Jungle Walks with the Dog
Jungle Walks with the Dog
We’ve lived in Thailand for five years now and our favourite walks with Pippa, our black Labrador are still the same as when we first arrived. We’ve tried many different ones but always go back to our three lovely walk just past our village. They’re quiet, full of interest and Pip can go free for most of the way. She loves this. The freedom to explore all and every nook and cranny is fantastic for her. Her Labrador nose is permanently on the ground.
This preoccupation led to a big surprise one day though when she came face to face with Monty, a very large python one day last year. We’d just topped the hill and I was suddenly aware that she was standing in the long grass looking very intently at something at her feet.
It was then that I heard the hissssssssss! I called very gently for her to come away. At this point I couldn’t see anything and thoughts of cobras came immediately to mind.
Never the most obedient of Labradors, she did eventually come and I started to discern the outline of the most beautifully camouflaged python.
I could see his head, but where was his tail? Fear of cobras had vanished by this time. Pip was by my side and watching intently, hoping he would come over and play with her from the look on her face and the tilt of her ears – that look that she always displayed seconds before she galloping off after another dog or dogs. No fear in this Lab, she loves company! Ever up for a game and reverting to the two year old immediately.
Nothing daunted, I banged my walking stick on the ground to make him move, I wanted to see just how long he was. Two frangipani trees down and I saw the irritated movement of his tail! Wow! That old boy was over 10 foot long! And he was huge! I could now see his body slowly rippling past the boulders making up the bank wall that camouflaged him so well. His girth must have been the size of my thigh at the largest point. Probably he had just eaten. Lucky for Pip; I think he could have managed her for a snack! I squatted down with her to watch this breathtaking creature for a good 15 minutes. He was in no hurry to go anywhere but when he did move, I rapidly began calculating how fast pythons could move and how fast at 66, I could run. No problems with Pip, she was a champion runner. I’m a bit prone to taking a tumble on this old, rutted and loose stoned path, especially when it’s been raining. But I wasn’t going to move til I’d taken in all of his powerful magnificence.
Why is it that when you need a camera you never have one on you? I guess that’s why those clever people at Sony, Samsung et al, invented the mobile phone with the camera aboard, for people like me who never have a camera at the right time. Well, my phone is so old it doesn’t have such modernity’s so no-one ever saw my beautiful snake and you’ll have to take my word for it that it exists. I guess he was here because he’d come down from the quiet mountain behind the banana plantation to find water; there was a small but pretty lake just where he was heading. I just hoped for his sake that none of the farm workers were there; the banana plantation has a little hut for the workers when they’re weeding or harvesting. He would have made several good meals for the whole village.
He's not the only python we've seen on our walks but he's certainly the biggest. We've often seen the smaller snakes, but they're too fast for me to identify.
Just one close encounter on our enchanting morning walks.
We invariably take off around 6 am, that being the coolest part of the day, just before the sun breaks over the mountain tops and the heat sucks every bit of moisture from your body. But it’s not just that time of day that we enjoy so much, it’s the wonder of listening to all the bird songs in every tree along the walk, and smelling the heady fragrance of the many trees and shrubs many of which are scented throughout the year and don’t need flowers to enhance their perfume. The mango is just such a one. You can smell them long before you get to them and that scent is definitely a spirit lifter.
Delights of our WalksClick thumbnail to view full-size
Happiness that can't be bought.
Someone once wrote that you should always come back from a walk with a smile on your face. I can guarantee that my smile starts about 100 yards in and stays for the rest of the day! Walking really does do something for the psyche; I guess the scientists will tell you it’s the endorphins in the brain. I think it’s just the sheer delight and pleasure at being outdoors in such a pleasant country. I used to walk in England but never came home feeling like I do here, yet the mileage and effort was the same. I’m sure a lot is due to the ambiance of the place, the ever-warm weather and feeling so good you could walk in the air!
Our walks always begin through the village and past the nasty old dog that lies in the middle of the road waiting in ambush for me to go past him. I can see one of his eyes open as I get near. I try not to give him eye contact and sometimes this works. I don’t know if Pip does though, she just saunters on and isn’t the least bit bothered by him – one of the few dogs she’s never shown an inclination to play with. He lets me pass, then flies up behind us barking furiously and baring his fangs. God! How I jump. Every time!! And maybe that’s why he does it. He just loves to see the ‘farang’ jump out of her skin! So far, that’s all he does, but I so wish he wouldn’t. However, this has been going on for over a year and I’m really not that intimidated by the grumpy old devil.
He lives opposite the school and once past there we’re in open farmland.
Road into the village and past the School
Things of interest along the way.Click thumbnail to view full-size
The field on the left usually has manioc growing, but last December they had a change – they grew a six week cash crop of water melons. Wow! Labour intensive or what! They had a team of people living on site in a small group of huts. The melon seeds were sown by hand and the irrigation system was going most of the time. Weeding was done with spray and by hand and several lots of fertilizer were applied over the growing period. The land was tilled, planted, harvested and ploughed again all within a space of six incredible weeks. The crop looked good and I guess it made good money at the local market. But I wonder just how much the workers were paid. The average daily wage for farm workers is around 300 baht - £6. They seemed a happy bunch and always stopped for a chat as we passed. Pip was more intrigued with their food than them and I had to keep her on the lead to prevent her from nicking their breakfasts! Typical Labrador behaviour! Ever starving, poor things!
The field is back to manioc now, that straggly plant that produces bio fuel and is subsidised by the Thai government I’m told. A very unusual practice.
To the right the field that was manioc is now full of pineapples, as are most of the fields along the early part of our walk.
We’re always passed by the early risers going off to work on their motorbikes. They without fail acknowledge us with a cheery ‘Sawadee kap or ka’ depending on whether they’re male or female. A couple of them are proud of their ‘good mornings’ and I answer in Thai and English. One or two are off fishing in the lake along the road, and I suspect are meant to be going to work.
Sometimes, mostly at weekends, we’re passed by lean individuals on bikes! A mix of Thai and European who probably belong to a cycling club nearby. They all look pretty fit and many of them are no longer in their prime. I salute them. No cycling for me though!
We walk as far as the turning and take a right along a short piece of tarmac that leads past the farm where Pippa’s ‘friends’ are. Five creamy white dogs of no discernable pedigree, who have doubtless survived because they’re so far from the main road. The life span of most dogs around here is probably a year or less. No-one really bothers much, there are always new pups around. The attitude to dogs is totally different to the west, where we tend to coddle them and make them part of the family group. Here, they seem to be tolerated and useful if they keep the ‘kamoy’ away – burglars to you and me!
The little fields close to the farm are untidy and usually growing marigolds under the mango trees for Temple garlands. There’s always someone working away – weeding or picking when I pass and they always wave; unless of course Pip’s decided to go play with their dogs, in which case I’m shouting at her to ‘come back here NOW’!! Does she obey? At her leisure and in her own good time she does. The dogs seem terrified of her and all bolt off with their tails between their legs. After five years you’d think they’d be used to her by now.
After the farm we’re in open woodland with a very rough path up through the woods to the banana plantation at the top of a gentle rise. The bird songs here are fantastic to listen to and every so often I have to just stop, watch and listen. It’s incredibly beautiful and I just want to live with this forever. There are over 700 species of birds in Thailand and I’m sure they all live in our woods! At home I’ve had several birdsong CDs for many, many years; one of them being of South East Asian birds. Well, I think if the guy who recorded that could just spend a few days here he would have the best album ever recorded! It’s not often you see them, just hear their happy singing. But the ones you do see are the commonest – the drongos, the bulbuls, the fantails and the doves of course. Drongos have an amazing repertoire of songs and always fool me into thinking theirs a new kid on the block until I see them disappearing to another tree as I approach. I so wish I could put more songs to faces, but I think you would have to have been born here to know all the birds and their songs.
We have one old dead tree as we climb the hill and it's invariably filled with birds. Its quite a distance out so I'm not able to identify any but the long tailed drongos. From this distance it looks for all the world like a leafless Kapok tree with its big hanging pods. I do take the binoculars sometimes but am still unable to identify any of them.
One of the bigger birds is the Jungle chook (chicken rather) and we have many. I’ve seen some of them and at first, thought they were domestics that had been left when people moved on. But I’m told they are definitely ‘gai paa’ – jungle fowl.
Another phenomenon I love is the bees, or rather the sound of them humming away in the flowers, especially high up in the trees along our ‘jungle route’. We have all variety of bees here from tiny ones to very large bumble bees. The tiny ones seem to be the ones that go for the grass pollen and the big boys are after the tree flower pollen, with all sizes in between going for whatever their favourite taste is. The sounds and the heady perfumes are intoxicating and there never seems to be a special season like there is in England or in more temperate climates.
Our walk takes us on through the banana plantation and down the hill past the quarry barn. One would imagine that a quarry is not exactly conducive to peace and quiet but in fact the steady hum of the work going on and the guys working there don’t seem to be out of tune with nature at all. The workers are a great bunch and always smiling. I think they think this little old lady is a bit of an ‘oddity’ walking her dog for miles, (carrying an umbrella at this time of the year – Monsoon time). But they humour me. Or maybe that’s not it. The Thai’s have a great respect and warmth for older people and I think there’s genuine affection in those smiles.
Turning right from the barn we walk along past a small rubber plantation with their blackened cups filling with dripping white latex, fields and several more fields. At the moment one of the fields is in the process of being 'ploughed'. The trend is to leave the fields to grow as many weeds and saplings as possible, then to come along with the tractor and rip them all out. A curious practice as it means that great mounds of grass and saplings are heaped up and just left! within a couple of years a tree has usually managed to battle its way to the top of the heap and grow. It's a practice that has me baffled because its not just one mound in a field but maybe 5 or 6.
From here we either turn back and walk back across the pineapple fields or carry on walking til we pass over the railway line (4 trains a day) and back along the path through the small hamlet with the many dogs, all of whom Pip wants to play with. But before we reach there we have to cross a small stream. It’s incredibly clear and flows strongly in the monsoon season. The springs that feed it must lay further up the mountain where our python came from because it never dries up. What bliss to stand bare foot in the middle and watch the sun over the trees and smell the freshness of that water! A little bit of heaven that’s so simple yet so magical!
If we return the way we came we go off round the edges of the pineapple fields, something you can't do if manioc is grown. The view is enchanting and if the sun is out your shadow becomes a 10 foot giant!!! I enjoy seeing these early morning shadows. Even Pip takes on a new dimension.
And so back home and a quick gossip with Noi by her lovely garden before tacking past ‘Mr Grumpy dog’ opposite the school.
This walk I’ve described is just one of several around the village, and has never lost its inspirational qualities in the five years we’ve been walking it. There’s always something going on, always something new to observe or people to talk to.
Several things I’ve not mentioned and one of them is Pip’s innate sense of the hunter - she puts up a rabbit or two quite often, and a few tiny quail along the way. But I’m not sure that these rabbits are actually rabbits, their ears are too long, yet the local people tell me there are no hares here when I show them pictures. To date, she’s never caught one but she gives them plenty of exercise when she finds them!
Every part of our walk has a different scent and I’m hard pressed to name any of them. One in particular emanates from the grassy verge along the tarmac road, yet it smells for all the world like cinnamon. But no cinnamon trees are within miles of here.
I feel very blessed to live in such a wonderful place and can think of nowhere else on earth that could bring so much pleasure. I know one day this will all come to an end but the memories are pure and beautiful.
Many people ask me why I walk most days. The simple answer is that having had quite severe back problems over the past 25 or more years, and last year and the beginning of this year, spending over 4 months in a wheelchair, I truly value and enjoy the simple fact that I can still walk. Maybe one day I won’t be able to (and I can’t see anyone pushing me along our walks). So each day is precious, and the older I get, the more precious they become.
All the time I can walk I will and enjoy every moment! Long may it continue!