The old couple had smoked steadily together all evening. They were up at five, whether they were woken up by the rooster as I was or not, I cannot say. They said little to us or each other.
The last of our bread was warmed, coffee consumed and the elephant which was to give Cliff and Andrea their morning’s adventure gave me a ride round the village for 10 baht. And then we set off for the last of our trek.
We walked past more poppy fields; these were marked by clouds of white butterflies from the adjacent crop of cabbages which was being harvested. After cutting, they were carried up the steep slopes to the tracks carved out of the hillsides for transportation. I discovered how strenuous an activity this was when I was unable to lift one of the laden woven bamboo baskets. I helped stack the load anyway.
With Liz and Tom following Pinan along more jungle paths, Rom and I were waiting for the elephant bearing Cliff and Andrea. We had elected to join them at the rendezvous, partly because our packs could be carried up to where we were and partly, because an elephant plods more slowly than the pace forced upon us by Pinan, we fancied a stroll.
However, this particular elephant was unused to traffic. So much so that when a cabbage truck was encountered it stampeded over the hill and rapidly out of sight. I had half a mind initially to help calm the beast; I thought my walking stick might prove useful. The better half of my brain recognised that I well have ended up with half a body if I had got in the way.
Apparently it took some time and at least five blood inducing thwacks with a metal hook and a rope around an ear, which, this being an Asian elephant, was small, to slow him down sufficiently to take a detour.
Cliff capitalised on the adventure by bargaining for the owner’s hand-made knife; 30 baht. We all have our souvenirs: aching legs and pleasant memories. A last supper together at Daret’s and we were able to wish ourselves ‘happy travels’.
Having been part of each others’ lives momentarily, today we have gone our separate ways. Transitorily, too, we have been part of the lives of some very hospitable hill people. I hope it has been a mutually agreeable experience.
Attitudes have changed in the last thirty years, and elephant riding is a no-no. Read this.