Or Ted and Jen are safe and riding elephants!
07.05.2008 - 08.05.2008 30 °C
We are glad to say that we are safe and sound in Laos at the moment. Luckily we are far away from the horrible aftermath of Cyclone Nargis that has battered southern Myanmar last week. We have not heard anything from our friends and family there yet but are still trying to reach them. Our thoughts are with them and we hope that they are alright and safe.
As for us, we did not find out about the disaster until the morning we were heading out of Luang Prabang for a few days of moutain bike riding, learning to become a Mahout (elephant trainer) and kayaking. The ride out of Luang Prabang was a very nice following the Nam Khan river out to an elephant camp. We were able to get real mountain bikes in good shape so the low gears were much appreciated on the steep climbs.
We got there and were then taken across a river to an elephant refuge to spend some time observing the female elephants they have rescued from abuse and saved from hard work in the logging industry. They were outfitted with benches on their backs for tourists to ride on while the Mahout sits on their neck to control them. Jen and climbed aboard for what is normally about a 1 hour walk aroudn the reserve. After a few minutes, our mahout turned to us and asked who wants to drive. Ladies first! Jen climbed down and directed our elephant named Mae Kout through the jungle for awhile before letting me drive. After a few minutes of my driving, we started to decend a steep bank to the river to allow the animals to drink. There were a few other tourists riding other elephants but we were the only ones driving. Pretty exciting.
After the walk, we went for lunch while the elephants got ready to take back to the jungle for the night. We then climbed back on, just on the neck and rode with the mahout back to the jungle to let the elephants forage and eat their required diet of 250 kg of food a day! We then got to take the rest of the day off to relax and read in a remote lodge overlooking the river. This suited us just fine as we had an early morning the next day.
At 6:30 am, we were roused to hike into the jungle to get the elephants ready for the day. It was amazing to see how they had eaten a large area of jungle very clear overnight. They had also managed to their chains (only so they don't runoff in the night) all wrapped around trees, just like a cat or young pup might. The chains were very long and heavy so the Mahouts can't pull them clear around the trees. The elephants are so smart and strong, they effortlessly use their trunks to grab the chains and pull themsleves clear. If the chain gets stuck they even know how to hold the chain safely with their mouth, and wrap it extra tight with their runk to give it an extra yank to free themsleves. Very intelligent indeed!
Then Jen and I climbed aboard by ourselves and rode the elphants out of the jungle and down some very steep terrain. It would not have been so scary had the elephants not tried to stop on a very narrow, steep trail to turn around and grab trees that were as high as my head with their trunks to eat! It was amazing to see how these strong trees and branches are mastered by their strong trunks.
To head down to the river, the elephants had to head down some very tight stairs and then we were able to bathe them to get them cleaned up for the day. Sometimes, there is an oppotunity to brush their teeth too! Today, the elephants will have to do it later as there was an early group coming. We did see one though brushing her own teeth with a stick while the mahouts tied on her saddle/bench.
After spending alot of time riding, cleaning, and feeding the elephants, we had to say goodbye and headed back to Luang Prabang on a sit-on-top, tandem kayak. There were a quite a few rapids on the river but because it is the dry season, nothing too dangerous. We managed them all without capsizing once. We even had time for a cool dip in the river because it was very hot!
It was an awesome experience and were able to enjoy it and have developed a new fondness for elephants. There are still lots more things to see and do but we do hope to hear good news soon from our family and friends in Myanmar.