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Published: November 15th 2009
Chilly on the morning of Day 2.
This morning we all had the option of going into the jungle with the mahouts around 7am to wake up the elephants and to join the elephants for their morning baths. Since it was actually a bit cold (for Laos, in the 60s) and misty - and our mahout outfits were still wet from our adventures the day before - we opted out of another dunking and instead went down to the river to take photos of the rest of our group.
Brenda, Danny, Alex and Keith left after breakfast for a jungle trek and we started our full day with the elephants. We each had our own elephant for the entire day. Both elephants had just arrived a few days ago from northern Laos. At 10am, the weather was beautiful - still a bit foggy and cool. We took off for a 3 hour ride through the jungle. It was really fun. We rode bareback for most of it and then switched to the chairs for the last hour or so. It's like riding horses bareback - if you're not used to it, you can get pretty sore!
By 11:30 the sun was blazing hot so the
"Van" having a snack before our walk on Day 2.
second half of our morning ride was really hot. Part of our ride was on an exposed dirt road which was open to trucks and cars. We encountered a few large trucks heading to a nearby quarry. The trucks really spooked both elephants and it took a lot of effort to keep them from fleeing into the dense jungle. Soon it was time for the humans and elephants to stop for lunch. We bought a huge bunch of bananas to feed to our elephants - they were very hungry after the long walk.
Our "restaurant" is very basic but we each had huge baguette sandwhiches for lunch. Outside our restaurant was a "spirit house". A spirit house looks like a mini temple and they are found outside almost every structure (house, office, restaurant, etc) in Laos. It's a small elaborately decorated house that sits on a plaform about four feet off the ground. Offerings are made daily to the spirit who lives in the house to keep the spirit happy so that it won't cause trouble. The spirits' favorite things seem to include brightly colored flowers, bananas, and the occasional shot glass of lao-lao (whiskey).
The dense jungle we explored on Day 2 of the mahout course.
we took our elephants for a very short (30 minute) ride. The afternoon sun was intense (the temperature was easily in the high 90s) and both humans and elephants were hot, tired and cranky in short order.
There are signs all over the elephant camp talking about "conservation" and thanking us for "supporting our elephants". It's a tough call to say whether the elephant training camp is a good thing for the elephants or not. The elephants are moved from their forest homes, trained to perform on command, saddled with beefy tourists and chained to a tree at night so they don't run off. Is that conservation? Maybe. The alternative for domesticated elephants is working in the logging industry in the far north of Laos. Logging elephants have much shorter lifespans than those working in the tourist industry and carrying tourists is certainly easier than transporting logs.
There are still some wild elephants in Laos but unfortunately their habitat is rapidly being destroyed by the logging industry and agriculture. Wild elephants are also hunted for their tusks and other parts of their bodies that are valued for food and medicines. So perhaps elephant tourism is a good option?
Was that a snake?
The elephants work relatively short hours, are protected from poachers and have plenty of food. It's tough to say for sure what the best realistic alternative is for them.
Around 3pm, we took the elephants down to the river for their baths and got to scoop up water and pour it over their heads and backs. They seem to really enjoy cooling off in the river and so did we. It was bedtime for the elephants after that and so we fed them a few more bananas, gave them a final pat on the trunk (we may be imagining it but we think they like that too) and then mahouts took them into the jungle for some food and rest. We spent the rest of the afternoon reading books on the front porch of our bungalow.
Dinner was pretty quiet since the rest of our group had departed; a few new people showed up for dinner but they decided to keep to themselves. Just as we were finishing dinner, Sang appeared and invited us to have a few drinks with the staff and mahouts. Not only was it payday, but there were two new mahouts joining the team.
Snack time for the elephants.
The BeerLao was flowing. We sat around a table in little plastic chairs and toasted ("tam tam!" in Lao) to the new mahouts. Everyone was laughing and teasing each other in Lao; Sang was translating for us and telling us more about his life in Laos. Sang is from a Hmong hilltribe. His family lives up in the mountains in northern Laos and he became a monk for several years to get an education. He then gave up the monkhood and has been studying English in Luang Prabang for the past 4 years (he has an Australian accent because his teachers are mostly Aussies); he has one year to go before he graduates. He only sees his family about once or twice a year when he makes the long journey home. Two of his three younger sisters are married. Both were married at age 15 which is common for the Hmong. He is 23 and is waiting until after graduation to even think about marrying.
The party broke up after an hour or so with about half of the group (including us) going to bed and the other half taking the canoe across the river to the main camp
Bath time on Day 2.
to continue the party. We were asleep by 9pm.
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