A Challenge and a Chill Out in Chaingmai Days

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February 22nd 2020
Published: February 25th 2020
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Start Saturday with a challenge.The plan is to walk up the mountain trail of Doi Suthep to the temple , Wat Phra That Soi Suthep, high above the city of Chiangmai. When I first came to visit Dorothy with Kath and Bob five years ago, Dorothy was in training for her own personal challenge: to climb to the summit of Kilimanjaro to celebrate her 70th birthday. She would trek up and down the mountain about 3 or 4 times a week, at dawn when it was still cool. Kath, Bob and I joined her on one of these hikes up the trail, and I found it really difficult, although I was wearing silly little canvas slip-on shoes with no grip, which kept falling off my feet. Dorothy stepped lightly on ahead ... seemingly no effort. And of course she reached the summit of Kilimanjaro in her 70th year, and still continues to climb the mountain in Chiangmai two or three times a week.

So I was slightly nervous at the prospect of the climb with Dorothy's other house guests, seasoned trekkers Paul, Debbie and of course Dorothy herself. At least this time I was wearing more robust footwear. We drove to the little car park at the base of the mountain and found the beginning of the trail. There hasn't been a drop of rain in the weeks I've been here ( in extreme contrast to Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis bringing watery devastation back home) but the carpet of thick, leathery dried leaves underfoot made it quite slippery. Roots and tree branches alongside the track gave some help as the climb is quite vertical in places.The first treat is to arrive at Wat Pha Lat , which takes about an hour. There were a few people already at the temple, but Dorothy assured us that they hadn't walked the monk's trail, but had arrived by car (the road up from Chiangmai snakes up the hill nearby) Elevation gain ( for those who understand that sort of thing) is 1,165 feet and it certainly gets the heart rate up and puts paid to conversation! Along the way the trail is marked by orange strips of cloth, tied around the tree trunks, which mark the trees to be protected, but many of these are now losing their colour and blending into the blotchy bark. A small stream runs down the mountain through massive boulders, although the water was at a trickle due to lack of rain. The temple itself is a haven of calm, with overgrown statues and beautifully painted doors, some of which look as if they are gradually being assimilated back into the jungle. We stayed long enough to look around and take some photos, and then set off again. I knew the challenging part was yet to come. The trail then crosses the road (hence the access for our non-hiking company at the Wat) and the hike is then up a narrower, steeper and less travelled trail to Wat Phra That Soi Suthep at the top of the mountain. This part took about an hour and a half, but at least this time I could envisage the distance. It's always difficult when you have no idea how much further you have to travel.Trying to keep up with Dorothy so I could follow her lead and put my feet into the same footholds. We passed a few people along the way. But when we finally reached the top and Chiangmai lay far down below, shrouded in mist (or pollution) it was such a sense of achievement, and I felt I'd slain one of those mind dragons who curl around your brain and tell you that you can't do something.

We enjoyed a cup of coffee and then climbed up the 309 steps with a Naga (dragon) curling down on both sides (the longest Naga balustrade in Thailand) to the temple above. There were quite a few people there. It's a sacred place for Thai people, and access to the 309 steps up to the temple can be made from the road that snakes up the mountainside. The gold leaf on the buildings and statues at the top is blinding against the clear blue sky. Some people are walking clockwise around the stupor, praying as they go. Others are lighting candles and joss sticks in front of individual statues. Vigilant watchers remind 'fallang' (foreigners) to respectfully remove shoes before entering the temples and places of prayer and to refrain from tapping the huge bells as they go by (despite the signage).

And temple dogs. That thing dogs do on the hottest day of the summer, stretching out on the driveway and panting.Well, Thai dogs do that too .... and it's 35 degrees and more! It must be a dog thing!

Dorothy, Paul and Debbie hiked back down the trail to the car at the bottom of the mountain. But I know when I've done as much as I can do, and I didn't think I could make a return scramble down the hill without falling down or wearing out the set of my trousers as I descended by bum. So I waved good-bye as they strode off to the top of the mountain trail and squeezed into a crowded red song thaew and snaked down the mountain road to the city. I had a drink and made my way slowly back to Dorothy's where I waited until they turned up.

We all had a bit of a snooze in the afternoon, and I had a message from Nui to say that my room was made up, so I packed my bags. We all went to Dash restaurant for Debbie and Paul's last meal before they fly home. As usual we all ordered a dish and then all shared. I got a Grab taxi back to Baan Songjum, where all was quiet. The crowds have left. There's just Rhonda , the American internet English teacher, Richard who is the permanent resident, and Hiroshi Suzuki the Japanese guest, and one or two short stay guests floating through.

I slept really well that night, and didn't plan to do anything much on Sunday , but Nui and Kung had hired a red song thaew to take them to the Japanese second hand store.... and I couldn't resist the invitation to go along. They needed the red truck because they'd bought a long bench to add to all the seating under the old wooden house, and needed to collect it. It's quite an amazing warehouse, stacked high with every sort of unwanted item from Japan. It seems that the Thai shop buys a container full of anything and everything and then sorts it and sells it by weight. There were lots of Japanese ceramic bowls and sake jugs there .... and I was SO tempted.... but can't go home with a suitcase of ceramics this year! I think that must be how I originally injured my back! So I just picked out a couple of tiny bowls and a necklace .... and then felt bad when the owner didn't want any money " Just take!" Because they sell by weight the items had no value to him.

Nui got the driver to drop us off at JJ Sunday craft and farmers market which was nearby, and we split up. I said I'd make my own way home. I couldn't resist two elephants and a buffalo made by one of the crafters there from reconstituted sawdust, and a cotton jacket. Bought a delicious Vietnamese vegetarian steamed roll for lunch and a freshly squeezed fruit juice that I was told was good for my eyes.

I walked back to Baan Songjum and wondered how I'm going to get the elephants and buffalo back intact. I'm hoping that they'll survive enough to be a part of the Jungle exhibition opening on 28th March at blue-ginger. In the evening I went with Nui, Kung and the Baan Songjum permanent resident Richard, to the Japanese restaurant nearby. We had miso soup and lots of sushi and tempura. It was all very delicious. And Nui treated us all to the meal. We'll have to do another one before I leave.

Monday and Tuesday were taken up with chatting to other guests, going for a swim at the Eco Lodge and cuddling the dogs at Bang Songjum. Nui re-posted a photo of me cuddling Lanna just before I left five years ago. So we had to do another cuddle photo. She's had her 'summer' haircut which makes her look like a little lion, with a tuft on the end of her tail and a ruff of hair around her neck. Lanna and Frankie are both rescue dogs, and Frankie had a bad start in li8fe .... so he's still slightly wary of strangers, especially men. He ducks and runs away if he sees a person with something in their hand, like an orange, and must still have a memory of things being thrown at him. So it feels like a real compliment when he comes and stands quietly beside you on his bandy little legs, glancing sideways and willing you to respond , "Stroke me, stroke me! Yes you! Why do you think I'm waiting here!" BamBam is the young dog, a sort of Thai ridgeback. He's always led a sheltered life at Baan Songjum and is devoted to Kung. He leads the howling when she takes her car out on an errand. And then again the howling of excitement when he hears her car return back up the lane from the main road. It's lovely to see them when they have a 'mad five minutes' at the end of the day, rolling around and play flighting. Tiny Lanna is always in charge and decides when the game starts and when it finishes.She also decides when it's bedtime, and leads the others up the wooden staircase to the house on stilts.

I've been in contact with the grand-daughter of Mike and Nettie , friends from Evesham. Before I left on this trip Nettie and I had a long chat on the phone and she told me that Erja was doing volunteer work at a school somewhere near Chiangmai. I got in touch with Erja and checked out the school's website . It's School for Life at Doi Saket, about 30 km north from Chiangmai. So I arranged with Erja that I would visit on Wednesday, and get a yellow van (song thaew) from Worarot Market in Chiang Mai to Doi Saket where someone from the school would pick me up. Soon after 9am I found the right bus, and, sitting sideways in the back on a slippery plastic bench , we set off towards Soi Saket. To start the journey there were some weary ladies who had already done a day's work in the morning vegetable market, probably going home to look after the children, cook and do domestic work. They gradually got off along the way and we picked up other people. It took about an hour to get to Soi Saket and the driver stopped in the Main Street indicating that this was as far as we'd go. I needed to find somewhere with Wifi so I could send Erja a message, so I wandered up the street and found a tiny new cafe where I had a cup of coffee and let Erja know I'd arrived ( ahead of our agreed time) She messaged back to say that Mr Jo, the manager, would pick me up but had been delayed and wouldn't be there until noon. No problem , as I could see a long intimidating staircase with a Naga on each side, going up the hill towards a temple at the top. Pausing on the steps on the way up to catch my breath , the perfect excuse lay before me : dramatic views over the little town below and the surrounding countryside. The origin of the temple dates from 1112 when legend has it that the Lord Buddha came to Doi Saket for a short time. However, it's now known for the paintings in the interior by the Thai artist Khun Chaiwat Wannanon which were completed in the 1990's. Most Buddhist temples in Thailand do not have modern murals. As with all the Thai temples I've visited, the atmosphere was beautifully calm and gentle. After slipping off my shoes, and entering the temple to look at the murals I wandered around the temple grounds, enjoying the cartoon portrays of some of Buddha's words, some of which have equivalents in English sayings. For example " Forcing cattle to chew grass" ( maybe the same as " you can lead a horse to water ....) and "Chasing grasshoppers on an elephant" ( maybe using a sledgehammer to break a nut) .... but they one that made me laugh out loud was " Keeping one's faeces away from dogs" . Meaning: to be very stingy! Have a look through my photographs and you'll find some more, together with the hilarious illustrations.

I walked back down the staircase, not needing to have a get-your-breath-back pause, and greeting the other temple visitors ( all Thai's ) as they staggered onwards and upwards. I waited outside the sweet little coffee shop The Haven, and at last Mr Jo arrived in a pick up, with a driver and a German couple, Ralph and Petra and a new washing machine. It seems that they'd been into Chiangmai to buy the washing machine and had been delayed.On the way to the school, over dusty new roads under construction and down a track from the main road, Petra told me of their involvement in School for Life. The School was established in 2003 after the devastating tsunami that caused huge loss of life, by a German Doctor Jurgen Zimmer and a philanthropic Thai lady ,Joy Worrawittayakun. Originally it supported many of the children who were orphaned by the tsunami, and became a home and school to children from difficult circumstances.

There are over 100 children in the school ranging from kindergarten to 16 year olds and now most of them belong to Hilltribes from the North of Thailand or even from Burma. The reasons for the children to be there are sobering :

no access to school where they live

parents working long hours and have no time for the children and no money for education

parents are in prison

orphan children growing up in the street

children who have escaped from abuse

Ralph and Petra represent a German support group and they visit every year to see what is most needed. This year it was a washing machine for the boy's house.

We arrived in the middle of the dusty little village of buildings that constitutes the school and the houses where the children live in a 'family' group, and I soon found Erja and Connie, who is doing a one year placement to organise the volunteers.Most of the volunteers are German, because of the original connection, but they teach in English and would welcome English speaking volunteers too. Erja and her friend are here for 3 months, and Connie is looking for new recruits this year who could stay for longer and bring other skills to the school. There are local teachers who teach the classes and the volunteers mainly work with the kindergarten children and in after school activities. It reminded me very much of the time Jill Nicklin and I spent in Madagascar at a children's home, but that one had far more access to funding and support. Here they were dismally lacking in basics. Erja showed me the homemade gym, made by a previous volunteer. One of the boys was using it , but quickly disappeared. It had been imaginatively created. Similarly there were projects to grow herbs and vegetables, but needed more continuity to keep the interest and involvement of the children.

Connie asked if I'd be prepared to talk to the young volunteers about how to teach English , but I had to admit that it's about 17 years since I taught, and my brain would need more than a few hours to set the wheels in motion and come up with something coherent. So instead I asked them what they were already doing, and they'd already ticked a lot of the boxes. Erja and her friend were really sweet and I think this experience will have been so good for them. They both return to Germany at the end of March.

I have to say, I felt rather foolish, because I hadn't done my homework about the situation of the school , and had no idea that it was actually about 15 - 20 minutes along the road being constructed to get back to Doi Saket. I felt that I'd just made extra work for them. But , luckily for me, the broken washing machine needed to be taken into town and I had a lift back with Mr Jo. He told me about the Pizza restaurant project set up by the Thai founder of School for Life, Mrs Joy. She runs a B&B in Chiangmai and they've just opened a pizza restaurant partly to provide training and money for the young people who have outgrown School for Life, and can possibly continue their schooling in the city. Mr Jo himself is originally from Myanmar ( Burma to him) but left many years ago. He proudly showed me the obituary for an uncle of his who had fought with the British troops in Burma and had been awarded with a military accolade of some sort and had lived in Thane until he died.

The yellow song taew was waiting in the high street and soon left and we were on the way back to the big city, picking people up and putting them down along the way. The fare cost about 75p. I don't know how they can even put the fuel in their vehicles.

I got back to Baan Songjum and began to tell Nui and Kung about my experiences at School for Life and asked them if they'd come and try out the pizza restaurant with me. But they'd also had an eventful day : poor Mr Hiroshi Suzuki had to been taken to hospital. The sisters had been worried about him the day before because he was having difficulty in walking, but we'd put this down to his hiring of a bicycle to explore around Chiangmai. He's a slightly stooped retired Japanese man with a limited command of English, and we were all amazed that he'd undertook this holiday adventure in Chiangmai on his own. It turns out that it was a bit of a celebration after having a stroke a year or so ago, and he's been having some worrying symptoms. In the morning he'd packed his suitcase and used an app on his mobile phone to translate that the thought he ought to go to hospital. So the sisters kindly put him in the car and took him to McCormick Hospital. The hospital found a Japanese translator and wheels were put in motion. They've been in touch with his son in Belgium and he's staying in hospital for 5 or 6 days under observation. We're all a bit stunned. Poor Hiroshi- his holiday has not turned out well. But at least it's not a coronavirus scare.

On Thursday morning I walked down the leafy sois near Baan Songjum to one of the little garden cafes so popular in Chiangmai these days.At Forest Bakes I bought some mini homemade quiches and homemade cookies. For today it's the Craft Group lunch. Dorothy can't come as she's involved in some activity to do with the Foundation for the Education of Rural Children, so there will only be three of us, and we'll all meet at Dizzy's apartment. I booked a Grab car ( they arrive within a couple of minutes these days as there are less and less customers for them) and the driver found her way there with the sat nav on her phone.Once inside the building I had a technology 'moment'. A lady in the foyer waved me towards the lift and said to phone in the lift. I anxiously surveyed the panels before me. They didn't respond to me pressing 7 for the 7th floor. Eventually I realised that one of them was for me to contact Dizzy's apartment so she could activate the lift , which then lurched upwards in response and doors opened on the 7th floor. Phew! Dizzy's husband Michael was there too, and happy that as there were only three of us, he could take part in the lunch. Junko arrived and plugged in the battery for her bike so that she could make the return journey. We shared what we'd brought along for lunch , and then Junko was the only one to get creative and do a bit of knitting. The conversation meandered along , encompassing food, situation in China ( where Dizzy's family live in the next province to Wu Han) and Junko's upcoming trip home to Japan, coronavirus and internet fact and myth, and the crafts of Dizzy's home area. She showed me a beautiful book of ethnic Miao embroidery. Kirsten, one of the founding members of the group and now living in Germany, made a phonemail to keep in touch with her Chiangmai friends. I left with Junko and was in awe of her setting off into the busy traffic on her bike. I set off towards Central Festival shopping centre. I had in mind to buy a t shirt each for the Meager children from Uniqulo. I got them but not sure about the sizes though......... Picked up the air conditioned local bus outside which took me to about a 15 minute walk of Baan Songjum and let me cool down after the walk. Nui and Kung had been to visit Hiroshi in hospital. They think his son will come from Belgium to collect him. I finished off reading Margaret Atwood's The Testaments for the Chiangmai book group on Monday. That's two rather dark books for book group in a row ( last month it was The Dinner)

Envigorated by my trip to School for Life, and stirred out of my lethargy, I took a grab car the next morning and went to the Miaaim contemporary art gallery in San Kampaeng. I went there for the first time when I was in Chiangmai last year and was very impressed. The Exhibition 'For Those Who Died Trying' was a series of photographs by a British photographer living in Bangkok , Luke Duggleby, in collaboration with Protection International. It was a tribute to the Thai Women/ Human Rights defenders who have lost their lives in the last 50 years. After visiting and talking to the families and requesting a photo of the deceased, he'd placed the photo in the exact location or as near as possible , to where they'd been murdered or last seen alive. Their stories are told on a separate information sheet.

The other exhibits in the exhibition also gave cause for thought. I liked the work or Anusorn Charoensuk, a Bangkok artist who presents his family photos against a backdrop of international landmarks, painted on a wall of his house. The Charoensuk World Tour mimics all those group photos taken on holiday. What a great idea.

Charles Lim ,a Singapore artist, and no relation ( as far as I know!) had created videos of the dragging, dropping and pouring processes used to build territory into the sea in Singapore. The videos were mesmeric.I'll put up quite a few photos of exhibits in the gallery.

Being art-replete, I went to the little restaurant at the gallery and had a Thai omelette. Always beautifully presented. I remembered that last year I'd crossed the road to the celadon ceramic factory .... so I did the same. This year there didn't seem to be any of the little ceramic spoons with silver wrought handles, and I'm resisting the buying of back breaking ceramics! Just had a lovely wander around and a look. It made me mourn the loss of our Royal Worcester factory in Worcester city.

It was rather hot by then , but I like to walk and it didn't look too far to get to the paper making and paper umbrella centre of the village in San Kampaeng. So I set off along the road. You don't see many other people walking along a road like this .... especially not a senior 'farang' woman. Again , I managed to visit another pottery and only came away with a small dish , and then looked around the paper making village. It all seemed rather deserted and tired. And I was a great disappointment to the shop keepers. I stopped at a little coffee shop where the young woman was making little bracelets with semi precious stones while she waited for customers. They were very pretty , but absolutely tiny, so I showed her my wrist ( which isn't huge) and indicated that they'd have to be a bit bigger if she hoped to sell to foreigners.

I got a Grab car back to Chiangmai. That evening Upin gave me a wonderful Thai massage and foot massage using the sesame oil Julie had given me. I thought I might smell like a Thai salad.... but not at all and it wasn't greasy. Enough oil left over for Nui to have a foot oil massage too. And it's so lovely to have a massage in your own room and just drift off to sleep afterwards.

On Saturday I had a quiet morning and just pottered around enjoying the plants and animals at bannister's Songjum . I popped out to get my rent from the ATM by the market and stopped at another coffee shop I haven't been to yet this year : Tanita, also just near Baan Songjum. Vegetables and noodles for lunch.There are also some lovely old wooden doors outside and a little row of monk statues with their begging bowls.

Num and her family have come to Chiangmai for the weekend. They have a family home here and she's come up to give the house an airing and sweep away the dust that soon gathers when there's been no rain. Num is one of my Home End students (Julie and I met up with her in Counting Sheep Corner in Bangkok last week) and has promised to bring me some more of that chilli garlic I've become so addicted to (all her fault!) She sent me the name and Google map for a restaurant where we could meet. It's named after the owner , Ajarn Saiyud , and is in a part of town I don't know , across from the super highway. Thanks to the power of the internet the Grab driver gets me there with no problem, and it's in the middle of a posh housing estate with high walls around the houses and very quiet. At first I sat by the little fish pond in the courtyard as I thought I was early. There were beautiful koi carp swimming around, all the usual colours but one of them was golden... a real glowing metallic gold. I could hardly believe he was real. I wasn't sure in whose name Num had booked the table ( as Num is her Thai nickname) and luckily I asked the receptionist for the wifi code, because she'd sent me a message to say it was booked in the name of her husband, Pop. With this information thy were able to take me to the room where the family were already in place. Num's two little girls are a delight, and so good at the table ....and entertaining too! The food was the most beautifully presented that I've seen for a long time. Northern Thailand delicacies in little mouthfuls. Wanton looking like little ducks, green mango carved into leaf shapes for a sweet chilli dip, ginger carved into roses. Just beautiful and all very delicious. Num's Dad had been in Chiang Rai for the day , teaching aeronautics at the University there, and he arrived later to join us. He's a retired pilot for Thai Airways, but likes to do this intermittent teaching as he's bored in retirement. Pop, Num's husband, is also a pilot for Thai Airways, and they talked stoically about how the Coronavirus outbreak has impacted on many businesses in Asia. Few Asians are now travelling, and the flight from Bangkok to Chiang Rai had been almost empty. They thought my flight from Singapore to Zurich might be quite empty too. It was a lovely evening and I hope I'll see them in England later in the year. I have 3 kilos of garlic chilli to bring home also now! Num had especially ordered some for me. That should address my addiction for some years to come!

Sunday morning, and I made a slow start. I had a good FaceTime with son Stevie in Tokyo. Only two hours time difference and he was stir frying his lunch. It sizzled so nicely in the wok - I could almost smell it! I'd arranged to meet Dorothy in the Old City for lunch, but was aware that UNBELIEVABLY .... this is my last Sunday in Chiangmai , so last chance to go to JJ Market and last chance for the Sunday Walking Street ( which I've not been to at all this year) There's only Rhonda , the American teacher, and resident Richard here as guests now. Nui and Kung are entering their quiet time of year, and coronavirus makes it even quieter. Nui is looking forward to taking up her paint brushes and doing a bit of watercolour and reading books . Frankie , the dog with an abused past, is noticeably more relaxed and comfortable with only a few familiar people around.

Leaving it rather late, I booked a grab car to JJ Farmers and Craft market. I arrived there and wandered around a bit. Bought some dear little dog and cat keyring from a maker. I'd bought three from her last week and decided to go back for more. I was amazed when she recognised me..... business must be slow for them too. I'd love to buy lots of things here at JJ but there are constraints both of luggage weight and finances! So I set off on one of my walks .... it didn't look far from JJ Market to the Old City on my maps.me app. Again, though, I'm the only mad woman striding out down the road in the midday sun! But I see so much more this way .... and I was surprised to find that my route took me past the Japanese second hand shop I'd visited with Nui and Kung last Sunday! I couldn't resist popping in and having a rummage. And came out with two little porcelain lidded dishes painted with flying birds.... very simple brushstrokes.

I arrived at the restaurant, Feast Society, ahead of time , but of course Dorothy had already beaten me to it! We caught up with recent news and decided that we'd try and find a poolside in Singapore to try and chill out. She's had such a busy time with the auction and the charity she's involved with. When it was time to go I understood her parking predicament. The street outside was being resurfaced and the workmen had just done the road and cleared off for the weekend without any warning signs. She'd gone up a bit of a broken wooden ramp to get into the street from the main road , and then down quite a drop between the new road and the original carpark of the restaurant. Her car (hopefully not damaged underneath) sat in the carpark, but to get it out it would have to mount a sizeable curb and then not go flying into the wall opposite. The restaurant owner was very concerned for her, and got her husband out. He and another man managed to make a ramp out of old pieces of wood and bricks and then he offered to get the car out for her. We let out a cheer as it sat safely on the new road surface. Sadly the road works have badly affected business and the owner was saying they were thinking they'd have to close down. I wonder how much is the roadwork and how much is the dwindling numbers of tourists. Dorothy dropped me off near Baan Songjum.

Oh dear ..... any thoughts of a diet are away with the fairies as Nui and Kung have agreed to go to dinner with me at the restaurant run by School for Life in Thailand. It's called Pizza Zapp......... so we know it's going to be a cheesy evening! We booked a Grab car, which only cost about £2.50 ........ but the restaurant was quite far out of town , in a very quiet residential area. It was next to Jay's House.... the bed and breakfast run by the Thai founder of the School for Life. The restaurant was much bigger than I'd expected, and customers were sparse. The decoration was vibrant and there were different interesting areas to sit in. We loved the giant stylised chrysanthemums painted on the walls. They were expecting us , and we had a good welcome. The young people serving were all in training and all former students of the School for Life. The pizzas were great ( although we didn't order the ones with more of a local flavour : green curry pizza and Thom Yum pizza!) It seems they've only been open for about three months so we wish them every success.

Feeling that we'd vastly overeaten and cheesed-out ,we came back and ate pineapple and drank hot green tea under the old house. Hoping that will break down all the cheese in our stomachs! Rhonda came to chat with us. She's also moving on this week..... to Malaysia and Indonesia.... teaching online as she goes.

So I'll take a break from writing now. Only three more days in Chiangmai, four days in Singapore and two days in Switzerland. Kenji will be off to his artist residency in Finland this week, so he'll be in the frozen north when I get back, and he won't be back until April. The flooding back home in Herefordshire seems almost unreal , although I know it's horribly real for some. I've been watching the videos of sculptor Garry Jones on FaceBook with growing alarm. Caught between flooding rivers and more rain on the way he and his village community have battled with the elements for far too long. Flooded roads and homes.

The next bit of blog will be the last for this year. I'm still taking echinacea and hoping that a runny nose or a stray cough doesn't give me a difficult journey home!

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