To Trek is Dreck Though Elephantine is Divine
Trip Start Dec 31, 2004
71Trip End Apr 22, 2005
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My van arrived to pick me up for the hour long drive to the elephant camp as planned at 8:15 in the morning. We'd eventually pick up eight other people from their respective hotels en route for our day long excursion. The people I would meet and share this experience with would prove to be as enjoyable as the actual destination
The camp itself was massive with upwards of maybe fifty elephants in total and about triple that amount of tourists mostly shipped in on double decker buses. Our tour, mercifully at only nine people was far more manageable and intimate and there was much to bond us as a tribe. Once we'd walked around a bit and watched the elephants bathe in the stream we were told that the show was about to begin. The hoard of motley tourists took their places on bleachers and waited as the elephants came together and began their performance. They demonstrated logging, they danced, one "painted" a picture, they marched in formation holding one another's tails with their trunks, tipped their hats and one even sported an erection the girth of a double sized bottle of Singha. Other than the hardening protuberance that was impossible to ignore were the Israeli tourists bedecked in gold and every form of artifice known to man. One woman in red floral spandex, gold chains, with creeping underwear and a stir-fried blond perm stood at the front of the chain and screamed and whooped it up. I've seen wind-up organ monkeys crashing their toy cymbals with more decorum and they were certainly better dressed. This septuagenarian monstrosity "wooooo-HOOOOOOO-ed" every step and move as though she'd raised the heard from calves and I was begining to wonder if she was recalling the days of conception. At the slightest rumblings of rhythm she would leap to her feet and begin clapping urging on a crowd that stared at her in utter disbelief
Only seconds before the show was ending our guide whisked us away to a bamboo river raft ride to avoid the crowd and promising that we'd return to ride the elephants. The retarded side show at Elephant World was just what our little group needed to bond us. On the trip down to the river I showed them how I'd digitally documented the cartoons and we all had a good laugh at their expense.
I got on the bamboo raft with two British girls, an Australian guy and a sweet unintelligible middle-aged Dutchman whose tenuous grasp of English served as no hindrance to his overconfident conversational skills. The ride was delightful and relaxing as our navigator prodded us down tiny bubbling brooks under shaded trees and we all were saying how pleasant and smooth the journey was going. I even commented, This is so peaceful that I could do this for several hours. I'd spoken too soon. Out of the bushes from the banks of the stream came wadding waist-high a family of seven with tribal handicrafts held high above their heads
We continued gliding along when we spotted a sign that read "Beer 40, Fanta 20, Water 15" etc. One of the girls in front said laughingly, "What's next -- is someone going to come out with drinks, too?" As a matter of fact, yes. No sooner had she spoken than a man with a cooler floated up with some refreshing beverages. The sweet befuddling Dutchman popped his beer open and mumbled something with a jovial lilt and we all chuckled politely though we knew not at what. Where there are travelers within earshot you can bet that there's a Thai with his ear to the ground and an armload of something to sell you. I thank God every morning that I had a full night's sleep without whole families creeping from under my bed skirt screaming, "Cold drink, Lady?! You want cold drink, lady?! Tweeenty baaah!! You buy!!!"
An hour later we came to a bend and climbed out onto a pier for what would prove to be one of the most feckless thirty minutes of my life
On the ride back our guide had refreshments waiting for us and then it was back to the elephant camp for the real excitement. It was not as terrifying as I thought it would be and it was ten times better than I expected. I was a bit nervous about being up so high in a basket that was only being held up by a few chains and rope that slid up under the elephant's tail. Daniel the Aussie and I rode together, Lisa and Helen were mostly in front of us, the sweet British couple and German couple were all over the place. Pulling up the rear was the giggling Dutchman yammering on about only God knows what. We had just climbed into the seat when Daniel mentioned an hour might be a bit much. I concurred heartily as we were jolted back and forth and I held on tight white-fisted. Only moments later as the pachyderm waded into the stream were all doubts immediately alleviated. It was thrilling and we quickly adjusted to the languorous rocking.
The mahouts (elephant drivers/trainers) made the hour-plus journey even more exciting. Some of them were challenging each other in mini races around and through ponds, over and around narrow paths and hills. It made for some rather tense moments followed by nervous laughter as one elephant would head the other off at the path then lumber down a hill and into a small pond
Some people had better mahouts than others. Either our mahout was a complete ass or our elephant had an attitude. I'm inclined to believe the former. Along the way there were high outposts that were at our eye level selling snacks for the elephants, "Bah-naNAS! You buy! Tweeenty BAAAAHTS!" Daniel had our driver pull up so he cold buy some. Apparently our elephant got a little overexcited and there was a confrontation with our mahout who ended up yelling and throwing Daniel's bananas in the bush. We were appalled and I was worried that our elephant would charge off down the hill and snatch them up. We continued on without incident but I pretty much detested our mahout from then on. I would like to take this opportunity to say that I wish him the very worst in life because he was mean to a sweet and loving pet.
The British couple had the best mahout who was a real character. When they were coming down a steep hill he was yelling, "Oh NO
By the time we began to head back I was sad it was ending as I was practically starting to relax in between being thrown around a bit. After we climbed off we all headed for the air conditioned van smiling and saying how much we all enjoyed it. It was exactly what I'd wanted.
We stopped at a lovely resort for what looked like a beautiful buffet that was included in the price of the tour. Our guide told us to "eat as much as you want and as much as possible." We would have but most of it was inedible. The worst part about the entire thing is that it was election day and on election day in Thailand it is illegal to serve alcohol. I'd forgotten and ordered a Campari and soda and was immediately reminded that it was verboten
On the way back our guide told us that we'd be stopping at an orchid farm and butterfly conservatory. I wanted to see a hill tribe instead but that wasn't going to happen. The Brits had been actually told they'd see the long necked Karen tribe by their agent and were seriously disillusioned. I'd have been upset, too if my travel agent had told me that but she didn't. At least we were chased by vicious tiny Chinese people in an oxcart around someone's driveway for 30 minutes of sheer hell.
The orchid farm was beautiful and I almost felt like an ass for having complained about going to see it. It was really something to see so many gorgeous varieties of varying pinks, purples, lavenders, oranges, yellows and of course pristine white orchids. The butterfly conservatory was no more exciting that pulling a moth-covered sweater out of winter storage. I feel pretty certain that half of those things were moths anyway and I was more interested in the cocoons and that got me thinking about silk, which made me want to go shopping
By the time we got back into town it was time for a shower and then Helen, Lisa and Daniel and I decided to meet for dinner at 6:30. We thought that since the prime minister had been reelected that we were free to drink so we went to a great little restaurant across the street from a white walled wat and I ordered a gin and tonic. Forget it -- the ban was for the whole day. A wave of disappointment and virtual disgust crashed over the table. Moments later we stopped pouting and started enjoying each other's company and the delicious food. After dinner we headed to the night market and found a cart that was selling God's gift to Southeast Asia: The Banana Pancake
Lisa and Helen and their friend (who's name escapes me though I thought she told some terrific stories) knew of a place where we could still get served hooch so we headed over. On the way we looked in the stalls and I bought a skirt and in another stall that sold ridiculous weapons we were playing with the double knives and brass knuckles. We had somehow offended the owner so much and had clearly irritated the living hell out him that he told us to leave. He sells knives for chrissakes we didn't argue.
Sure enough we were able to have a nightcap and though there wasn't any gin I ordered the Thai wine. It was a wine cooler. I'm not kidding. I actually drank it from a vase so the cops wouldn't bust the owner. No, seriously -- I actually drank a wine cooler from a ceramic vase. So, it's finally come to this, I thought.
We all exchanged website addresses and emails and parted ways. The next morning I checked my email and Lisa has written to say that having "interesting people to talk to made
the elephant ride all the more fun." I couldn't agree more. It was trekking at its best as far as I'm concerned --less hard work but amazing single-serving friends, laughter, excitement and an anecdote that we'll tell at a cocktail party years and years from now and smile. I'd like to echo the sentiments of the tacky woman in red at the elephant show as she elbowed all unsuspecting victims out of her way, plopped herself down and struck a pose. She'd toss her head back and wild-eyed she'd yell, "WOOOOO HOOOOO!" and start clapping.