The sun is blasting in the blue sky. We carry with us no knowledge of the region, a map that features not much more than the departure and arrival point and lots of laughter. We ride bikes we rented from a Thai man we do not understand. The arrival was going to be the wetlands according to our drawn –by- someone- we- do- not- know map. The wetlands stood 27 km away from where we were. Some of our friends predict it will take us 1,30 hours to bike that, some others predict our death out of exhaustion. We are so unprepared that we do not even really know what it means to bike 54km. Together with me are a Brazilian couple who is traveling around the world, and a Norwegian boy. We don’t really mind. We go without anything in us that obliges us to finish or arrive anywhere. We go for the ride.
We ride first through the promenade that lies in front of the Mekong, then we exit the town, then we take roads, then we arrive in villages. We take detours and encounter protective dogs, and “waying” ( to way is the gesture of putting both hands in front of you in a prayer gesture.) people. “Ways” are accompanied of swadikas if the person who greets you is a woman, sawdikap if it is a man.
We are in Isaan the poorest and less touristy province of Thailand. It is by far my favorite place here. As we ride along little villages literally no one speaks any English. We “way” back, we respond to every single child who crosses our way. They wave. We knew we would never take one and half hour to go. We are not people who really mind arriving, we mind encountering. We stop for fruits, for views, for detours. We stop for pictures.
The sun is so strong that even my fellow Brazilian friends who had come from Africa break slightly the vow of never complaining of heat. See they also lived in the UK and when they left to travel Africa they swore never to complain of the sun. That is precisely my own sentiment. So we complain of the heat but with enormous gratitude for it.
We are tired. We see a little village. We see a lady that makes food. I know how to say Kao which is rice. We ask Kao with vegetables. I say “Jeh” to specify I wanted vegetarian. We decide to eat just to have the excuse to seat down. We are not hungry we think. The Thai lady prepares meticulously the fried rice we are going to have. The smells of chilies and who knows what else starts to float in the air. We love being there. A little village on the backyard of some old Thai lady waiting for this food that we are now desperate for. The little Thai boy plays with his gigantic teddy bear. The king face hangs on the wall.
As we devour the delicious food that is served to us we feel there is no way on earth we could possibly bike more. We are lethargic. We want to sleep. We need coffee. We search for it and we are lucky enough to find a little market where the lady points us to ice coffee. I look around. We get little things. We find the shop the great excuse we need to just stop. As I am going through the items I see a little wallet. It is a perfect one. Perfect for coins! I want to buy it. It is colourful and perfect. I take and as it hangs in my hand I realized they come attached to keys. I am puzzled looking at it, when the sweet Thai lady comes. I suddenly understand that it belongs to her.
She takes it from my hand gently. I apologize. She removes the keys, opens it and removes the money from inside. She then holds it in front of her body, and makes the gesture of giving it to me. “From me to you” kind of thing. You all know how emotional I am. So yes. I get really emotional.. I tell her I can’t take her wallet. She holds her little bag in her chess, then points to the sky and gives it to me. I am speechless. I had done nothing apart doing lots of “way” when I came in. My friend suggests I should give her money. I cant do it. It is a gift. I want to give her something as well. I have barely nothing with me. I do have my scarf. My favorite scarf I bought in the middle east. The one that traveled with me Palestine, Israel and India. That is it. I will give her my scarf. I walk towards her and repeat the same gesture. From me to you. She is happy. We do not exchange a single word. Just gifts carrying different stories. Just a respect and deference gestures and smiles.
Arriving at the wetlands seems even less important now. We mount our bikes taking every view we see with more joy. We pass rice fields, families, children, and when we arrive finally at the Wetlands I realized that it is really true.. to me what matter is not the end point, it is always the journey.