• US: East/South
• New Zealand
• US: West/North
• Folly Cove
Cambodian border was closed and Dana and I were racing through the North
Thailand jungle, brush ripping at us as we hurtled blindly through briars
and bamboo. We could hear the shouting voices of those pursuing us, somewhere
in the jungle not far behind. The stench of burning grass was nearly choking.
We'd lost our guide, an American ex-pat who called himself "Hole
Plugger". He had caught some barbed wire across his face and gone
down in a bleeding mess.
Night was almost upon us, and now our only hope was to try to follow the
two young Thais as they raced ahead through the jungle. Suddenly, the jungle
floor opened up before us and we slid into a ravine. As we hit the bottom
in a heap, we could hear the footfalls of our pursuers reaching the lip
of the ravine above. Dana looked at me, her eyes desperately saying it
all, "How did we end up here?" How indeed had we come upon
Night was almost upon us, and now our only hope was to try to follow the two young Thais as they raced ahead through the jungle. Suddenly, the jungle floor opened up before us and we slid into a ravine. As we hit the bottom in a heap, we could hear the footfalls of our pursuers reaching the lip of the ravine above. Dana looked at me, her eyes desperately saying it all, "How did we end up here?" How indeed had we come upon such misfortune?
Miss Fortune. That was her name. At least I thought it was — now I know better. It was Chinese New Year in Chiang Mai and everyone was in Chinatown for the parade. Everyone except us. Dana and I were sitting in an empty bar discussing backup plans. The Thais had closed the border to Cambodia, our next stop, and we were batting around ideas — Laos? Vietnam? Burma? And how should we get there? That's when she entered the bar. A middle aged Thai woman covered in skin tight black, except for an amply supplied mouth of red lipstick. She glanced at us as she passed to the bar where she spoke a few quiet words with the barmaid. Then she approached us. She smiled and in thickly accented English, said, "My name Miss Fortune, this my bar." She looked us up and down, sizing us up, then she leaned in, her red lips spreading: "You run hash?" Dana and I looked at each other, and made a decision.
Ten minutes later we were in the back of a truck, rattling into the mountains outside the city in the direction of the Burmese border. Two hours after that we found ourselves at the bottom of a ravine in the jungle, well short of the border, wondering how we were going to get home, if ever. I looked back at Dana, I yelled "On! On!" and, with the last of our energy, we scrambled out of the ravine and hurtled onwards into the brush, with our followers at our heels. We came upon more barbed wire, a hole cut in the middle, with a well trod path through the jungle beyond. We ducked through the fence, ran down the path, around a bend and into a clearing full of trucks. They were waiting for us in a large group. In the middle of the group was Hole Plugger, speaking loudly to the two young Thais and pointing to his bandaged nose. As we came panting into the clearing, he turned to us with a big grin on his face. He handed us each a beer and said "Well how was your first Hash, my two young virgins?"
It was our maiden run with the Hash House Harriers, Chiang Mai Chapter.
The Hash House Harriers is a "drinking club with a running problem" and can be found in cities and ports around the world. Its origins lie somewhere in Kuala Lumpur back in the 30's, when some ex-pats decided they should temper their drinking with a little exercise. "Running Hash" is unknown and well known depending on the friends you keep. Dana and I first heard of it when having dinner with three merchant sailors in North Carolina during the U.S leg of our round the world trip. "Uncle" Walter, a Merchant marine captain, leaned over to me at the dinner table and said very seriously "have you ever run hash?" After a quick "Who's on First?" routine where various types of caning punishments in Southeast Asia were discussed, I finally knew something of Hash, and wanted to experience it for myself. So it wasn't entirely a mistake that Misfortune found us wearing trail shoes in her bar, called the "H3 Bar" (Hash House Harriers). We had set out looking for misfortune, and we found her. And are looking forward to finding her again!
A Hash is not for the weak of leg or liver. Every week, one or two members of the Hash are designated as that week's "Hares". The hares are responsible for coming up with the venue for that week's Hash and setting the trail. They give out directions to the starting point for all members, visiting members of other Hashes and Virgins. There is usually a truck arranged for those without transport out to the Hash. Sometimes the Hash is in a rural area in the middle of nowhere, as was our fate, or a wild run through the shops, restaurants and other unappreciative locations in the city center. The Hares start off and leave behind a trail of flour or shredded paper, which sometimes indicates the way and often purposely leads runners in the wrong direction. It is up to the runners to try to discern the true path and leave indication of the true path for all those that follow. The stated goal is to try to catch the hares, but the real goal is that everyone finishes. One of the more admirable virtues of a Hasher is that he/she always helps other hashers. The running over hill and dale, through bamboo and brasserie, takes between 45 minutes and 1 1/2 hours, depending on the runner and the trickery of the Hares.
At the end of the run, which is not until all finish, everyone forms a circle and various traditions are performed. I will not (and probably should not) disclose them all here, but they all involve a great deal of beer and a great deal of humor. Some annotated examples: Virgins are toasted, the expertise of the Hares is roasted (both of the Thais had to sit on a block of ice and chug beer after beer for nearly beheading Hole Plugger with their trail), new members are given their Hash names ( "Hole Plugger", "Misfortune", "Wombat", "Kiwi Bastard", "Superman", "SuperPussy", "Dyke Converter", and "Burrito Butt" are some of the tamer monikers), Hashers are lauded for exemplifying the highest of principles during the Hash, or humiliated for behaving in such a way that would leave the darkest of dark scars on the hallowed history of Hash. Even those who don't buy enough of the leftover t-shirts from prior hashes are paraded in the circle as "Cheap Bastards" and forced to answer to the Hash (from personal experience, I would recommend you buy more than one). There are bawdy songs, bizarre rituals, a great deal of laughter, and probably the best case of instant camaradarie and welcome you can find in any strange land.
The easiest way to find a local Hash is to check the web (search "Hash House Harrier [Desired City]" using Google). There really seems to be a Hash in every city in the world. I even discovered that there was a Hash right under my nose all those studious years in Ithaca, New York. Cost to participate is around $5, which includes unlimited endorphins and beer.
Will & Dana