Our first week walking has been full of surprises. Every day we learn something new, and the practice of living in the moment has taken on new meaning.
We headed out of Bangkok uncertain of what lies ahead, but knowing that we had to stop thinking about the big overwhelming mission of crossing Asia and Europe. We had to shift our focus to the here and now. Out walking, the best we can do is have a weekly goal, a daily objective and an hourly status check to see where our bodies and heads are at. We measure progress step by step, minute to minute and one kilometer to the next.
This past week gave us many opportunities to test this “right now” game plan. What we’re learning most is how to manage our own expectations of what this trip will look like on a day-to-day basis and what our bodies can handle.
What our days look like
We start in the dark, up at 4 a.m. and out the door at 5 a.m. It’s quiet, usually, and we have frog and cricket songs to guide us. The birds are smart and wait until about 6 a.m. when dawn’s first light finds them.
It’s already hot, probably about 85 degrees fahrenheit (Thailand’s dry season) and sticky, but it’s a pleasant beginning. We can cover a good distance this time of the day, going at a snail’s pace since we’re still building up stamina and getting accustomed to our heavier-then-we’re-used-to backpacks.
We’re not alone. Life is already under way for the day. People wait for buses in the shadows of the road’s shoulder. Cyclists pedal by, taking advantage of the cooler part of the day to get a workout in. Buddhist monks chant from the red and gold wats. Roadside eateries have fires going and their chefs are preparing porridge or barbecuing meat. We’ve already had a first breakfast, something small that we’re carrying (bread or packets of peanut butter or cold instant oatmeal) to get us moving. We’ll usually have a second breakfast or snack later.
By 7 a.m. the sun has made it’s appearance, despite our wishes to keep it covered a bit longer. The sun defines the rest of the hours ahead of us. Until about 10-11 a.m., we have fighting chance to cover more ground. After that, reality hits us hard: No matter how strong we think we are, the sun is stronger than us and kicks us to the curb… literally, by noon, we can only think about the shade of the next bus stop, and every two kilometers we stop and rest for a few minutes. Some days we stop for a long lunch break and take a nap in some shady spot during the hottest part of the day, which have become, ironically, our darkest hours.
Typically, we pick a daily destination, a point on the map about 20-25 kilometers away from where we are. We’ve been finishing our day about 2 p.m., a very slow walking average for us, and then have to factor in time for finding a place to sleep. On the days we finish sooner, we celebrate with extra sips of water. On days we finish later, we slump over in total exhaustion. Dinner is a low-key affair, filling up on meat, rice and veggies at whatever little streetside stand we can find.
So far, we’ve opted for staying in guesthouses, homestays or hotels. It’s been too populated to camp, and even if we wanted to, finding a good camp spot away from irrigation canals, rice paddies filled with water and houses would be tough.
We’ll be re-examining whether or not this is the right way to walk. We can’t leave earlier than 5 a.m. because that’s not wise and probably less safe. And, we are struggling a lot with mid-day heat and humidity, and we have to be situated for the night before 5 p.m.; sunset is about 6 p.m. Everything is a work in progress and an experiment waiting to be tried. We’ll keep trying to get this combination right. We’re only seven days and about 140 kilometers into this journey, and we still have much more to learn.
(Lluís wrote more details about our daily ups and downs and destination points. You can read it here in Catalan, or use Google translate to get it your language http://bangkokbarcelonaonfoot.com/bangkok-sing-buri/)
Highlights of the day
What keeps us going — and keeps us humble — is the goodness we encounter along the way. Thailand is a very generous place to start a trip like this. Her people are kind, and their smiling faces welcome us at every kilometer.
Almost every day, people in pick-up trucks will ride up alongside us and tell us to hop in to the next town. People on mopeds will pass us in one direction, turn around, and come back to ask if we need a lift; they say they will make two trips, taking one of us first and then returning for the other.
We’ve also been given food and water. A man saw us walk by and a few minutes later appeared on his moped with a bottle of cold water. A woman covered head to toe selling jasmine garlands in the middle of a busy street offered us her water. A group of van drivers and teachers shared meals with us. The guy across the hall at the hotel we stayed in last night bought us dessert, a delicious coconut gelatin thing that tasted like heaven.
With the help of very gracious locals, we were able to sleep in a temple and in a school classroom. Helping the students with their English lessons, playing volleyball with them and meditating at Buddha’s feet are golden treasures of memories we’ll carry forward.
The best part is seeing people’s reactions when we say we walked from whatever town we just left and that we are walk to whatever town we’re going to. They laugh, smile and do Popeye-style biceps curls to say we’re strong. Determined, stubborn, fool-hearted or crazy are probably better words than strong, but we’ll take that, too. We can’t be stronger than the sun, but we can be strong humans.
As with every trip, there are things that annoy or frustrate us. So far there are three things we could without: dogs, mosquitos and blisters.
Dogs. We know they are protecting what is important to them and we know we look like aliens to them with our giant backpacks, but come on, how can they smell us as a threat??? Besides the heat and humidity, which we have absolutely no control over, the almost constant problem of encountering groups of dogs who will bark at us, circle us and follow us is unbearably frustrating, mostly because we have to factor in more of our precious early morning time to deal with them; during the mid-heat they barely lift their head in our direction. At first we were scared of them, but now we’re getting bored of the routine. To help wave them off, we yawn, scratch our ears and lick our lips, tips we found on this site (http://www.findingtheuniverse.com/2013/09/who-let-dogs-out10-tips-for-dealing.html?m=1). Sometimes, I sing Om Namah Shivaya mantras, and either the dogs find that calming or so horrible on their ears that they prance away.
Mosquitos. We walk with lightweight long sleeve shirts and long pants for sun protection and for mosquito protection. Mosquitos in Thailand bite through clothes! And, in some places, showering becomes a war. Buckets of standing water in bathrooms are warning signs that we have to use the 60-seconds rinse-wash-rinse-again plan and hightail out of there as fast as possible to avoid quarter-size welts from the beasties.
Blisters. We tried, but they beat us. We nursed hot spots along the way, changed socks and dried out our feet during rest breaks. But it wasn’t enough. We each ended the week with two blisters each on our right feet. Hopefully, today’s rest day will dry them up.
For more photos, please visit our Instagram page www.instagram.com/bangkokbarcelonaonfoot/.