06 May 2012

Elephants, ox carts and rafting

It had been raining for probably 18 hours. It didn't stop all day. It was not an ideal day to ride elephants but it was the day we had. My big concern was keeping my camera dry. I had lots of plastic bags but nothing that sealed. Then I remembered the liquids bag for air travel. Bingo!

We loaded up in minibuses for the 1.5 hour trip to the elephant park. Partway up the mountain, it looke like the rain was letting up...but it didn't. By the time we got to the park, it was still raining so a lot of us bought cheapo rain coats from the gift shop. That took 40 of my remaining baht, leaving me with 20 (about 60 cents) to get through the day.

We saw the elephant show where they demonstrated the kinds of things elephants had traditionally done...moving logs with their tusks, dragging loads, etc. They also did more modern elephant things. One was really handy with kicking a soccer ball (he was right-footed), whether it was rolled to him or he dropped it from his trunk.

The most amazing thing...and I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it...was the elephant that painted. They brought out an easel and box of paints. The mahout would put a brush in the end of the elephant's trunk and it started to paint. It painted a black bird sitting on a branch coming off a tree trunk with red flowers and green leaves around it. Then it signed its name vertically down the right side and wrote "Love" across the top.

Virginia bought it on behalf of the students as a souvenir for Simpson.

We watched the mahouts take some elephants down to the river to bathe. They rode them out into the water then the elephants would lie down and roll over as the mahouts walked down their sides to stay above water. They scrubbed their sides and tusks and when done, they all trouped back out of the water.

By then, it was time for our rides. Urt (our guide) had scrounged up some uumbrellas somewhere and handed them out to people who wanted them. Even though I had the raincoat, I got an umbrella for Sheyenne and me so we could keep cameras out of the rain for picture taking.

I'd ridden elephants before but I didn't remember the motion being so extreme. It was like riding a huge rocking horse the way we'd roll forward and back.

We started out by crossing the river where the elephants had bathed then going up the far bank and through some woods. With the rain, the mountain peaks around the area were covered in mist with little tendrils creeping down the sides.

Then we went back down to the river and as we got in the water, it felt like the elephant was starting the lay-down-and-roll-over move we'd seen while bathing. Apparently, the mahout thought so too and had some strong words with the elephant (accompanied by blows to the head with the stick he carried). The elephant behaved after that.

We trekked straight upstream for a while then lumbered out onto the far shore and into the forest again. At one point, our mahout guided the elephant up to a tree and climbed into it to pick some sort of fruit. While he was in the tree, the elephant started backing away from it and I thought, "Uh, oh...run away elephant." but he called to it and it went back to the tree and the mahout got back into position over the elephant's neck and we carried on.

We came to a clearing in the woods where we got off the elephants and into ox carts that would take us back to the starting point. Sheyenne and I got in a cart with a couple of young women that weren't part of our group. They were taking pictures of each other and I offered to take a picture of the two of them. The first go, the ox cart lurched just as I was taking the picture and the picture was of a couple of surprised and alarmed looking young women. So I took another one.

I also took a picture of the ox cart driver. He was a young man...maybe 17?... in a western shirt and cowboy hat. He was adorable.

Back at the starting point, we got out of the ox carts and started the rafting portion of the trip.

These were flat, bamboo rafts that were manouvered downstream by a poler at each end. There were low benches for 4 people to sit in the middle of the raft. Felicia and I were in the back with Candra and her husband Brett up front under an umbrella. Brett held the umbrella while Candra took pictures. I took a few but then it started raining too hard to take my camera out of its plastic bag. Candra probably got the only other pictures of that portion of the day. Everyone else pretty much left everything in the vans.

Downstream at the take out, we got off the rafts and waited under a large roof for all of our group to get off the water. While we waited, we watched a large truck with a crane on the back pick up the rafts out of the water and put them on the truck bed...ready to be hauled back up stream and make the journey again.

Pretty much everyone was soaked. It would have been better if it hadn't been raining but it was still a great day.