Forgive me for backdating yet another post this week. It was my 4th week of massage school and we built upon our skills by learning how to release blockages with tui-na technique (deep thumb pressure) and performing Thai step-on massage (using our feet to walk on muscles while balancing with a large stick of bamboo). We also visited a temple in Lamphun where we learned traditional Thai medical massage from the local doctor, Nan. All of Nan's training has been passed down through generations of oral tradition, so it was extrememly special to learn and receive treatments from him. One of the techniques we learned was tok-sen, using a small stick and mallet to hammer on our patients. The sound is a bit jarring, but the vibrations it sends through your body feel amazing.
Then he showed us "foot on fire" technique where he dipped his foot in oil then stepped on a sheet of burning metal before massaging his patients. The results were pretty unbelievable. I watched one of my friends who couldn't touch his toes move easily into a full forward bend after the treatment. Doctor Nan also worked on his "wind" problem, so here's hoping for one less week of his flatulence in the guest house.
But before all of that training, was a weekend adventure to Pai...or almost to Pai.
A few of us from school decided to rent and ride motorbikes to Pai, a small city about 3 hours north of Chiang Mai. It lies at the foot of the mountains and is ripe with trails for trekking, waterfalls and hot springs. We figured driving our own bikes would allot us the freedom to leisurely stop along the way and visit any number of beautiful sites.
(Here is sweet Marie on her pink Scoopy)
We left early in the morning to make sure we'd have plenty of time to explore Pai during the day, but we didn't account for the amount of time we'd spend driving circles around Chiang Mai trying to figure out our way to exit the city.
(Here we are finally looking at a map in the city center after an hour of driving)
After circling Chiang Mai a couple times (I looked at it as our civic duty to make sure everything was running smoothly before leaving town), we got on the right track and made our way outside of the city limits. But after about 30 minutes of driving we pulled over to rest and refresh on some coconut water.
(only 96 more kilometers to Pai!)
After our brief reprieve we started driving again. The scenery changed to some beautiful winding mountain roads. As our bikes ascended into the mountains, our gas tanks conversely lowered towards empty, so we made another stop to find fuel. Unfortunately, not all of us made it to our meeting point and after a few minutes of waiting, we realized Marie, our bubbly French girl riding solo on her pink Scoopy scooter, was no longer trailing behind us. My bike partner Yves, a nurse in Geneva, rode off to find Marie and make sure she was okay. After about 30 minutes, Marie slowly drove back to our meeting point. She was more or less in one piece.
(This is what can happen when making a sharp turn on a sandy mountain road)
Everyone was a bit shaken by the accident, so we took another break for lunch at a beautiful restaurant we found on the side of the road.
(Although the setting was nice, the noodles tasted like the Thai equivalent of Chef Boyardee)
By the time we finished lunch, there were only a few more hours of daylight. The road to Pai was about to get much more challenging, so the majority of the group decided it was best to head back to Chiang Mai and stop at a waterfall along the way, while Yves and I decided to drive the extra 60km to Pai before sunset. (I would show you pictures from this part of the journey, but the road was so scary I didn't dare remove my death grip from Yves' body to snap a photo).
After a few repetitions of the shema, we made it to a bridge on the Pai River. Pai was beautiful (or at least the outskirts of it were).
The sun was about to set, so we decided to head back up the mountain and make our way home. But just like before, the more we ascended, the lower our fuel tank descended...and then we blew a flat tire.
With the sun on the horizon, we found ourselves in between villages, with a near empty fuel tank and puttering through the mountain at about 5km/hour. Things weren't looking good until a van pulled over to help us. Unfortunately, the language barrier between the driver and ourselves created a few issues until I remembered to use the greatest iPhone app on Earth, "Speak Thai," which conveniently communicated for us.
The driver of the van gave me a ride to the next village where there happened to be a repair shop. And by repair shop, I mean there was a 9 year old boy fixing tires in the back of a restaurant.
(I can't even change my sheets, and this boy was changing tires)
After an hour or so, our tire was finally repaired and we were on our way down the mountain again. Although the sun was fully set by this point and we were stuck behind an enormous work truck raining gravel on us for a few kilometers, I took a moment to look up from the back of the motorbike and see the entire Milky Way hanging over the mountain. It filled me with an enormous amount of gratitude that this was my life now.