Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A night in the Thai jungle

From our base in Chaing Mai, we booked a two day visit to the Doi Pui Suthep National Park.  We started with a mountain biking trip which lasted several hours, and offered varying degrees of difficulty.  Knowing one's limits was important, to avoid the fate of a few of the riders who went over their handle bars.  Riding through tropical forest, rice paddies in valleys, and meeting the farmers who gave us a taste of sugar cane cut right on their property reminded me how important a connection with one's environment is.  Thai's definitely have this.  Even the young guy who was guiding our biking tour could tell us about plants growing along the trail that are commonly found in Thai cooking.  Although Israel is agriculturally more advanced, I am not sure that Israelis connect with the land in this way, but then again, the people in most developed countries do not.  In the U.S., our national parks are visited by foreigners more than Americans. 
After a late lunch, we were shuttled back to the office where the two of us, plus a traveler from Scotland, were driven up to the base of the Flight of the Gibbon for a homestay. 

We arrived around 6:30pm, after dark, and our host family, a very welcoming Thai couple speaking nearly no English, showed us our rooms, the bath/shower, and began cooking up a delicious meal for us.  Dinner included a minced pork dish, something we've been eating daily upon arrival, and enjoying thoroughly.  There are so many ways to prepare meats here - basil and chili, garlic and pepper, fried, minced, crispy, etc. - and so many sauces, the options are endless.  I admit, I have been taking advantage of the pork options on most menus, as it is a real treat coming from a non-pork-eating country.

As you can see in the picture to the right, the kitchen in their home was very simple.  They were using gas and electric to cook on, and they did have a small refrigerator.  But they didn't appear to store much - they eat fresh - ironic as our standard of living in the West is so much higher, yet our food consumption is arguably lower quality.  

After dinner, we were invited to a traditional thai massage.  They set up mats there in our little wooden house, and worked on our soar muscles for over an hour!
The next morning, we said goodbye to our host family, and waited patiently for our ride to begin our zip lining adventure for the day.  This is when we discovered that the three of us had been lost between the cracks of their planning for the day.  At first, I wondered whether this was classic non-western culture behavior, under which you have to be prepared for the reality that all times are approximate.  However, after some discussion, we realized that they were truly overbooked.  We watched as others were shuttled in and out of the experience with efficiency and expediency. 

Despite this bump in the day, it turned out to be a worthwhile experience, as the network of zip lines, cable bridges and rappelling ropes created a 3 hour circuit of fun with incredible views.  I felt like I was in Fangorn Forest in the Lord of the Rings. 

This visit peaked my curiousity about what environmental education Thai's receive in school, and what outcomes they have seen from it.  There are clearly businesses in Thailand promoting eco-friendly tourism, but these are targeted toward tourists.  A quick google search shows that academic interests have looked at efforts here, but I didn't see an overall strategy or state-led effort.  However, when I googled "environmental education" generally, the third listing that came up was ironically the "Israel Ministry of the Environment." 

Moving to a desert, attending the Deserts Conference, conversations with my dad, and a couple recent articles, have really got me thinking about the issue of our human connection to nature.  To read the articles:

Losing Our Connection to Nature: Is Sustainability at Risk?
Humans Losing Touch with Nature

Interaction with nature was an integral part of my childhood, and I can't imagine childhood without it.  Do you think this is important?  Why?  What should we do about it?

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