So, yesterday I went to the elephant trek place, and after haggling a bit convinced them to do a three hour trek for 1000 baht ($25). I’m acclimated enough to local pricing that this made me wince severely (that’s about equal to my entire food + hotel bill for the four days here…so definitely foreign-tourist pricing). But, as Cat pointed out, elephant treks are not exactly a dime a dozen in the U.S., and being a (large) cat I must get into absolutely everything, so… 🙂
I deliberately asked for a three hour trek because their longest “standard” trek is 2 hours–by asking for something nonstandard, I forced them off their “standard” schedule. This usually means you either get more or less than you paid for–either you get off the beaten track for a special something, or you get a much slower version of the “regular” tour. Turns out I got both…
Elephant treks are done on an elephant (duh) with a two-person metal bench seat strapped on top. The mahout/guide hops up and nonchalantly straddles the neck, feet propped casually up on the elephant’s ears, elephant goad and umbrella stashed under the seat. (An elephant goad is basically a very small (18″)pickaxe, with a curve in the pointy part. It’s used for getting the elephant’s attention, either by poking it with the pointy part when the steering fails, or thwacking it between the eyes with the handle when it’s doing something really antisocial, like trying to scrape you off.)
Tourists, like tourists everywhere, sit in the economy section, on the bench seat. (I frankly wanted to ride the elephant bareback, but didn’t have the nerve to ask them to remove the “saddle”. Besides, it *was* convenient for holding my pack, water bottle, etc.)
To get onto the elephant (it’s not a horse…or if it is, it’s a horse 8′ tall at the shoulder), one climbs a ladder to the elephant-mounting stand, then steps onto the elephant, then onto the saddle. Then the mahout leaps on, and you’re off! I promptly took off my Tevas, and discovered that elephant hide feels like, um, elephant hide. Tough leather covered with bristly hairs about 2″ long. Honestly, it feels like having your feet on tickly lawn grass, except that it’s warm and humps up and down as the elephant walks.
The route out wasn’t very interesting–going someplace on an elephant turns out to be very much like hiking, except that your vantage point is eight feet off the ground. I did discover, though, that my GPS unit is completely useless for jungle work–it doesn’t get enough satellite reception to function. Oh well, one more thing to chalk up to experience.
After about an hour of walking through rainforest and old pomelo orchard (with the elephant periodically sneaking trunk-fuls of reed-grass along the way), we came to a freshwater pool. The mahout indicated we should stop, and signaled the elephant to its knees–this turned out to be an alarmingly creaky business, as you might imagine if you’re in a seat atop the elephant, but eventually the elephant lowered itself enough that I could scramble down.
Anyway, he asked if I wanted to go swimming–this was apparently the elephant-watering break, as the elephant was already drinking and spraying itself. There were a bunch of Thai teenagers already in the pool, and it did look inviting, so I figured sure, why not. I changed into a green jungle-print tank top, stashed my cameras into the pack, and jumped in.
Tropical water is delightful, very much like a nice warm swimming pool. Several kinds of minnows darted around the surface of the water, and I enjoyed swimming around the pool. The elephant drank, sprayed itself explosively, and wandered off, escorted by a twelve-year-old Thai boy. Someone turned up with my mahout’s lunch…at which point it dawned on me that we were probably taking the two-hour tour, with a one-hour stop at the waterfall. Oh well; you pays your money, you takes your chances. And the water *was* nice.
Eventually another pair of elephants appeared, with a French family on board. They stopped, the elephants drank, we all swam for awhile–and then it started raining, one of those drenching tropical downpours. Rain on a rainforest pool is just gorgeous–each drop brings up a silver splash from the pool, and viewed at water level, against a backdrop of green jungle, it’s gorgeous. Unfortunately, it’s not something you can catch in a photo, or I would have tried.
Eventually the mahouts got bored, and ordered the elephants into the pool. I got some great photos of them playing “king of the elephant” (huge splashes each time one fell off the elephant), and one of the popular game, “How many people can you fit into a Volkswagen elephant??” Eventually they took to backflip dives off the elephant’s back–I *really* wish I’d gotten a photo of that one.
Anyway, it was all fun and games until one of the elephants decided to “go” in the pool…elephant droppings are about the size of a volleyball, and they produce them abundantly, so this was no small matter…I thanked every god that I was upstream from the elephant as I hastily scrambled out. Eventually, the mahouts got all the droppings out of the water, my mahout got the elephant to kneel in the water, and I scrambled on.
On the way back, since we hadn’t used up the entire extra hour at the pool, my mahout decided to wander off the beaten track (and now you see why I insisted on the extra time 😉 ). We went through some pomelo (grapefruit analog) orchards, then wandered into an old banana plantation, grown over with reed grass.
As the elephant nonchalantly trampled its way through 5′ underbrush, trampling a 3′ wide path as it went, I suddenly realized why elephants were used for trekking, back in the old days. It’s rather like riding a living bulldozer. This became much clearer to me as the elephant started casually uprooting 4-5″ diameter banana palms along the path, carrying them along in its trunk and munching the leaves as it went. I was sitting with my feet on the elephant’s shoulders, and couldn’t feel any special effort as it pulled up the palms–wow, now *there’s* a beast worth taming.
On the way back my mahout asked me if I wanted to ride the elephant–well, DUH! He sent a twelve-year-old boy off to take photos, as I hopped onto the neck. I figured out how to steer the elephant pretty quickly–you put one foot behind each ear and nudge in the appropriate direction)–and I think I now have some great digital pix of me on an elephant. I’ll try to upload once I get back to Bangkok.
So that was the elephant trek. 🙂
I got back to my bamboo hut, took a quick “shower” (showers here consist of a concrete basin full of water, and a bowl: one scoops up water in the bowl and dumps it over oneself–thus the “scoop and slosh” moniker), and (changing gears) went off for a walk along the beach. The beach is almost deserted; in twenty minutes of walking, I only saw three or four people.
I’ve been walking meditatively along the beach the last few days, spinning silk thread on a tiny drop spindle. The spindle serves the same purpose as mala, or prayer beads–slows down the walk enough to let me really enjoy walking and thinking. without a distractor, something with rhythm, it’s easy to speed up and overfocus, so as not to enjoy the beach. I walked up to another little inlet, full of lovely spiral shells (some housing hermit crabs), collected some shells, and turned back.
The sun was setting, gloriously. People say that light is different in the tropics, and they’re right: I felt like I had stepped into an oil painting, with translucent light and all sorts of shades I’d never seen before, all changing from second to second as the light shifted. Warm creams and pinks and peaches against all shades of silver and blue, as the waves reflected the setting sun, the clouds, the sunlight in the clouds–for a painter, it would have been the face of God. Even as a writer, it was absolutely gorgeous. I’ll try catching it on film tonight, but I think it’s hopeless–much of the beauty is in the way the light changes from second to second; blink and it’s a new set of shades.
After the sunset, I was exhausted, so I went straight to sleep. I woke up again at 3am, and went for a long moonlit walk on the beach…also beautiful, but in a very different way.
Today I went to Klong Prao Waterfall, which I think is highly overrated (I had enough tropical falls in Hawaii to last me a lifetime). I did, however, get the two things I’d been looking for–three pieces of dried, seasoned bamboo, and a small branch of teakwood (I think), about 2.5″ in diameter. I’ve spun up the first skein of silk for the shawl I plan to knit, and I have a set of circular knitting needles, but I need a set of double-pointed, size 3 knitting needles to start the shawl. So, I’m going to try carving a set out of either bamboo or teak tonight.
(If you’re inclined to point out that I can buy such things in Bangkok, and I’m going back there tomorrow–well, you’re right, but you’re also missing the point. Where’s the fun in *buying* them?? I’ve never used the saw blade on my Leatherman…I must try it! 😉 )
Anyway, I’ve just spent another $9 on Internet access to write this email (first item on the list once I get back to Bangkok is to find a cheap, portable word-processor device so I can write these at home), so I’m heading off to start hacking away at a piece of wood. 😉
Tomorrow morning I head back to Bangkok, for the party. I didn’t manage to get hold of the body painter, so I guess I’ll have to go looking like a normal human (too bad)–but I’m going to try talking him into painting me for a studio session. No idea how much it’ll run, but try everything once, right? 🙂
Meanwhile, a certain unnamed relative has emailed me to inform me that there have been random shootings in Turkey, and I should be careful. Last I checked, Turkey was a couple thousand miles from Thailand, but I’ll keep it in mind. *sigh*