Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Kitty is an Apprentice Mahout

Yesterday we arrived in Chiang Mai (Mid Thailand). It's a big city with a Thai massage place on every corner (don't ask, okay fine, I go every day). I'm covered in bruises from all the hard core massages, but they have a nice blue hue to them, what with all the body scrubs and moisturizing treatments. I've done the math and it costs us money not to. Also, I've colleted a series of strange sunburns. Like just 4" rings around my ankles from the all day speedboat ride up the river from Lao to Thailand yesterday.

There is a lot to do outside of town: rafting, rock climbing, ATV rentals, cooking classes, etc. I'm taking a cooking class tomorrow and had planned to jump off a waterfall today but (thank god) woke up with a cold from the air conditioners in the hotels. I'm calling them hotels for my own morale's sake. They are just a click or two above caves with electricity. I woke up (meh, got up, didn't actually sleep much) to see the bin of my used kleenex's teaming with ants. My own little bedside ant farm. Neato.

Anyway, my first instinct was, activity wise, to do the thing that Tom would like the least (riding in on a caravan of four wheelers into a Hmong village where they make you lunch). Though offensive, I could probably find something nearly as annoying in Australia - they have fossil fuels AND Aborignal people, so I went with Mahout training.

A Mahout is the trainer, companion and caretaker of the Asian elephant. Asian elephants are smaller and smarter than African elephants. They aren't like horses, who can sense you are terrified. Mine was a 10 year old male, kind of the golden retriever of the pachyderms. It had no desire to manipulate all my's all about the banana and sugar cane treat with these guys.

My Swiss friend, MarieLouise and I were the only two to sign up for the program. We learned how to mount them from five different stations. The first three were easy enough (elephant lies down, we scramble aboard). The last ones though were the "do not try this at home" sorts. So of course we insisted on learning those. Sorry to report I didn't capture being catapulted by SuBong's (that was my guy) rear left leg onto his butt or thrown up onto his neck by his trunk. There were a lot of professional Mahouts involved in spotting (shoving) me for those two maneuvers. Probably best kept as memories of accomplishment than visual documents.

First they give you a Mahout uniform. Built for comfort, not for flattery. Clearly.
This little guy was high up in the forest where we had pad thai and chicken rice made in banana leaves. YUM. He is four days old. Mom was a bit protective.

We took them deep into the forest where there was a mud pit that they loved bathing in. My elephant would happily rub itself against MarieLouise's while the Mahouts flung buckets of warm mud at them. Kind of like marriage really.
Watch me put my arm in this elephant's mouth.


It was a long, tiring, dirty day. I skipped dinner and went straight to the closest spa.

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