The elephants are both mighty and strangely delicate. You can step and climb on them as you would a ladder or a (very large) stool; their hides are thick and each toenail the size of my foot. Their hair is course like wire and their trunks strong and curious. And yet their eyes are so soulful--expressive and fringed with long lashes--and their ears are soft and exquisite. Riding an bathing elephant with your legs enveloped by its ears is like having your entire lower body embraced by the softest, warmest blanket.
After the bath, we went to elephant camp, where the animals hungrily tossed back literal tons of grass and bamboo before heading out on a trek through the Lao jungle. We took turns riding in the "chair" atop the elephant and on its neck, with our friendly mahout explaining to us how to tell Hamong to hao (stop), bai bai (go), and san de lai (very good elephant!).
After our sojourn, we took another van ride to a series of waterfalls, which also strangely turned out to be home to a black bear rehabilitation center. After wolfing down a lunch of fried rice and veggies, we spent the remainder of th eafternoon swimming in a pool of crystalline water. There was a waterfall which I climbed halfway down and just sat in for a solid hour, shivering with pure joy. After about an hour of contemplation, I decided to jump off the falls...and by decided, I should say that two small Lao children tricked me into it because I was too frightened to go alone! Finally, as the sun sunk into its pre-twilight glow, we grabbed a hasty snack of fried coconut before heading off to a local Hmong village. Honestly, I wish we hadn't gone--I felt so touristy and awful traipsing through and snapping photos of napping babies, straw huts, and the public television set in the center of the village. It was so different than the Chinese villages we'd stayed where, although waigouren, we were able to converse and contribute in the local community--or at least to the income of the families we lived with, however briefly.
Otherwise, it was the perfect start to what hopefully will turn out to be a great year. Here's to a quarter-century!
|Ana & I & our Mahout|
|One of many gorgeous waterfalls|
|These kids look cute but they were tricky!|
|Black Bear Stare!|
|Most adorable Hmong baby|
|Finishing off the day with some Lao BBQ!|