Thursday, May 20, 2010
Mahout training in Laos: land of a thousand elephants
I have SO much to catch up on in my past 2 weeks in Laos! I am now all the way up in the North of Laos, outside of Luang Namtha, where I am spending the week as a volunteer at an elephant camp and learning the ways of the Mahouts (elephant keepers/trainers)
My 3rd day here I have discovered a few things - sitting on this wooden chair right now the most poignant discovery are muscles I never knew existed, screaming in agony after 3 days on the back slash neck of an elephant! Upon arrival I was given my Mahout uniform - a very uncute and totally unfashionable outfit, as you can see in my photos. I tried to get out of wearing it, though now, after experiencing being shat on and shoveling giant elephant crap and being sprayed at with a mixture of elephant snot and brown mekong river water, I'm rather grateful for it!
My elephants name is Tuomin. By today he finally seems to be responding to the commands I have been memorizing now that I am actually saying them in an accent that at least somewhat resembleds what it is I am supposed to be saying. Today I told him to kneel down "Toi" and he did it first time. I climbed up and directed him the 2km to the river without a hitch! Big step from the first two days, let me tell you. It all goes fine until the Mahout teaching me tells Tuomin to lay down, roll and "Buon-Buon" (spray) me everytime I take him for his bath in the river. All the the while I am yelling "yao-yao, Hoa!" (No, No, Stop)
Aside from the cleaning after the elephants (not cute)it is really great being so close to these really amazing animals! The afternoons and evenings are extremely peaceful. I either kayak or tube along the river, looking up at the specatacular mountains. Im learing to cooking Lao Lap a traditional dinner here and eating lots of Papaya Salads.
Laos has been a very welcome step back in time. Especially coming from the very fast pace of life in Vietnam. When I first arrived in the capital city of Vientiane I was amazed by how quiet it was. And that was in the capital city! People don't honk like crazy here and are very considerate in general.
I've also made stops in Vang Vieng - an insane backpacker party town, but which should not be missed soley for the AWESOME trapeze swings that are rigged up over the river that I was totally addicted to and could not lift my arms because of for a day after leaving. From there we took the picturesque bus ride through the Lao montains to Luang Prabang, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and you can easily see why with the French architecture and TONS of Wats (temples) set on the Mekong River.
Well, I am hoggin the one computer with a decent internet connection out here. So, more to come later...