Monday, September 7, 2009

"Tam Long Pak Boon!".....

This manner of getting up on Pak Boon's back is cool .... I did not do this often, however, this one time when I did ... it was caught on video! Just prior to this filming, Mahout Joe counseled me to move Pak Boon into a grassy area .... just in case!

"Tam Long" is the command, when standing directly in front of the elephant, for the elephant to drop its head and extend its trunk so the mahout can put his foot on the trunk. With the foot on the trunk, the elephant hoists the mahout up over its head and places him on the elephant's head! In my case this meant I was then sitting back wards ... so turning around, while seated on the top of an elephant, was quite a feat all in and of itself for me!

Pak Boon Helps Mahout T

"Song Pak Boon... Song"

And with that command, Pak Boon raised her front leg to help Mahout T climb up onto her back.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Elephant's question of the day...

From the looks of this elephant .... you better get the right answer to this question!

How old would you be, if you didn't know how old you are?

It's all about elephants!

Upon initial reflection of my summer 2009 adventure .... what's a link for me between Bali and Thailand?

Elephants! Elephants! Elephants! Oh yes ... did I mention ELEPHANTS?

From the huge majestic Thai elephant that silently walks through the lush tropical jungle.


Bali's Hindu Elephant god .... "Ganesha" - said to be "The Remover of Obstacles."

My summer 2009 adventures through Bali and Thailand have been the most relaxing, the most enjoyable, and yet..... the most intense of any I have experienced over the last few years.

"No obstacles" ...... just enlightening fun!

Thanks to all the elephants for a fantastic journey .... I miss you already!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bye bye Thai Chang

And so closes out of a month of my caring for and learning about the magnificent Asian "Chang" - Thai for elephant.

20 years ago, it is estimated that there were about 100,000 Asian elephants. Now? Less that 10,000 of which 5,000 are found in Thailand: 2000 in the wild and 3000 domesticated. A female elephant's gestation period is 18 to 22 months - she then cares for her baby for another 3 years. Five years per offspring. It is estimated more elephants die each year than baby elephants born .... hence the dramatic decline in the elephant population in the last few years.

I consider myself to have been extremely fortunate to have had this experience of being in the presence of these truly noble creatures. I applaud all those organizations, whether it be Maetaman Elephant Park, Thai Elephant Home, and others, that provide a safe environment for the planet's largest mammal.

The End.....

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Reforestation one tree at a time

As my stay with Mahout Joe at the Thai Elephant Home began with the ritual of paying respect to the "Elephant Buddha"

So my last ritual at the end of my stay with Mahout Joe was to plant a tree, in my name, to help rejuvenate the jungle...

Pak Boon's Maetang River under water dive and me along with her!

Pak Boon .... and Mahout T

Elephant mud bath in the mountains...

After taking the three little elephants (5 to 6 years old each .... a ton or so each in body weight) to the mud bath spa in the mountains this afternoon,

the three other mahouts and I headed for the river to wash off all the black mud from the elephants.

Earlier in the morning, riding the elephants up in the jungle had been breath taking. This being the rainy season, everything is so green ..... lumbering along on the back of an elephant through grass that is ten to fifteen feet tall, hearing the sound of the frequent water falls, spotting lizards, beetles and birds in the trees. Now I need to add ... it was hot.. and humid, and there were little bugs trying to eat my ears ..... then add to this, using all the mindfulness I could generate to keep my balance as my elephant, Pak Boon, walked up a wet, slippery and muddy trail... that at times was very steep. Throw in a few rocks to get over, a fall tree trunk or two across the trail, other elephants from other camps coming along with day tourists sitting in the chair perched on the huge 6 to 8 ton elephants .... well, all made for lots of mini adventures as I rode Pak Boon for a hour or so....

On my third day of training as a mahout, Joe gave me the two foot long bamboo stick which has a metal hook on the end for controlling the elephant .... Joe calls this hook the "elephant remote control!" The pointed end is used to tap the elephant's skull along with the verbal command. The verbal command first, but if the elephant does not respond, then the "remote" is used.

I've been traveling with my remote controll each day now .... most times Pak Boon listens and follows directions.... Little pieces of fresh sugan cane rewards which I carry in a bag slung over my shoulder, help a lot to get her to follow my commands....

So today when it was elephant bath time, Pak Boon carried me out to the middle of the river, which because of the rains we've been having has caused the river to be higher with a very fast current. When Pak Boon laid down in the water so I could jump off, the water was about four and a half feet deep. She did a self washing job for the most part, diving under the water ... and because of the strength of the current, was carried down stream a ways. I called to her, and she came back to me! Got her to lay down again, and was able to scrub her body to get the black mud off. The black mud is good for the elephant's skin and helps to kill insects that lodge themselves in the elephant's thick hide.

Time to leave the water fun and head home, so standing next to Pak Boon I gave a verbal command that she should lay down so I could get up on her back. Now my directions might have been a bit off, since the mahouts, Joe and I had shared a bottle of Thai moonshine over a jungle food lunch up high in the moutains (fish baked over a fire in banana leaves) a couple hours earlier. Or it might just have been that Pak Boon was not ready to leave the river just yet..... either way, instead of laying down the way a cow does, so I could get on her back, Pak Boon did what I call.... the submarine dive!

Just like a submarine, down under the water head first, Pak Boon dove .... with me holding onto her ear. Why was I holding onto her ear? I knew that if I didn't hold on tight to something, I'd be carried quickly down the river by the strong current. The rocks in the rivr can do a real job on the knees I'd found out last week, when I tried floating down the river. So when a ton and a half elephant goes under the water, and one is holding onto just the ear .... it is time to get ready for a fast moving, who knows what will happen next kind of under the water ride!

Under the dirty brown river water I went .... down, down, down as Pak Boon's force and weight pulled me completely under the muddy brown water .......It all happened so fast that I did not have time to fill my lungs with air before Pak Boon did her trunk / nose dive into the river ..... and as a result, I gulped down much more of the Maetang River than I'd like to think about ... The river water is pretty nasty .... fresh green chunks of elephant dung, along with God knows what else, float and flows pretty freely and continually in the river. Makes me wonder why I enjoy so much bathing the elephants in that river!

When Pak Boon decided to come up for air, after what seemed like a very long time, I was pulled, maybe dragged would be a better term, along with her right to the surface of the river water..... me spitting out water.... Pak Boon shooting water from her nose! Gasping for air ... I still hung on tight to Pak Boon's ear because we were still in the middle of the river....

Just as Pak Boon was about to make but yet another elephant submarine dive...., which would have drug me right along with her, one of the mahouts, who'd been observing this little under water adventure Pak Boon and I had been on, appeared out of nowhere .... jumping off another elephant and onto Pak Boon's back. The mahout immediately applied the elephant "remote control," which made Pak Boon raise her trunk .... blow / spray water into the air .... and let out a loud screech as only an upset teen elephant can do when she no longer is getting her way. Tantrum over, I jumped on behind the mahout .... and off we went .... until.... Pak Boon saw a cow and freaked! Elephants are afraid of cows... their horns. Upon seeing the cow Pak Boon did far too much shaking of her head and body, as far as I was concerned ... since I was the one trying to keep my balance on her back and not fall off.....

Another mini adventure came to a quick close and thankfully, an uneventful ride the rest of the way to the Thai Elephant Home!

Post Script: now several hours later .... I can still taste the Maitang River! Thank Pak Boon!

A night in the jungle

High in the mountains of the lush green Thai jungle, is a small primative bamboo hut built by Mahout Joe. Way in the distance ... you'll see the brown hut.

No eletricity .... a stream flowing down off the mountain provides cold water for bathing in the simple bamboo outhouse type bathroom.

The day before I left the Thai Elephant Home, I trekked via elephant, up to the bamboo hut to spend the night.

First order of business was for the mahout to bring the elephants out to an area where the elephants could spend the night eating grass.

Pak Boon in the jungle ... with this being the rainy season, the jungle is so, so green. A type of very intense green that almost hurts the eyes.

Upon arrival at the hut, one of the mahout got busy immediately cutting up spices (mainly chili peppers!) to place with the fresh fish, which was then wrapped in banana leaves and placed in the outdoor fire to cook.

Fresh pork belly was hung over the fire as well to cook for our dinner.

I bought four bottles of Thai white moonshine type whiskey which the mahouts and I pretty much polished off before dinner! Mahout Joe told me Thai Whiskey kept the mosquitos from biting you... I think the Thai Whiskey kept me from knowing the mosquitos were biting me!

Some of the mahout in Thailand sure seem young!

Spicy hot fish, grilled pig fat and rice never tasted so good!

Before 6 a.m. Dar, one of the mahouts, already had boiled water in bamboo over the fire so I could make my cup of coffee.

Dar even carved out a bamboo stick so that I could stir my coffee (I brought along some of the Balinese coffee ....)

Nothing like a good cup of strong coffee, cooked over a wood fire, drunk in the jungle, all the while watching the sunrise over the mountain.

Early morning clouds hovering low in the mountains as the sun just begins its day.

An early morning view of the mist covered mountains as the trek into the jungle came to and end.

"Pai ...Pak Boon.... Pai!"

Trekking through the jungle..... Pak Boon and Mahout Mr. T....

Learning how to place a chain around Pak Boon's leg.

Pak Boon would drink lots of water ... I mean lots more than any of the other elephants.

Fascinating to watch how Pak Boon would take water up her trunk and then spray into her mouth.

On a jungle trek.... tourists in chairs out ahead of Pak Boon and me.

"Pai Pak Boon Pai!" Was my ongoing reminder to my elephant while trekking through the jungle. "Go Pak Boon. Go!"

Colorful tropical plants and bugs

Getting ready to provide the world with a brillant burst of color!

Check out this spider! Its web is fascinating .... given the geometric design it wove in with the curly white spirals in the four corners ....

What bright colors in the jungle!

Intense purple plant...

Busy doing whatever it is that ants do...

Magic mushroom? Who knows!

Georgious parrot plant ...

Ma Nature sure knows how to make some beautiful designs...

Busy as .... well... Bees!