An Elephant Never Forgets, But Can It Tell Time?

Trip Start Jul 03, 2009
Trip End Aug 16, 2009

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Flag of Thailand  ,
Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What time is it? Eh, who cares? I love the free feeling of having time not really matter while on vacation. However, the mighty watch would give us a run for our money today.

We started our day as we have with most days, free delicious breakfast and then a trek down to the beach. After a salute from our security guard assuring us that crossing the six foot street was safe, we headed down to stake our claim on an empty beach. Most days it's just Joe and I with a sprinkling of others, but this day it really was just us and the Thai massage ladies playing cards. The currents were too strong to swim so we set upon sunning and shading, respectively.

We had another beach walk in the opposite direction gathering sea shells, which I usually think is a stupid brainless activity. Perhaps Thailand is softening me a bit as I actually enjoyed picking the most beautiful shells and rinsing them in the waves. We also spotted a local gentleman having a lovely picnic in one of the abandoned beach shacks. Post beach and post pool we settled into a table at the poolside restaurant.

Joe and I were keeping a close eye on the time as we had an elephant ride pick-up scheduled at 3:00PM. Our food was taking an exceptionally long time. I went to check the clock at the pool, 2:45PM and still no food. This seemed later than I felt like it should be so we looked on our bill which has a time posted on it, 1:45PM. Since we now had two conflicting answers, we asked our waitress for the time, she confirmed 2:45PM. We leaped into action as Joe’s burger and my shrimp rolls were taking an hour! With only ten minutes to spare, Joe told the staff that we would need our food to go and I went to the tour desk to see if I could push the pick-up by about fifteen minutes so we could scarf down our lunches… before riding on the back of an elephant.

When I showed up at the tour desk, the guide says "here for your 3:00PM?" I then explained to him our situation and after looking at his watch, he gave us until 3:45PM to finish our yet to exist lunches.  After eating, we happened to look at a computer clock…it was indeed only 3:00PM. The original earlier time had been correct. What the hell?! Why does no one know what time it is? Why would the guide let me delay a 3:00PM tour at 2:00PM? Now we had some time to kill before our ride but as usual, even though no one has a clue what time it really is, the Banyan Tree graciously called and got us picked up at the original time and we were on our way.

It is never a good sign when someone wants me to get in the back of a pick-up truck. The last time I did this was on Spring Break my sophomore year of college and we have the picture of a good friend of mine with her skirt blowing up in the air as proof for what a stupid move that was. After our white trash ride, we were dropped at a lovely .location complete with elephants. We both had mixed feelings about this activity. PETA would have had a fit I’m sure. By paying for this, are we supporting the care of the elephants and the employment of the local people? I thought of Tracy checking our horses in Costa Rica for saddle sores and I tried to do the same with the elephants. They seemed to be in good condition, the guides weren’t forceful and after we heard a woman complaining at the tour desk earlier that morning about a different company, we were on the look-out for elephants in chains and saw nothing but happy looking elephants chomping on feed. Obviously, this is what we saw during normal business hours, what the owners wanted us to see. However, no obvious signs of abuse were present…unless you count two burger eating Americans sitting on an elephant’s back for enjoyment…still a little conflicted here.

Let’s take a moment from my moral dilema to discuss safety. Joe and I have had numerous discussions, in China especially about the different and seemingly lax safety standards in other countries. Most of the time it’s us remarking about how America would ruin things like the Great Wall by putting up railings and barriers and covering the whole thing in astro-turf because one time a stupid kid fell over the Wall or tripped and broke an ankle and now said kid’s family was suing the Great Wall.

The only three times that we have decided that American safety standards are probably best include:

1.       When we watched an acrobats hand set on fire in Shanghai only to put himself out and keep on with the act. The act was followed by a cage of death with nine motorcycles ripping through the audience dousing us all with gasoline.

2.       In Thailand when the swimming advisory was yellow meaning “some strong currents, swim at your own risk.” We tried it, America wins here.

3.       This elephant ride.

Our journey was a bit stressful to say the least! I had ridden an elephant before in a small circle at the Milwaukee County Zoo, this was nothing like it. We were off-roading with this elephant swaying back and forth on a little bench with no latch, buckle or anything but us white knuckling each other and a small bar on the side of the chair. The ride included steep up hills and terrifying down hills. I am happy to say that our elephant rider did let the elephant stop to drink water, grab and eat branches from high trees (what a strong trunk!) and with a trumpet announcement from our elephant not the guide, although that would have been hysterically funny, let loose the largest pee and poop that I’ve ever seen. At one point the guide turns to us and points to the elephants back near the head where he was riding and said “you want to sit here?” Our response was a quick and terrified “no thanks!”

The best part of the ride was being able to safely climb off of the elephant’s back. However, I didn’t feel done with this experience. I think Joe was ready to run out of there, but I started to feel badly again. I didn’t do anything to connect with this animal who took me for a ride. I didn’t look into its huge eyes or even take the time to pet it. So, we bought a basket of bananas and fed the elephant...I fed the elephant, Joe videotaped it. If you haven’t guessed, it’s worth a watch. Again, I was in a nice comfort zone feeding the elephant through its trunk, and then the guide says “feed him in his mouth.” As if on cue, the elephant opened his huge mouth and stuck out the largest tongue I have ever seen. I suppose it takes a large tongue to produce large poop. I owed it to this elephant to not be afraid of it so I handled my elephant licks with a few shrieks, gave the guy a good pat and a look in the eye and we were on our way. Yes mom, I did dump about a gallon of hand sanitizer on myself on the pick-up ride back to the hotel.

After a short rest and swim in our room, we headed out to Canal Village, a shopping and dining area, to get some souveniers for the folks back at home. The place was like a ghost town, this being low season, and we did get a lot of things on “sale” aka slightly less of a huge whitey mark up. We met a hysterical shopkeeper who loved Joe (all the Asian women love Joe). She put him right to work making a “you break it you buy it” sign for another friend of hers in the village. These interactions are one of my favorite parts of travel. She was so shifty and funny. We walked out of there with “ a friends bargain,” a free ugly flower candle, and some laughs.

The other highlight of Canal Village was all of the kids activities including an opportunity to be a bubble boy or girl (check out the picture). Joe wanted us to try it but I can only imagine those plastic bubbles smelling of nothing but feet and dirty children.

We were unimpressed by our dining options so got back on our shuttle to another hotel in the complex, the Sheraton for some Italian food. It was easy to confirm that we were definitely at the right hotel. There were tons of loud kids, slow service, Americans, and thus a lack of relaxing quiet vibe. The food was ok as Italian food in Thailand could be. The one nice part of the meal which at first we were appalled by, was the mariachi style band roaming the restaurant. Was I suddenly on a Carnival Cruise?! We were being our snotty New York selves and smirking at the people enjoying the maracas when they started singing The Eagles, “Take It Easy.” It brought a smile to our faces to think that in this one trip we had seen so much. We stood on a corner in Winslow Arizona, saw the Grand Canyon, drove through the Vermillian Cliffs at sundown, explored Yellowstone and walked the Great Wall. What a gift this time has been.

The icing on the cake was arriving back to our villa after nightfall, Joe rolling his eyes at me constantly having to be naked in our pool (you would do it too) and all of a sudden looking up to see a sky full of stars. We swam around, picked out constellations we thought that we knew, made up names to a few, and tucked in after another fantastic day.

Tomorrow:  Sunburn takes its toll
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