Sunday, July 12, 2009
Elephants are cool.
Elephant riding day! A whole day at the Chaing Mai Elephant School. The Mahout people have set up a camp with elephants and offer two hours as part of a trek, or a whole day with the elephants. We skipped the white water rafting and hiking that come with the trek and dedicated the whole day to one of the biggest mammels in the world. We started the day with a mango pancake (D) and a croissant (C) and some coffee. We were picked up and drove 1 hour out to the elephant school. They gave us more coffee and had us change into some clothing that would be ok if it got ruined. We (Carrie, myself, and our new French friend Rene) walked up to meet the elephants. Kristina, Bifern, Fa, Fhim, and a couple others were there to great us. We were immediately struck by their size. Elephants look smaller when they are far away in a zoo. These ones looked bigger and hungry too! Good thing, since we immediately started feeding them. I'd say they ate like a horse- but it doesn't really fit, does it? We fed them guava and banana- and they took it right out of our hands with their trunks (the trunks were gross at first, but we soon got used to them and didn't mind). If the Mahout gave them the right command, they openned their mouths and we put the fruit right in. Their tongues are huge and pink, and they have a pretty big set of teeth! And the bananas we feed them came right off the stalk- and they ate 3-5 at a time (with the peels). It was fun to hold a guava in one hand, bananas in the other and let the elephants choose. Typical for a huge elephant- they tried to choose both. After feeding time it was time to learn how to ride. Of course to learn how to ride, you have to learn how to get up. When you ride an elephant in one of those chairs, you just hop on from a platform. When you ride bareback, like we did, you have to jump up! You give the elephant a command, 'Yo Kai', and the elephant makes a step from its leg. You grab its ear, hop on the leg, and it lifts you up so you can step on its knee and then jump to the top. Very easy, after you practice 20 times. Of course, the first 20 times are scary as hell! We were scared that we were going to hurt the elephant (Kristina), but then we realized that her skin was very thick, and we need not worry. Next came the riding commands. There are 3 parts to it. 1st is a stick with a hook. Seems mean at first, but the hook is not sharp and you don't do more than touch the skin surface with it. 2nd is bracing you leg on one side, and kicking the floppy part of their ear on the other. 3rd is the verbal commands: Pie (straight, kick both ears), Sai (left), Qua (right), Toy (back), and Ute (stop). We practiced going in a line, and then we walked them around our little park by ourselves. After we accomplished that, we were deemed good enough for the afternoon jungle ride. Right before lunch, Fa and Fhim were both feeling a bit randy, but they were too young to do it 'right.' But first, lunch. It was quite good, which was unexpected based on the Golden Triangle tour's lunch. We had fried rice, stir fried chicken with vegetables, and the best- a fried fish that was fried whole and seasoned. That one we ate with our hands by picking the meat right from the plate. So good! After lunch, Rene left us to ride thru the jungle ourselves. He stayed back and worked with one of the elephants training them how to sit and go up on 2 legs, etc. Our ride was adventurous. It was a short walk thru a jungle path, but for as many commands that the elephants know, if they want to eat, they eat. And eat they did. I rode Bifern and Carrie was with Kristina. Kristina amused herself (and cooled herself) by sucking mud in her trunk and then spraying it on her body. Fun for Carrie who was in the line of fire! Bifern did the same, although I think it was more saliva than mud. But, we got over it because the two elephants were great and we could see how hot they were. So eating, and walking, and eating and walking. Then we arrived at a platform built in the jungle. The elephants are obviously used to going there because Kristina just went up to the platform- but she didn't go up the steps, she went up a steep hill. At this point Carrie had a Mahout on with her (he was holding a huge thing of bananas). Well, Kristina's hill made the Mahout fall off with the bananas. Fortunately he was ok. We then feed Kristina and Bifern the bananas and took in some views of the jungle. Everyone was happy, including the elephants who kept scratching themselves on the huge cement columns that the platforom stood on. We got back on and headed to the most exciting part of the day for our riding companions- the creek! They are very big, and it was very hot, so they want very fast (relative to what they were doing when they kept eating). As we got to the creek, we got off and the Mahouts took them in. It was awesome to see them lie down- and you could just tell that they were happy. They didn't even want to move to flip to the other side. We took some hard bristle brushes and more or less washed them down. When they finally did stand up, and we were more or less standing under them, you really got a feel for how huge they are. And how tiny we are. During all this, Kristina (being washed by Carrie), decided she had to pee. This was a bit gross, since the water wasn't flowing too much, and when an elephant pee's they flow quite a lot. Luckily, Carrie managed to get out of the way! After that dissapated, the Mahouts got the elephants to bathe us. Nothing like a water fight with some elephant to end the day. Kristina had great fun squirting Carrie. Fa enjoyed spraying me, and slamming her trunk on the water to create a big splash. It was easily the most fun part of this trip (besides every moment with each other, of course!). We bid the elephants good-bye, headed up to the lodge to change and for coffee, and went back to Chaing Mai. So sad- we definitely would do it again if we ever are lucky enough to get back there. When we arrived back in town we checked out email, went to the jade buddha, went to the pool and then got dressed for dinner. We walked around to find a place, couldn't and got in a tuk-tuk and went to Riverside- the place where we were supposed to met Kristen King. There we had Sundried Meat appetizer (awesome!), Fried Crab in Curry Paste (great, but rich), and Pad Thai (is there bad Pad Thai?). After dinner we went to the market to get massages. We did a 2 hour Thai massage for 300 baht each (less than $10). When we finally finished I was trying to figure out why the guy beat me up so bad, but I guess it was cause I paid him too.We tipped generously, since the 'house' takes most of the money, and then, yet again, spent money at the night market. I don't know what we will eat when we get home, since we have no money. Maybe we will sell all the stuff we bought here for double or triple. Anyways, that was elephant day. It was amazing, awesome, awe-inspiring, bad-ass, cool... I won't go down the whole dictionary, but I will end with... wow, xcellant, yikes, and zainy!