It's been awhile since I've written and I'm sitting in Starbucks at the mall in central Bangkok with a strong wifi signal with two hours til my overnight train leaves, so here's my update.
I'm feeling a bit more centered and balanced since my last post. I'm not sure if this change is based upon more travel experience under my belt or a result of me sitting in temples, breathing, meditating, talking to monks, attending a few incredible yoga classes (quick plug for Wild Rose Yoga Studio in Chiang Mai…really wonderful setting and top quality teachers). I think it must be a combination of all these factors…I'm feeling calm, peaceful, compassionate, aware and grateful.
Let me quickly back up a week and give you a very brief play by play. I flew from Hanoi to Luang Prabang, Laos on a small prop jet in a big thunderstorm. I happened to sit next to a beautiful French girl named Deborah, who I could tell was even more nervous about the flight than I was. We ended up sharing a taxi into town and since I didn't have a hotel booked and her hotel had another room, my lodging was settled and i had a new friend. It turned out to be quite an extraordinary hotel and worth the $45 nightly price. (Another plug- Maison Dala Bua….with its own lotus pond and unesco status). Softest sheets thus far and perhaps for my entire journey.
Deborah and I met Kae and Hagen from London and Berlin who had been traveling together and the four of us spent the better part of three days enjoying the sights of Luang Prabang together. This included a trip to a beautiful waterfall about 30km out of town. Near the waterfall was a Sun Bear rescue center, which we were touched by.
I visited many gorgeous Buddhist temples and enjoyed cruising my bicycle through the town. I discovered several amazing French bakeries and cafes, but what stands out about Laos was the sweetness of the local people. I experienced children blowing kisses, older brothers helping younger sisters, and kindhearted, friendly, happy people everywhere. Oh yeah, almost forgot to mention that I taught my first yoga class ever when the real teacher never showed up and myself and six others really wanted to practice. It went pretty well, we were on a deck right next to the river…my sequencing was a bit off but no one got hurt and they seemed quite complimentary. Another unforgettable moment I am grateful for.
It was time for me to say goodbye to my new friends and roll down (well, up actually) the river. I went on a dreamy two day luxurious slow boat up the might Mekong to the Thailand border. It was very scenic and very relaxing, with an overnight in a not so scenic stopover town but a great experience for sure.
From the river it was an easy border crossing and 3 hour minibus ride to Chiang Mai, where I stayed from three nights. Compared with peaceful Laos, my first impressions of Chiang Mai was not so good. Everything seemed busy, dirty and the sex tourism element was very disturbing. Then I found the yoga studio and met Lana and Rebecca – two gorgeous, sweet, thoughtful and spiritual Austrialian girls who I wandered around with. We had a great day that went something like this- yoga, macrobiotic lunch, smoothies, meditation with the monks at a wonderful temple, healthy Thai dinner, night market where we bought meditation mala necklaces and they got fake Birkenstocks, then to the Muay Thai boxing match. Then walked me to my hotel so I wouldn't get accosted by prostitutes…girls, I owe you big time.
Early the next morning, Eddy was waiting for me.
Eddy owns Chiang Mai Elephant Care, a small business that brings tourists about an hour out to town to ride, bathe and feed elephants. I signed up for a 2 day, 1 night 'Mahout Experience', where I would learn the basics of how to care for these noble beasts. It was an unforgettable experience, I learned a lot and gained new respect for my favorite animal. I have mixed feelings about the whole business element…I need to process my emotions deeper but it was hard seeing the elephants in leg chains, eventhough I realize they are a necessity. Eddy and the mahouts do truly care for the elephants they are in charge of, but I have a hard time seeing them strike the elephants or using their hooks aggressively. I now know how strong and stubborn elephants are and I had to use force a few times as I attempted to control my elephant, with little affect. We worked hard to keep them fed and spent several hours cutting, bundling and hauling sharp tall Elephant Grass, which would only last a half day. The mahouts work hard, but they are young, mostly teenagers and I didn't witness a lot of tenderness between man and beast. I suppose it is critical to train the elephants with a somewhat harsh tone, so they realize who's in charge and don't develop bad habits that could result in serious danger. I could write pages on this subject, but again I need to process more. I do know that looking into the huge eye of BunnMee, my 50 year old elephant, was something I'll never forget. Her obvious intelligence, her knowing, her processing, her understanding was truly God-like. Thank you Ganesha.
I don't have pictures of the elephants on my ipad yet, but the company has a website and they will be uploading their pictures tomorrow. Go to chiangmaielephantcare.com, click on gallery and look under 8/29 and 8/30…that's me in the silly cowboy hat with the silly grin.
Back to back overnight trains and a ferry will put me on beautiful Koh Tao tomorrow, where I begin a 4 day PADI suba certification class…so blessed, so grateful !