Kao Yai National Park: "Shinola"

Issan Part 2.

Khao Yai National Park


November 25, 2004

Dear Family and Friends,

Yesterday I was in the jungle.

I left the Isaan Plateau and headed southwest to the mountain chain which forms the border between Thailand and Cambodia. 05:15 - 05:30...Motorbike taxi to bus station. 06:00 - 07:00...Bus to Pak Chong. 07:15 - 07:30...Khao Yai Garden Lodge picked me up.

07:30 - 08:15...Breakfast at Lodge. 08:30 - 19:00...To the park for the day and evening. About a dozen of us loaded up into the rear of a couple of trucks. My traveling companions for the day were Len and Monica, and their nineteen year old university bound daughter, Sabina. Americans? Canadians? Australians? Nope. An Asian family from Penang, Malaysia. More about them later.

The day consisted of a "Jungle Hike" and an "Evening Safari." As we approached the hill country from the roadway, we stopped, jumped from the truck and focused our lenses on a troop of white-faced macaques eating and swinging through the trees. By the way, my hiking stick was very helpful here. Lots of climbing up and over rocks and trees and then a smart hike up to the grasslands. Here are some of the highlights of the 5km walk through the rain forest and open savanna: -- Large Banyan trees. -- Wild pepper plants. -- Butterflies, including one with a very large blue splash on its black wings. -- Peter, our guide, an entomologist, pointed out a green pupae with little black dots for eyes, resting on a large green leaf close to the ground. He asked me if I had seen the movie "The Silence of the Lambs"? Do you think he was pulling my leg? -- Barking deer. -- Large piles of what appeared to be just mud. Goes to show you that Jan, the nature boy, can't tell elephant scat from Shinola. -- A water monitor sleeping on a log. This fat lizard was almost three meters long!!! No kidding.

-- The highlight of the day came at dusk. The drivers got an urgent call. All the tourists raced through the park and converged at one spot in the open.

And there they were. A herd of a dozen elephants. Yes, my fellow pachydermophiles, elephants in the wild, enjoying an evening together at their favorite salt lick. The salt lick is really a large gash in the side of a hill. The elephants were scraping and digging in the red clay earth with their feet and trunks, consuming their necessary mineral supplements and occasionally showering their backs with the dust. Yes! Papa Elephants. Mama Elephants. And Little Bitty Baby Elephants too As the light faded in the jungle and we drove away from this marvelous scene I felt, well, happy.

My Malaysian buddies and I were all smiling quietly as we thought about the sights of the day and as we anticipated a plate of vegetable fried rice and a cold beer. And speaking of my buddies. Len is well-educated and well-traveled. He speaks with a slight English accent. He and his family are all recently converted Evangelical Christians. "Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior" crept into the conversation a couple of times. During our travels together that day we discussed American history and politics, Malaysian history and politics, and Thai history and politics. And since he had recently converted, he was familiar with the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible which he referred to as The Torah!

Naturally I mentioned that I was Jewish and so began our conversation about our common ground and our differences. Young Sabina was interested in Jewish festivals so I gave her a brief explanation of upcoming Hanukkah, and every body's favorite, Passover. As readers of the Bible, the family was familiar with the Exodus story.

I mention all of this as just an example of what a travel day is like for me. Brief encounters as this one can be very intense and personal. I have had many of these encounters, and my address book is filled with names from everywhere.

Sometimes the relationships fade, like the light in the jungle. Sometimes the relationships continue and grow. (You may recall that I met a young Dutch couple in Sofia, Bulgaria one summer, and six months later we had dinner together in Bangkok. I know that their home is open to me if ever I get to Amsterdam.)

I do hope that when I go to Malaysia, I will find Len and his family and we can recall our day together, as we view photos of lizards and monkeys, and share elephant stories.

Happy Holidays to all!

Cheers, Jan


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