Today was a whopper, I rode an elephant! Yes, that’s right, I rode an elephant. Elephants here, and all over Asia for that matter, are generally seen as either a crop-eating nuisance or a beast of burden to be employed in the highly-abusive logging industry. And as Lao tightens its control of what used to be unchecked hardwood deforestation, more and more elephants become unemployed. Generally they are turned loose, back into a forest that’s too battered and partitioned to sustain them anymore. So tourism eco-reserves are now their only hope for survival and its estimated that in 50 years there will be no more free-ranging elephants at all in the world.
At first I felt a little abusive myself, all 200lbs of me sitting basically on an elephants shoulders but its nothing to these massive-but-gentle beasts. If anything, I was getting abused from the chafing that their rough hairs incur. Nevertheless, it was pretty surreal, sitting high atop an elephant surveying the mountainous southeast-Asian jungles while the elephant slowly lumbered it way through the waters of the Nam Khan river. Needless to say, its probably something I will only have the chance to do once in my lifetime.
The elephant tours really provide kind of a twofold benefit to Lao, since it not only rescues these gigantic beasts from maltratment and destruction, it also provides jobs to the local indigenous Mahout people who serve as your guide. Its simple – one Mahout pairs with one elephant, and they stay that way predominantly for life. The elephants have a lifespan similar to humans – 50-70 years – and some of the elephants at the refuge were born prior to WWII. I can only imagine what they’ve seen over the years and the abuse they’ve endured during periods when people saw them as a machine and nothing more.
Wow, I’m sitting at an internet cafe and there are tons of little bugs flying all over the place. Much to my surprise, a tiny lizard just ran across the desk and ate one right in front of my keyboard. There’s something you won’t see at Starbucks.
Its time to head back to Vientiane and start working eastward, back towards home. I think my timing is just right, I think I’ve done all I wanted to do here and I am starting to think fondly of home again.