Friday, May 2, 2008

mefaslumps! jebbarumps! HEPHALUMPS!

Here is a picture of a hephalump.

I should back up a bit. I LOVE YOU!

Tell the truth, hephalumps and friends was a medium-bad time, punctuated with really wonderful moments. When I got to the camp, first thing's first. It's BEAUTIFUL! Like, insane beautiful. Verdant mountains on the left

River Kwai on the right:

Couldn't be more picturesque. Note, I say PICTUREsque, not all-around-awesome-esque, because it was hot and sweaty like crazy, and there were bugs like you wouldn't believe. God forbid you had to use the bathroom at dusk:

Day 1, I arrive and meet the 5 other Westerners who also just got there. Immediately, we're off in the truck to grab mangoes and banana trees (not bananas... banana trees) for the hephalumps. Red ants bite (and how!) and banana trees stain (I don't know either), so I have to don pink fisherman pants and a stained button-down plaid shirt, and it's hot. But at least I'm looking good.

The mangoes we just grabbed from under a bunch of mango trees. Some fell while we were there, and they were delicious! So juicy! And since my bag was still in the car, I didn't have to break my rule of never eating mangoes without having floss handy. Not very outdoorsy, I know, but that stuff gets in your teeth hard.

Now, wonderful moment #1. We're foraging for mangoes in stagnant hot air, and so suddenly, a cold wind comes roaring like the Word of God, and everyone just stops and looks around. What on Earth is this? It felt biblical, I swear. Just roaring cold wind. And then, after the longest 20 seconds, pouring rain. (Somewhere, a bull was just roasted.)

Elephants love mangoes. And banana trees, too. But they go ga-ga for mangoes. They take them from you with their trunks so gently! I have a video, but stupid computers are way too slow for that. Ah well.

While hacking at the banana trees, Phot found 5 teeny tiny baby squirrels that are now homeless. Oh jeez. Makes you think about the whole "elephant rescue" idea, it really does. They were so little they hadn't even opened their eyes!

Wonderful moment #2. I took to caring for them and got them to drink milk. As of this morning, all five were still alive, and two had opened their eyes!

The day before I got there, Kate had found two baby birds, which she was trying to raise. They ate termites voraciously the first day, so things were looking good.

The second day was a bit of a disaster. The camp is run by Phot, who lives there with his mom, sister, 3-year-old daughter, 15-day-old neice, and a ~14-year-old boy whose relationship we couldn't figure out. We called him "lady-boy" because he was effeminate and wore pink nail polish. Only Phot spoke any English. Maybe I should've explained this at the beginning.

The camp is rustic like you wouldn't believe. No power, and the generator only has maybe a half-hour of fuel in it. There's no running water, of course. The only way to shower is to bathe in the Kwai, in a muddy section where the elephants shit. You can drink the water we shower in at home.

Well, two of the five Westerners left, and Phot went fishing with his friend in the river. Suddenly, his mom is screaming and everyone's flipping out, and Phot is unconscious. With him out, the Thai-English barrier is impenetrable, and suddenly the whole family loads into the truck and leaves. Dennis & Babette, a dutch couple, are as bewildered as I. It's maybe 11am. We're alone with 3 elephants in the forests of Thailand.

Here's what we learn happened. Phot fishes by connecting wires to the generator (which they turn on when they have petrol, which is a liter-to-liter kinda thing), and ZAP! Not the safest, but hey, that's par for the course here. As I'm sure you figured out two sentences ago, Phot fell in the water and zapped the hell out of himself. The family went to the hospital. Dennis, Babette, and I are marooned.

During the day, we lounge and chat and are generally okay, if hot and bored and uncertain. The chipmunks eat, but the birds look really weak. As soon as you see they no longer eat with the gusto they did last night, you know it's bad news. One no longer moves by mid-afternoon, and by nightfall, both birds have joined the choir invisible. They're so small. Alev hashalom.

No sign of the family. Feeling very alone. Babette is getting upset, and Dennis and I are kinda faking confidence to assuage her. We pull some warm beers from the "kitchen," and light about two dozen candles. I never travel without snacks, so we all had some candy bars. Long day. On the plus side, I found a frog.

Around 9pm, the family returns, and everything is sorta okay. Phot sleeps all night, and only wakes to groggily drive Dennis and Babette back to Kanchanaburi in the morning. I slept through this. When I wake, Phot is back asleep, and it's just Mom and lady-boy and myself. They don't speak English, and I don't speak Thai, so it's a lonely day.

Phot wakes enough to tell me the elephants need to drink, and that I should go with lady-boy and bring them to the river. He obviously tells lady-boy the same thing. So we moped up to the forest, and suddenly it's my job to help this 14-year-old Thai lady-boy lead three elephants to the river. I am the very model of confidence:

Lady-boy yells some command, and one of the elephants kneels. He points at me, so up I go. Imagine my reaction when lady-boy refuses to get on an elephant himself! What the heck am I doing? And now, the last straw that pushes the situation from dismay to comedy, lady-boy walks over to the moped, gets on the moped, and leaves.

Lead the elephants to water? I am about 1/150th the mass of these three animals, I am one person, I don't speak elephant, and I don't know where the river even is! What can I possibly do? Hope the elephants know where they're going, because I'm clearly on for the ride. This is terrific.

The hephalumps are evidently thirsty, 'cause they start on their own (in what I can only hope is the direction of the river). Suddenly I find this whole situation very funny, and my mood goes through the roof. I managed to snap a shot of this bizarre scene, though we'll have to photoshop my expression later, obviously:

Apparently the hephalumps do know where they're going, 'cause after 12-15 minutes or so, the river is in sight, and the elephants go into double-time. Lady-boy shows up at about the same time as we do, and thankfully my camera has survived the fall from the elephant: (camera on me + me on elephant + elephant going in river = I just threw the camera on the bank, from about 12 feet up.)

So, that success was wonderful moment #3.

Wonderful moment #4 was a bit different. When night fell the previous two nights, it was cloudy and hot and bugs like crazy. The third night, like cosmic compensation for the day's misadventures, was cool and calm, with only a few whispy clouds, and it was totally bugless. I slept out on the hammock, underneath a million stars. Stars like you wouldn't believe. It was really beautiful.

The fireflies here are green.


Joshua said...

Jake, that's a laugh out loud awesome story. Well told.

Anonymous said...

That's the craziest story I've heard. I'll just call you Captain Hepha from now on.

Jake Cooper said...

That was definitely kinda fun. It's crazy how you can have hours of boredom or heat or whatever, and then something crazy comes along and happens, and that's all you remember. Memory is lovely like that, huh?

Who's the anonymous comment from? Unveil yourself!

Anonymous said...

If science writing doesn't work out, try travel writing. Great experiences.

And why do you use those funny names for elephants? Is that what Thais say?

Anonymous said...

Gosh, I wish you'd taken a photo with Lady-Boy, but the baby squirrels made up for it.

xoxox Heather (from the Fixx)