our German friend, the garlic to peel, and my roommate, the basil mint to separate as the room filled with the aroma of fresh lemongrass and chilies.

A feast was set before us—green curry, broccoli, peapods, green pumpkin soup, sour bamboo, fried bamboo with egg, local green vegetable, chili paste, and locally grown brown rice. Within minutes, the only sounds were the shameless noise of our feasting. Our eyes watered, our nose ran from the chilies, and our taste buds have never been the same.

Well fed, with sore calves and lower backs, we crashed out almost instantly, scarcely noticing that we were sleeping on no more than thin grass mats. However, I soon discovered that city living had not prepared me for nocturnal noise pollution of a different sort. The roosters started-up at three a.m., calling to the all-too-distant dawn about every ten minutes, as if operated by some rustic snooze button. Complimenting the rooster was a symphony of other animals, snorting pigs, barking dogs, a cacophony of other sounds impossible for my urban-bred mind to categorize from the relative comfort of my grass mat.

We returned to Pai on a local bus the next day and happily hired Roong's mom to give us hour-long massages for about $3. Soon, memories of the a.m. rooster calls faded under her mother's strong hands.

Before we parted company, Roong explained that she plans to move her family—her mother, father, and brother—to a farm and live off the harvest of the land.

"But will you still trek?" I asked her.

"Always. People can stay with me and help on the farm and I will teach Mantra meditation and take people trekking for free." Roong dreams of starting a foundation for the Karen tribes she so often visits on her treks.

I asked her, "How can people find you?"

"Just ask for Roong," she replied with a smile.

And in a city like Pai, that will probably do the trick.

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