Hiking in the rain part 2
After the very wet hike to the cave, it was time to dry off….
Many of our small group stripped off some of the wetter outer layers and began trying to get them dry by the fire’s heat, including Old Chief who was holding his signature trilby hat above the flames. It wasn’t too long after when Galipay and Lookay returned which meant only one thing, I was about to get my first ever glimpse of the animal l had travelled half way across the world to see. We made our way back down the now precarious trail which lead away from the cave, towards a very small clearing where three of the herd’s four elephants now stood: Ma Na, Sah Jah and Mario. Thong Dee, the wise and independent lady that she is, had decided that the rain was too much and had wandered far from the rest of the herd. This was much to Patti Syee’s relief as he headed back to the warmth of home.
One of my favourite things about the small community which I currently call home is that when the rain begins, the residents of Huay Pakoot retreat indoors, curl up, and sleep. If there’s a better way to deal with rain then I want to hear it. Although sadly this technique would lead to a lot of inactivity in Scotland where it rains all year round. So, with three remaining mahouts and their three beautiful elephants around us we began our health checks on the animals. However, this task was much easier said than done as the rain was coming down around us so fast and heavily that it was difficult to see your hand in front of your face let alone any new injuries or ailments on the elephants. So instead of the usual orderly collection of information, what ensued was a somewhat chaotic affair.
For anyone who knows elephants they will know that they spend around 18 hours on average a day eating, and for health checks we carry food pellets, and sometimes bananas, to make assessing the elephants health more easy, as they are concentrating on the food rather than the person checking their mouths or ears. Normally, this technique works very well…however on this day the only way I can aptly describe the encounter is with these two words: trunks. Everywhere. And when I say everywhere I mean everywhere. Ma Na, notorious as the herd’s cheekiest elephant, took full advantage of the rain and our small group, wrapping her trunk around our backs to get into the food bags, searching hands and sniffing bags most likely in the search of bananas. Mario, the juvenile of the herd, followed suite, getting very up close and personal, his trunk never far from the bag of pellets. Now as I’ve already described, at this point an amount of water comparable only to the Niagra Falls was running down my face, streaming into my eyes and off the end of my nose. This, combined with the overwhelming experience of having an elephant’s trunk on my actual face was almost more than I could process. Everyone knows that elephants are enormous, impossibly strong animals. But their sheer power, size and magnificence is something which I think it is truly impossible to comprehend until you are actually standing face to face with one of these awe inspiring animals. Being able to actually physically touch an elephant’s rough, hairy skin, experiencing the force of the trunk as it pushed around me and searched my pockets for food is an experience that I am honestly finding difficult to express on the page. I am not a particularly emotional person, for example I’ve been chastised for not crying at Toy Story 3 which apparently stands as a benchmark for emotional expression, but when I was stood with my hand on Sah Jah’s trunk while simultaneously trying to keep Mario from eating the pellets, bag and all, it was truly a Toy Story 3 moment. Because of the downpour, and the aforementioned Huay Pakoot attitude towards rain, we were soon moved back away from the elephants, back up to the cover and warmth of the cave to collect our bags and get ready for the walk home.
Although we hadn’t come very far down the trail, what was already a slippery walk had now become extremely difficult to negotiate. Standing at the top of the wooded hill which leads down to the cornfield, which was now basically a giant slip and slide of mud, I remembered my oh so naïve statement from the start of the hike, “I’m so glad the way back is downhill” (since this hike I’ve learned to keep these kind of thoughts inside my head lest I jinx a hike again, for example when people say ‘oh there haven’t been any leeches yet today’ and then it’s like the eleventh Egyptian Plague and everyone is covered head to toe in the bloody things). So began our very long and very treacherous descent back to the village. Now as I said, at the best of times my balance is absolutely beyond atrocious, so when you add rain and mud to the mix it’s safe to say that the baby giraffe balance comes out again in full force. So, spending around 80% of my time down the hill involuntarily on my bum, we made it back down to the river. However, with the hours of heavy rainfall, what had been a small stream of water when we crossed it initially had now become a torrent of fast moving, deep water. With our hiking boots already weighing as much as a small toddler (on each foot) with the water they were retaining, most of us decided that wading through the river was the best option. However, Karen, the smallest member of our party, thought that it would be best if she tried to jump over the river. To paint a picture, I’m 5’8.5” (yes I’m very proud of the .5”) the water was just below my knee and had swollen to around 3.5 meters in width, and I had decided that jumping over the river was out of my acrobatic capabilities. Karen is 5’4”…so it’s safe to say that with the softness of the ground leaving no solid ground to help her in her jump, as she went to make her great leap over the river, her foot sank into the soft muddy river bank, her footing faltered and she almost ended up face first in the river; having managed to jump no further than half a step in front of her.
Having negotiated the river and the steep climb back up to the village, we all made our way back to base or to our own huts to shower. I can honestly say that I have never appreciated a cold bucket full of water (also known as our showers here in the village) more in my entire life. So, with rainy season well and truly established in our little corner of Northern Thailand, our hiking boots filled to the brim with water and a smile on our faces, yes a smile- I promise; each of us spent the rest of the day wrapped up, drinking teas and coffees, and using the rainiest hike of our lives as an excuse to eat our bodyweight in snacks.
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