Besides the politics, we were very excited to embark on our elephant trek today. Mr. Tree drove us out to the local Bunong village where we met our guide at his house. His wife had just given birth four days ago. Their house was basic with an open fire inside.
Soon after we met our elephant and set off on our trek. For the most part it was narrow paths, sometimes they were really compact and hard making them very slippery, but the majority of them were very muddy and slippery as it had been raining for days.
Every chance she got, she would go off the path and feed on some jungle goodies and our mahout would let her. Her favorite is bamboo. It was incredible to see her so happy and really in her element.
We saw a few areas which had been logged to make room for plantations and farming for the local people. These weren’t very large areas and we don’t think these are the ones contributing to the excessive habitat loss of the Mondulkiri elephants.
After about 2 hours, our elephant was released into the jungle to feed. We also got to eat our lunch, which was fried rice and egg. We met with another guide, his mahout and a nice American fellow, whom we joined for lunch. By this stage our guide had disappeared, however we knew this other guide, Mot, from Happy Elephant Lodge. He had organised some rice wine and a local delicacy, boiled eggplant with a very spicy spice paste. Yum!
After lunch we went to find our elephant and after some serious jungle bashing we did find her hidden among some bamboo, still eating! It was a great feeling. The mahout just spoke to her and she knew it was now time for her bath. The way there and back involved crossing a small river and it was impressive to see how well the elephant crossed this river. She also quenched her thirst here.
Then it was time to get in the water. Again, we were wondering how she would do the steep and slippery descent into the rapid river with brown water, but she managed no problem. We had a lot more trouble getting.
We both got into the cold river to help the mahout wash the elephant. You have to really scrub to get the dirt out, but it was a great experience and worth having totally wet clothes and what would become the worst smelling pairs of runners for the next few days. When we finished washing her, the mahout made motions for us to sit on her neck. It was tricky to reach because where the elephant was standing was a lot deeper and you could not see anything in the water. I finally managed to get on. Being on the elephant did feel wobbly and when she stepped out I wondered it I would fall and go face first into the mud.
The way back was very relaxing and we just followed the elephant back a different way to the village. The rain eased up a little so it was a nice walk.
The landscape is beautiful with deep and lush jungle and later the wide open ridge where we could see a few villages and the vast area that is occupied by these elephants and the Bunong people.
All in all a great day and if you come to Mundulkiri I highly recommend you have a good think about what you want to do with elephants.