The boy wore a faded striped blue and white t-shirt, along with a pair of well-loved denim jeans with large rips across both knees. He kept his thick, dark hair tucked slightly behind one ear and gave a nervous smile as he tilted his head in my direction. My life was now in the hands of this tribal teenager who was probably no older than 14. I returned his smile and silently prayed that we would make it out of these hills alive. I cant say I was filled with confidence as the young boy led me to his bike…which had clearly been around a lot longer than he had. The dirty, ancient moped could only be described as falling to pieces. As the engine reluctantly spluttered to a start after numerous attempts, I hesistantly climbed onto the vehicle behind my dark-haired driver.
Becky and I had walked for miles to reach this tribal village; tucked away in the mountainous terrain of the middle of nowhere, hidden completely from the rest of civilization. We discovered that there were in fact many of these hidden communities up in the hills along the Thailand/Myanmar border. For years the people of Burma would cross the border, finding that by setting up camp in the mountains, they would be left undisturbed by the authorities. Considering the route we had taken to reach the village, it was difficult to believe that there was any sort of road in place that would safely get us to the nearest town of Pai. I know that in England at least, narrow and crooked, steep and meandering footpaths that wind awkwardly around mountain tops do tend to be avoided by most forms of transportation.
I watched Becky and her driver disappear over the brow. Then it was our turn. I clutched on tightly to the back of the bike as my young friend furiously revved the engine. We crawled at a snails pace up the cracked and broken track. Thoughts of having to jump off and push were beginning to enter my mind when we finally managed to gather some speed. Reaching the peak of the hill I gasped as my stomach jumped into my mouth. We were flying down a footpath that would have been too narrow to accommodate a giraffe’s neck! The 100-foot drop to the left of me was really doing wonders for my nerves and we were now travelling down at such a steep angle I had no other option than to crush the poor boy in front of me. There’s off-road driving, and then there’s taking the complete piss!
The next hour was a gruelling drive filled with apprehension and horror as I had a mini-heart attack every time Becky disappeared around a bend for fear that she’d toppled over the edge. I had several mini-heart attacks on occasions when the wheels of the bike had come within a fraction of an inch from the edge of the drop. And I’d had quite a severe attack when we almost tumbled into a river. But finally I was able to breathe a sigh of relief, for in the distance I spotted it. An ACTUAL road!
Upon reaching this closest thing to perceived safety, I allowed myself a moment to take in the beauty of the surroundings. Clouds spiralled softly around the soaring mountain tops. There was a slight chill in the air and the gentle wind brought with it a sense of accomplishment. Feeling animated, and with a genuine belief that I had just cheated death, I gave my shy friend an enthusiastic handshake as we paused to stretch our legs before completing the last stage of our journey into the town of Pai. I tried to thank him for getting me safely across the mountains. His grin that spread from ear to ear suggested he understood my gratefulness. We set off for the remainder of our journey before it was finally time for us to part ways. I would eventually return to England. To a busy city where people always rush to get places and ignore one another in the street. He would return to his friendly little community in the mountains where, despite the fact this was literally the middle of nowhere, he still managed to have a Manchester United calendar hanging on the weaved wooden wall next to his sleeping quarters in the family hut.