Dragging my cumbersome bags through Mo Chit bus station (confusingly named Chatuchak) searching for the elusive gate number 130, I found myself thinking I really am quite fried at present, and a week of relaxation and proper sleep is just what I need. All I had to do was endure the eight-hour bus ride from Bangkok, and I would have it.
I signed up for a yoga retreat – having wanted to try one for a while – in Phu Ruea, northeast Thailand. The region, Loei, boasts some impressive nature, as well as Thailand’s coldest temperatures. (In winter, these mountainous parts can drop as low as zero degrees). Luckily, I was still a month from experiencing that; cold weather and I just don’t get along. Moreover, rainy season just finished, so I assumed conditions would be perfect for my exhausted body and mind to get some much-needed rest.
I probably should have guessed from the ancient condition of the bus that achieving relaxation would be harder than I thought. Hustled on board in that curt, get-moving-you-stupid-farang Thai way I’ve come to know so well, I spent nearly twenty minutes trying to find my seat, receiving politely apathetic looks from passengers. No one reacted even when I smacked my head against the roof. Hmph, I thought bitterly, in Malaysia, people would have chuckled.
Eight hours of bumps, only one toilet stop, and gently coaxing my sleeping neighbour off my shoulder later, I arrived at Phu Ruea – not Kok Pho, where I asked to be released. My host somehow knew this would happen, and was able to deliver me to the retreat with no awkward delays.
Outside, the sky was pitch-black, and stars were glinting. My host helped me dump my things in the dorm, before navigating around the property and showing me the facilities. When we reached the bathrooms, she proceeded to explain that, in keeping with the retreat’s permaculture principles, visitors would be involved with recycling their own, erm, waste.
Say what, now?
The process reminded me of camping in the Northern Territory when I was a kid, though this was more of a professional set-up. In separate cubicles, visitors have large buckets for number one and two (the latter encased in a makeshift Western toilet box), a bottle of liquid charcoal, and a ceramic pot filled with leaves and sawdust shavings. Once you’ve done your business, hose everything with the charcoal, before covering up with a generous heaping of sawdust.
Then, when they start to fill up, buckets are carted away and emptied for the sake of creating natural compost. Many plants on the property benefit from the additional nitrogen that pee provides, particularly banana palms – think of that the next time you eat an organic banana. Moreover, new trees and shrubs thrive in this homemade compost mixed with sand, charcoal, and rice husks.
Once I got over handling human excrement when potting plants, I began to really appreciate the sustainable efforts made at this retreat. Here, organic waste makes the world go round, and nothing, in turn, is wasted. Goats are raised on the property – I saw two being born the other day – and provide milk for drinking, and droppings for compost. Fresh mushrooms are grown from shelves and picked for dinner each night. Heck – worm pee is collected in tanks and used as natural plant fodder. That’s dedication.
I’m glad permaculture proved such an important facet of my visit, because the yoga and meditation is lost on me. I’m starting to think I may be allergic to relaxation. Perhaps residents ought to find a way to recycle the calming energy that flows through this place, like they do with my pee. Then I’ll harness the ability to chant myself to sleep instead of cursing the pigeons nestled in the roof.