Riding Bikes and Stubborn Elephants

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With a map in hand we needed to find a good bike. The road we were planning on taking was almost 1000 kilometers through hilly terrain. We found a shop which rented to Weronika a brand new 110cc Honda Click and for me a more beefy 135cc Yamaha. After all, I was carrying my mother in law on the back, so I needed the extra horsepower.

We headed off north. Our goal was to get to the hippy tourist heaven of Pai. We had a bit less than 200 kilometers ahead of us. The first stretch was a boring highway, but we did stop at a fantastic orchid park to admire these beautiful, and sometimes heavenly smelling wonders.

Soon we turned off onto highway 1095 and the drive turned more fun. The road was in excellent shape, wide, and breezed through hilly terrain. We were lured by a sign offering elephant rides and took a side trip to see what that was about.

We found the pachyderms. This was a much more relaxed place than the elephant village we were at in Cambodia. With the help of a bribe of a kilo of bananas, one of the young elephants gave everyone a kiss with his trunk. In reality, it was something more like a gigantic ticklish “suck” on the side of the cheek and neck. Wera’s mom and I went for a ride while Weronika took a nap. I sat on the neck and mom in the seat on its back.

Our elephant must have been tired and overheated. It was constantly “sneezing” water on its side and us. At first we thought it had a cold. Then we figured it was probably annoyed at us. Eventually, we figured out it was just hot and was cooling itself off. It would reach its trunk into its stomach and make a rumbling snorting type of noise. We learned that this meant that soon enough we would get a spray of elephant water. It was just a matter of guessing whether he would go left or right. Either way, we would get wet, but at least if we guessed correctly our backs would get hit and I would not end up with a face full of elephant stomach water.

In addition to being hot, our elephant was stubborn. The clever girl grew interested in the banana plantation about three meters off the path we were walking on. The mahout, or elephant guide, noticed this and nudged the elephant not to even think about it. At first, the beast obliged, but a few steps later it stopped. It looked to the right into the hedge separating the path from the banana palms and using its dexterous trunk pulled out one small plant from amidst the dry shrubbery. After she ate it, she went to make a motion as if she was reaching for another small plant in the bushes. Before the mahout could do anything, the elephant flattened the dry shrubs with her trunk, took a few steps, and had a three meter tall banana palm tree in her trunk. She ripped it out of the ground, carried it back to the path, and took the next ten minute to beat it against the ground to get to the juicy center. All we could do was wait.

The rest of the ride to Pai was pleasant, quiet, dry, and uneventful. The bikes did exactly as they were told and did not stray off the path. We found nice bungalows just outside of the town and went in for dinner. The city is chilled out, full of tourists, but relaxed and remarkably un-rowdy.

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