Thursday, May 27, 2010


On this past weeks ride to Mae Hong Son I passed through a number of areas that had been completely deforested and burned to the ground. Looking out over the horizon the landscape was scared with these small patches of land that had been burned in the past and were now revering. Yet despite their recovery, the patches still clearly bear the scars of being burned.

Looking out over the valleys dotted with these burn scars I got to thinking about our role on this planet. We are not the only species that modifies the environment to suit our own needs. Despite long held ideas that humans were the only species able to modify the environment, many animals, plants and even alga are able to do the same. Some bacteria will change the pH of their environment to better suit their needs. Yet we as humans seem to be the only species that can modify the environment to a point that can be considered destructive. What is more disturbing is the fact that humans are not only destructive to the very thing that sustains their (our) existence, is the fact that we are conscious of the fact that we are doing it and seem to be aware of the eventual consequences of doing such.

It reminds me a very poignant point that was brought up in a book that I was reading recently. I don't have the book so forgive me if the quote is not exact but the idea comes from Michael Pollen's book, "The Omnivore's Dilemma". The quote is about sustainability. The gist of the idea is that sustainability is better defined by what it is not than what it is. A system that is not sustainable is one that is collapsing and not able to perpetuate itself. Sustainability is an idea that is thrown around a lot these days but I think that the true meaning is often lost.

This also comes back to the idea of the tragedy of the commons in that knowing that we are doing "only" a small amount of damage to the environment is often justification enough for people to act in a way that is destructive. The problem comes when six billion people on the earth are all doing the same "small" amount of damage and the small amount quickly multiplies out of control.

I am not trying to pass judgment. The burning of a hillside to have a more fertile bed to plant crops is destructive, there is no arguing that fact. However so was my being there, the fossil fuels that I consumed to get there were also destructive. When we think about the direction that we need to move as a species, we need to start thinking as a species that acts in selfish ways. We have a fundamental barrier in our thinking in that we thing our small amounts of harm can't make a difference. We all know that small amounts of good will make a big difference and yet we seldom think that cumulatively our small amounts of damage will multiply into a destructive force.

Friday, May 21, 2010

My summer holidays are almost over so I have been trying to ride as much as I can in the little time I have left. In a week I will be restricted to riding on weekends and holidays. Never my favourite time as everyone with a bike or car seems to be out on the weekends and holidays. In addition to that the rains are coming. I am starting to feel it. The temperature is dropping, though hardly enough to give respite from the heat, and the clouds are starting to show their presence more and more. Soon the true monsoon season will start and all of the lovely dirt trails that I have been riding will turn to sloppy mud.

I spent the last week on parts of the famous Maehongson loop. I have never actually ridden the loop the way it is generally intended to be ridden, attacking from the north and returning from the south via Doi Inthanon. Every time I have done this loop I have gotten sidetracked by something and not finished it. The loop itself is very good, with long stretches of flowing windy roads running from mountain tops to valleys. Pacing the journey are interesting towns, with some wonderful restaurants. One of my favourites of late is the Muslim Home Made in Pai. I'm personally not a big fan of Pai. What was once a sleepy little town in the mountains has turned into just another sweaty tourist destination where strung out travellers, weary of the road seem to congregate. All that aside, after two and a half hours riding from Chiang Mai, Pai does make a logical stopping point. The chicken curry and japatis at the Muslim Home Made make it worth a stop, even if it is just a stop to confirm that this is not a town to spend any significant amount of time in.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Sop Kai.

Spent a day riding the Sop Kai loop this week. It is a wonderful little trip through mountains and along the Mae Taeng river. Thailand is still hot and combined with the heat, the recent political turmoil has left little for those who sustain themselves off the tourism industry to live off of. The summer is usually hard for these people but this summer in particular. People are just not travelling to Thailand or within Thailand right now and spells trouble for a nation that has a large part of its economy based on the industry. It is by far the small local vendors that suffer the most though. Often these road side stalls, selling simple snacks and lunches will only see a few people a day. Many complain that the large scale tourist industry here captures much of the business. It is easy to see why, with signs in English, English speaking staff and larger cleaner facilities, many tourists feel more comfortable frequenting these establishments. In this vein, more seasoned travels, those that feel compelled to get off the beaten track should support the small local vendors. Even just buying a water or a coke here and there can make a big difference.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Elephants have always made a big impression on me. They are such intelligent, social creatures. If you are not convinced of this already, just sit for an hour and watch elephants interact with each other.

I got the opportunity the other day to do just that. Two of the younger elephants were especially entertaining to watch. While the keepers were busy trying to untangle the parents of one particular youngster, he managed to get into the basket of the keepers motorcycle and steal a chilli pepper. After placing it in his mouth and chewing for a while, the spice kicked in and the poor little elephant just didn't know what to do. He kept reaching into his mouth with his trunk, trying to remove the chilli pepper but to no avail for it had already been chewed and swallowed. This went on for quite some time until the spice finally wore off in his mouth. Of course being a youngster, the opportunity to steal another chilli pepper would not go unanswered, regardless of the fact that he had just learned the hard way of the potency of chili peppers. This time however the keepers spotted him before he was able to procure another chili pepper, and averted him from another unpleasant run in with spice.