Day 8 – February 8, 2014
Baan Tha Klang, Thailand
Surin Project Homestay
Waking up with a bit of a sore back was worth it when I poked my head outside my tent and saw a group of elephants happily nuzzling each other and greeting the sun. First we had our simple breakfast then it was the elephants turn. The mahouts laid out piles and piles of sugar cane and then led the ele’s over to munch.
We got to hang out and watch them eat, take advantage of a couple photo ops and (try) to talk to the mahouts, who are just the loveliest, funniest people.
Then it was time to get serious for the Mahout Olympics. Five teams, four events, the chance for honour and the risk of embarrassment, the stakes were high. Each team had a mix off volunteers and mahouts so it was a great opportunity for them to teach us some skills before plunging into the games. First event is the slingshot, I had had a bit of practice earlier in the morning…
(photo by the Surin Elephant Project)
…so I went in feeling confident and ended up missing every shot. The goal was to hit a suspended water bottle from either the farang line (for three points) or the mahout line (for five points). Some of the volunteers did really good but most of the mahouts really nailed it.
Next was the ringtoss, simple in concept but the rings were so light it was hard to control them. Even the mahouts had trouble with this and I could see a few different strategies but none really payed off well.
Their competitive sides started to show as they tried to distract each other and taunted from the sidelines.
Knuckle bones was the third event and one I had done really well with in practice. To play, you hold five stones in your hand, palm up. You gently toss the stones in the air, flip your hand and try to get as many as you can to lay on the back of your hand. Then you flip those up in the air and try to snatch them up. The skill comes in being gentle with your tosses and quick with your grabs.
At this point in the Olympics our team was doing fairly well, much to the approval of our mahouts Dao and Edd. The last and final event was the three-legged race. This could make or break our chances at gold, or whatever the top prize was going to be. Our team practiced, we had it down, the rhythm, the walk, everything. Then the race started and we fell apart. The mahout I was paired with took off running with my leg strapped to his and I couldn’t keep up. We clumsily tripped our way through the course and hobbled to the finish line, placing fourth in the race.
The winners were announced and we placed third out of five which won us a delicious candy treat and saved us the embarrassment of a face full of baby powder and the chicken dance, reserved for the last place team.
Win or lose, everyone enjoyed themselves and then it was time for a quick lunch while one of the mahouts gave me a new tattoo of the Buddhist path to enlightenment.
Earlier in the week we had had the chance to go swimming with Fah Sai, the gentle giant who calmly laid in the water while we scrubbed her back and rinsed her off. Today we chose to swim with Khamkoon, one of the smallest and the youngest in the group.
Where Fah Sai was still and calm, Khamkoon was a ball of energy, swimming this way and that. She rolled and splashed, stood up and rolled again. It paid off to pay attention to where he legs were to avoid being accidentally kicked by an excited baby elephant.
We got her out of the water by luring her with cucumbers and she tried to stuff so many in her mouth she ended up spitting a couple back out.
After their swim the elephants started the long walk back to the Project where we waited for the truck to take us back. The head mahout Surat was taking his moped back and when he asked if anyone wanted a ride I jumped up and hopped on the back in shorts, flipflops and without a helmet. When in Thailand, right?
A refreshing bucket shower rinsed off the river water and we packed up our backpacks for the night. Tomorrow we leave the Surin Project and head back to Bangkok for a couple nights before heading south.
To learn more about the Surin Elephant Project please visit their website.