Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Rolling with the Beasts

Day 159
Lampang to Kuntan Lanna Residence
Time: 2:54
Distance: 45.8 km
Avg Speed: 15.6 kph
Terrain: Hilly
Location: 18˚ 27’ 32.7” N, 99˚ 10’ 48.9” E

We rolled out of Lampang early this morning with some sweet bread and juice in our stomachs. I had lucked out yesterday and found an actual supermarket tucked in behind a KFC (that’s right-Kentucky Fried Chicken-‘No your wrong Colonel Sanders’). Leslie had stayed behind on this trip so I was left alone to shop hunched over in low ceiling nightmare. I did score some juice and sweet breads for brekkie. The ride to Lampang took a turn towards the interesting when we stopped 32 km down the road and took a look at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center (TECC). The TECC is an elephant rescue that takes in sick or injured elephants from people who can’t take care of them anymore. I was a little hesitant at first thinking it was going to be like a Grizzly Bear encounter park, but upon entering I was immediately surprised. We parked our bikes and locked our gear up before heading into the park. Our entry fee of 70 Baht included a tram ride up to the show grounds and riding area. We got there in time for the morning bath. Ten elephants with their mahout (handler) came out of the jungle and came by to be petted and fed. Leslie went down and petted some of the younger ones when they came by. All the elephants then went into the water with their mahouts on their backs to be washed, scrubbed, scratched and loved. About half of the mahouts were part of a program that the park puts on for visitors. You can sign up for a 1, 3 or 10 day class to learn how to become a mahout and learn how to take care of the elephants. The students spend all day every day during their schooling with the elephants. The bathing ended up being a splash fest with the elephants coming out on the winning side. Leslie and I thought that was the show, but everyone meandered on over to another area where the elephants were showcased plying their craft. We saw how the various ways a mahout gets on and off an elephant, as well as the different ways an elephant works in the forest moving logs. I thought it would be pretty cheesy, but it turned out to be one of the coolest things I have seen here in Thailand. The student mahouts were even part of the show. They ended the show with more feeding and petting. Leslie fed a kilo of bananas to the big male of the group, JoJo, in a matter of 20 seconds. I had to hurry to catch a photo of her. We got back on the road in the heat of the day only to be greeted by a big nasty climb. We did pass a big rig heading up the hill though; that was a first for us. Yes, he was moving and no he wasn’t belching blue smoke or anything. We found our lodging for the night pretty easily and were jazzed by having our own teak bungalow back in the trees. Tomorrow we are off to Chiang Mai for a couple days of sightseeing, relaxing and eating. Supposedly there is a good Mexican food restaurant there that we are hankering to try out.

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