Thursday, May 13, 2010

The thirsty earth

An Aussie civil servant once told me Jakarta was widely considered a "10k posting." Happily Chad and I haven't put on 10 kilograms, but we're definitely feeling flabbier after four years of getting practically no exercise while eating lots of food that's fried or stewed in coconut milk (sometimes fried AND stewed in coconut milk).

So part of the agenda of our 3-month Southeast Asia trip is to get outside and get back in shape. To that end, we signed up for a 3-day hike in Chiang Mai, the hiking capital of Thailand.

I was expecting jungle, so I was surprised to find the landscape hot and blasted. It's the tail end of the dry season, so the soil was dusty and a lot of the trees were brown.

The trek took us through forests, rice paddies and pastures, past the occasional curious water buffalo. The buffaloes looked pretty parched too.

The termite community, however, seemed to like the conditions just fine.

It didn't help that this is the time of year when people traditionally burn the fields to clear them for planting. On the first two days we breathed smoke and came close to fire a few times, but it was only on the last day that we actually walked through it.

We had stopped at a waterfall to cool off, and we could see flames on the hill sloping up from where we were. When we hiked out, we found the fire had burned straight through a rubber water hose and was marching down to the falls. We walked through with low but steady flames burning on both sides of the trail.

I don't know whether that hose was meant as a firebreak, or whether it was merely carrying water to some other location, but it isn't doing much of either now.

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