Here Be Tigers

The road to the field site was long and windy, going steadily deeper into the forest to the point that tarmac dissolved into dust and leaves. On the way we stopped at a restaruant for lunch and Komg explained how the road affected our travel time, drawing a simple map, we would be going 70km along the main road, which would only take about an hour, but travelling the 30 km through the forest would take an hour and a half because of the state of the road, and points where the road actually disappeared.

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We passed a lot of soldiers on the way, as Hau Kha Khaeng is along the border between Myanmar and Thailand, so there is a lot of monitoring to make sure the trafficking of drugs and occasionally people along the border.

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Every few moments we stopped to see furry things scatter through the trees.

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We bumped down the road until my jaw rattled and brakes squealed ahead of hidden bridges. We crossed a few wooden bridges and I got out on most of them to guide the truck, as I could imagine the ridiculous scenario that would arise if we crashed the truck.

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After what seemed like the whole day, we finally arrived at a row of galvanized tin roofs, sitting on small shacks. We pulled ourselves out of the truck and went to meet the crowd that had gathered. About 15 people work at the forest plot, and we had arrived as they began to pour out of the forest in the early evening. They greeted us with big smiles and I spoke the entirety of my Thai vocabulary in the first few seconds trying to keep up with them. They spoke very little English so I had to get by on whatever I could convey. The language barrier would prove to be quite challenging here over time.

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We smoked some Thai palm cigarettes and chatted, and after a few minutes I took out the drone to show them. We handed it around for a bit, then thinking that now was as good as ever, I sent it up.

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Later on we had dinner as sunlight died. I couldn’t get over how nice everyone was, quietly accepting into their tight knit group without a flicker of hesitation.

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Later on we watched Thai soap opera- which included a Thai dwarf karate fight scene- drank beer and smoked until the batteries began to flicker and we lost power. The bushes next to my room rattled with animal activity through the night.

In the morning we had what was left of dinner and freshly steamed, sweet smelling rice. I found a porcupine quill resting by the basin, where it had been foraging the night before. People didn’t really speak in the morning, just hugged their knees in the cold and sipped sugary coffees. It was really peaceful in the morning. Birdsong rang with clarity through the cold air and distant hooting of gibbons haunted our silence.

After breakfast we packed our gear and strolled into the forest. I was  excited, nervous and faintly bemused, this was all happening and I felt like I had more or less just fallen into it. I walked into the forest with a triumphant smirk.

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