Sunday, July 19, 2009
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!