Elephants are paradoxes. They seem like gentle giants–making an end-run around tiny mice. Then you realize that humans are the only animal idiotic enough to screw with one in its natural habitat. OK, if an entire pride of lions can separate one injured elephant from its herd, they might go for it. But, generally, the most fearsome predators in the world look at an elephant and say, “Oh, that would not end well for me.” And, of course, one has to consider that they never forget. If you do piss one off, you have to worry about it coming at you all Tony Soprano-style a decade later.
I’ve ridden an elephant in Thailand near the Mae Wang River. It was pleasant. It’s a little terrifying when it goes up or down a steep grade. You have a moment where you think, if this thing topples over, I’m a goner. (You’d have a moment where you hit the ground and said, “I’m alive, I made it.” And then you’d be like, “I didn’t know there was a solar eclipse today” and then” SPLAT!”) At one point, our driver jetted, but–it didn’t matter–the elephant knew where it was going and how to get there. As long as you don’t run out of bananas, the elephant will get you where you’re going. Of course, you will run out of bananas. Fun fact: a person can’t carry enough bananas to satiate an elephant. Then your elephant will get all morose and brooding.
This was taken in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I don’t even remember what the big white building in the background was–some government building. What’s interesting is the teak leaf roofed huts in the foreground. This is the traditional roofing method for a number of the hill-tribe people in that area. We saw such roofs in both Karen and Hmong villages.
If you’ve been to Southeast Asia, you’ve probably seen gleaming golden temples even in remote, impoverished portions of the countryside . However, when it comes to the really off-the-beaten path areas occupied by just a few hill tribe farmers, one might think they’d be forced to hoof it to the nearest big shiny temple. Not so. There are little shrines like this one, marked by saffron cloth tied to trees, out in the middle of the jungle.