I didn’t have a post planned for today, but something happened in the last 24 hours that is worth sharing, and if I wait until tomorrow to write about it, I won’t have the same intensity of feeling about the event. Writing about it might also help me get my head around it, because truth be told, I’m feeling mighty confused.
So yesterday I left Chiang Mai (a little heavy hearted because it’s a pretty cool place and I could have spent much longer there) and headed to the bus station to get a bus to Pai, a three hour minivan ride away. My plan wasn’t actually to spend any time in the town of Pai itself, but to head to a farm a short distance away in a neighbouring village. Now, this is not the kind of farm that actually grows stuff to sell, but simply exists to support itself and the guests who go and stay there. As I have expressed before, I am a city boy through and through, but I figured that something you should do when travelling is put yourself in unfamiliar situations. And what is the worst that could happen anyway?
It turns out that nothing bad might happen, but just being in such an unfamiliar situation can make me so uncomfortable that my whole body tenses and I feel physically sick. I arrived on the farm at about 5pm, and headed over to the communal area. A couple of British guys were there, just smoking and relaxing – they seemed nice enough. I asked where the owner was, and apparently he was right at the other side of the farm in the garden. The guests told me that he should be back soon enough, so I waited it out in the communal area, chatting a little bit with the guys. Other guests would amble back and forth, and a clear pattern was emerging – everyone had matted hair and spoke in a low drone without ever smiling. Combined with the ukulele and didgeridoo I spotted in the corner of the common space, I could only arrive at one conclusion – this place was a hippie magnet. Before leaving for my trip, I wrote a post about my hopes and fears for the journey ahead of me, and one of my fears was being around hippies. It’s not a dislike of hippies that I have, and as I said already, the couple of Brits I spoke to on the farm seemed like nice enough people, but I have absolutely no way of relating to them. “Free jazz” was pumping out of a computer, which is a sonic nightmare however you slice it. And me in my little denim shorts, dotty socks, and hair soft with serum, just clearly didn’t fit in.
And so I began to feel uncomfortable. Then, it started to get dark, and the owner hadn’t showed his face yet. Was I supposed to try and navigate the farm and find him? I found it odd that he didn’t want to greet a new guest, but perhaps he didn’t know I was there. And yet, I still found it strange that none of the long term guests (it’s that kind of place) offered to show me around the farm either. I’d like to think that if I was a long term guest somewhere, that I would be polite enough to show somebody new around, or introduce them to the owner. So, I am feeling more uncomfortable still. And by this time the dark has completely set in so I am told to ‘just find a room’ by another guest. Yeh, thanks for that.
I did just that and found a room where, praise be, the wifi signal was strong and so the internet could be my company for the evening. At this point, it was clear to me that staying the four nights as I had planned was going to be a problem unless I wanted to be eaten up with anxiety. Should I leave straight away and make my excuses? I decided against that and resolved to wake up early the next morning and leave before everybody else was awake. Perhaps that was a wimp’s way out, but if I was going to be honest, I’d have to say: ‘I am nothing like any of you and it makes me too uncomfortable to stay in your company for a few days’. Somehow, I don’t think that my awkwardness would have subsided by confessing.
So, I ran away! I woke up at 6.15am, threw on some warm clothes (it gets cold in the morning time up in the mountains) and left a note thanking the owner for the bed, as well as payment for my one night stay. I left without anyone noticing and breathed a deep sigh of relief once I was on the other side of the farm gates. But it was still 6 kilometres to Pai. I started to walk, as I really don’t mind walking long distances, and at that time in the morning it was cool enough for my backpack not to feel like too much of a burden. I think I was about one kilometre in when I saw five dogs pacing up and down outside the next farm up. Country dogs are not city dogs. Country dogs are fiercely protective of their territory, growling, barking and chasing whoever might dare to pass by – I know, I once got chased by two dogs while hiking in the Indian countryside. I hesitantly edged forwards towards the dogs, and of course they started growling and barking at me. There would be no getting past them on foot. Great. Now what?
I backtracked a little and decided that the only way that I was getting to Pai, would be by hitching a ride on the road. There were plenty of motorbikes and cars driving past even at that hour, so I figured that it would only be a matter of time until someone kind took pity on me and stopped. So there I was, with my thumb poking out on to the road for fifteen minutes, with multiple vehicles gliding past, but nobody caring to acknowledge me at all. Until finally, an absolute angel of a man who was taking his daughter to school in Pai, stopped in front of me, and with a smiling face told me to get into the car.
We arrived in Pai and I was beyond grateful to have escaped the farm, and also to have escaped the dogs baying for my blood. So here I am now, writing from Pai, but as grateful as I am to be back in civilization, the whole experience has left me feeling unsettled even though nothing really happened. Nobody was nasty to me, nobody hurt my feelings – so why was the negative reaction in me so great? Only last week I stayed with a Karen Hill tribe and was communicating with a deaf Thai man around a campfire – these are the kind of unusual experiences that people travel for and I loved it, and yet somehow this alien experience was much easier and more enjoyable for me than having a chat on a farm with some guys from my own country. What exactly does this say about me? It’s something I’ll ponder, but I don’t want to linger on it too much for my own sanity.
What I must really remember, is that before leaving on this trip, I cited that my number one priority was to have fun. If I’m not having fun, then I’m moving on. And that is exactly what I did.
Have you ever been in an uncomfortable situation while travelling? Did you deal with it, or did you leg it like me?