Iam bouncing along mountain paths on the back of my friend Boowa’s motorbike when he stops to explain a major, “intersection”. He explains that one path leads to the Mae Wang and the other to the Chom Thong watershed districts. Robert Brownings, “Two Paths”, come to mind, the difference is that there are three diverging paths including the one we are on and they all say the same thing to me, “lost in the jungle, going around in circles for months”. It would certainly be true if you were not in the hands of a local Karen who understands the importance of the crossing. There are no signs distinguishing one from the other and again I feel privileged to experience the beauty of the jungle with my trusted friend.

We are heading from Boowa’s home village of Mu Au Pu where I have spend a couple days reconnecting with the villagers, to Mae Sapok where I will take a yellow songtao back to Chiang Mai. There are five colors of songtaos in Chiangmai, two that I use on a regular basis, the red that will take me anywhere in the city for 20 baht, although I hear they are now asking 30 baht from new tourists. The other is the yellow which takes me out of the city about an hour or so. The strangest thing is that it also costs up to 20 baht depending on how far out I go.

Traveling the back paths provides me a sense of freedom. The paths are so dense and the paths so bad that at times I can’t decide whether to protect my eyes from the the grasses and branches that hang at face level or watch the road for rocks. As we wind our way through the forest vines wind through the trees reaching for sunlight that shines through holes in the canopy.

The paths are difficult to manage and Boowa fights with the bike to keep control, his arms firmly on the handles he drags his feet to maintain balance over the more difficult sections. Sometimes I find it best to tighten my grip on the back saddle, close my eyes, duck my head down and hope for the best. Other times I have to jump off the back and walk up the steepest inclines and declines. I am happy to do this as I see the muddy portions open up in front of us.

This trip has been a bit of a fishing expedition checking out some of the schools I’ve visited in the past to see if repairs have been made since my last trip. As expected there have been no improvements yet I am always hopeful of a surprise. The toilets at the Ban Mai day care center are in very rough shape and the Hmong/Karen child care centre is still without a fence, allowing chickens, pigs and water buffalo to wander the grounds at will.

It feels like Kleo is in the toilet facility management business this year. Four new toilets at Jen’s house are complete, two at Mae Ra Ma Refugee Camp are in the works and the need continues. We are certainly into the glamour work now. However, as one of my Karen friends said on a recent trip, “You are becoming an expert on the cost of rebuilding toilets”. I am pleased with our ability to deal with these basics that will help minimize disease — important work in using our funds effectively.

Lucky for me it was very cold in the camps and my senses did not come under the same attack as last year.

You can put the plunger away now!