Monday, March 5, 2012

Wild Elephants!... In chains?

The conservatory is about a 40 minute ride from the temple. When we arrive we jump out of the car and get ourselves organized before heading to find out how we go about finding the elephants. We're standing at the top of a small hill which leads down to a river, about 400 meters across.

None of us had been here before and our drivers didn't seem to offer much help. Nearby there's a building with a restaurant, convenience store and gift shop inside. We head over to speak with someone about what to do. Lorna gets there first and as Aaron and I walk up we hear Lorna saying "So the workers are all on strike?" as their conversation continues, we discover that the typical way to the elephants is to take a boat ride across the river, however, today the ferrymen are on strike. No boat rides.

"So where are the elephants? How do we get to the Elephants?" someone asks. The lady at the desk simply points to the other side of the river, saying "There." So, having a quick chat we decide to head down to the river and see what's up.

Locals are all over the river, splashing and playing, laughing and shouting. We talk with some of them about seeing the elephants and they show us a stone path which spans the entire river. Taking a look at the visible section of the path we see several areas where you are required to walk through knee deep water. The rocks we can walk on look slippery, and the current looks strong enough to make balancing while walking through it difficult.

As the group discusses whether or not to go, one of the girls with us, Michelle, without a word, hikes up her pants and begins to cross. The decision is made! The rest of us take a moment, putting cell phones and wallets where they won't get wet, and begin to cross. The path is largely easily walkable, with occasional slippery stones and a section or two requiring getting our feet wet. With some help and some tactics, we all make it across in one piece, no one having fallen in.

As we reach the other side, we begin walking around to search for the elephants. In the forest, about 1 km in the distance, we spot an elephant hanging out by a tree. Not sure exactly what to do, we start walking towards it. After a moment a man runs out of a nearby building and starts to yell at us, telling us we aren't allowed there. After a quick discussion we find out where we can stay and discover that the elephants can only be seen when they are brought in for food. The next meal-time is about 30 minutes away, so we kick back and wait.

After a while, someone spots an elephant walking up a hill nearby and calls out to rest of us. The guard lets us know where we can go to see it up close, and we head in to an area surrounded with low walls. As the elephant gets closer we see that it's front 2 legs are chained together, like handcuffs, allowing it to only take slow baby steps toward us. Eventually it reaches the wall and we are able to see it up close. It isn't as exciting as we'd hoped. Aaron and I had already rode the back of an elephant at the palace, and were hoping to see some elephants in the wild, rather than chained. We were also hoping to see a much larger group of elephants.

After the 30 minutes passes, we ask and they tell us it'll be about another 30 minutes before the elephants show up... Disappointed and a little restless, the group decides to head back across the river rather than wait and possibly be told to wait some more.

On the way back, just as we are reaching the other side, we look back and see a large group of elephants arriving for their meals at the compound we just left.

Oh well. Unfortunate, but crossing the river and wandering the area on the other side was a fun adventure.

As we reach the other side a bunch of local girls are chatting, pointing at me and giggling. I smile and wave and all of them make a big "Woooooo", acting shy and covering their faces. Neither of us are too sure why, but we keep walking, as they chat and giggle, watching us. We have a seat at the restaurant and drink some water. Eventually a few of the girls come over to get a picture with our group, and several of them huddle around Aaron and I. A photo or two is taken and one of the girls looks at me and says "Could you stand infront?" pointing at a spot infront of her. I step forward and notice that I'm completely blocking her from the picture, so I crouch down so we can all be seen. Again "Woooooo!" from the girls, followed by giggling. Then the group pictures are finished and the girls leave to join their friends.

After a minute or so, a few of the girls come back and ask me to take photos with them. One by one each girl comes and stands next to me while her friend snaps a picture. Each time a "Woooooo!" and giggle from the friends in the distance. After pictures with 4 different ladies and a few with a pair of ladies, they seem to be content and thank me, heading back to their group.

Aaron and I talk about what that was all about, eventually deciding it must have been my beard that was making me so famous. I don't know if I mentioned it before, but I decided before coming that I would try to go the entire trip without shaving my head or face. At this point it's over a month in and I'm looking pretty grizzly. Anyway, just as we were leaving a few of the girls from our group headed of to the bathroom. While waiting, the group of locals wooo-ing and taking pictures with me come back to get on a bus. It appears to be some sort of school trip.

I decided I wanted a picture to go with the story, so I walked over to the group to ask. "WoooOOOO!" the loudest one yet from the ladies as they spot me approaching. I asked if it was ok to take a picture and they agreed, all of the girls and guys lining up on either side of me for the shot.

Before the first picture, one by one, 4 or 5 different guys come and stand next to me, measuring their shoulders up to mine until finally, a few guys turn and call for their friend at the back. As he Stands next to me his shoulder is just one inch below mine, and again "Woooooo!" from the ladies, this time I expect, for the other guy. It all made sense now. For some reason they were very excited about my height. I wasn't the tallest in our group, but the unkempt beard may have added to my 'foreign' look, making me the target.

As they finish lining up, the girl standing next to me begins putting her hand against my leg and trying to hold my hand. The next photo taken is of me looking down to see what's rubbing my leg and hand. The girl is maybe 14 or 15, and looks at me with a big smile. Laughing I tried to explain "I'm taken, sorry!" and put my hand in my pocket for the next picture. Still, the girl places her hand again against the side of my leg. One more photo and I move away, thanking them and saying good-bye.

As I leave they ask Aaron to come over, and one of the guys steps infront of the photo to take Aaron's glasses off of his shirt and put them on his face, then he puts on his own glasses and assumes an amazing 'cool guy' pose next to my brother. Another photo or two and we thank the group, heading back to our car.

The ride back is a long one. This time at night, playing chicken with the pair of headlights infront of us, which quickly grow larger. About 4 hours later we arrive back at the coconut stand and say our good-byes to each other. Ending a beautiful day, amazing temple experience and a fun adventure across a river.

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