Friday, September 26, 2008

Tourist Season

Today has been one of those lessons in how tourists see the world. Yesterday's driver, Dewa, arranged for us to go river rafting and elephant riding today. A driver from the park picked us up at the hotel at 8 am, as planned, and promised us that the rain was done for the day (though it proceeded to rain essentially the entire way to the park).

In his limited English, he tried to sell us on the notion that we needed to stop in at a wood carving place on the way, and we tried to explain that we'd done that yesterday, but with limited success. He also wanted to get us to buy into the notion of hiring him tomorrow to take us up into the mountains and such (which Dewa is already going to do). Ah,well.

We have long-since clued in to the fact that wherever we go as tourists, cab drivers and such are always looking for ways to get you to particular stores, generally owned and run by their friends and family members, and from which they earn "commissions." Fortunately Dewa comes recommended by trusted friends who have traveled with him and even bought goods from his store that they are very pleased with. So there is a level of trust there. But still, there are some obligatory visits. And that's OK, as long as you understand what's happening.

But we got to the park, the Bakas Levi Rafting and Elephant Adventure, and paid our fee. First up was the elephants, which was good for us, because early in the morning is both cooler for us as passengers, but it also means the elephants and their mahouts are fresher. We watched as our elephant came out and had his morning bath, then got saddled up (in the form of a teak chair on blankets, tied on with ropes). Then we climbed aboard, and off for a one-hour ride through the surrounding area.

Our elephant's name was Febi (pronounced like the English name "Phoebe"). We looked a little surprised, and Mo the mahout laughed a little sheepishly that he knows it's a female name. He named it after his sister, who dislikes elephants! Mo has been raising and training Febi (the elephant) since Febi was one day old, and has been with him almost nonstop for the ensuing 14 years. I'll write a separate entry later about some of the things we learned about elephants and their training in Indonesia. But for now, suffice it to say we had a pleasant and wide-ranging discussion with Mo as we rode.

Along the route we got to see a bunch of wild macaques, much like the ones we saw yesterday in the Monkey Forest, but without all the tourists and bananas. Febi foraged for snacks pretty much the whole way, as elephants will. We also saw domesticated pigs (quite unlike the wild pigs we've seen elsewhere), chickens with broods of chicks, and a number of birds.

At the end of ride came a couple of obligatory tricks, including balancing with all four feet on a small pedestal and sitting down on another (all with us still riding up top!). After a final chat and posing for portraits with Febi, we were off to river rafting.

There's not a lot to say about the rafting itself. The river doesn't run very fast, and it doesn't have a lot of drops, either. It was really more of a leisurely float, and we rarely had to paddle at all. We were the only two guests in the raft, along with the guide. Normally there would be 4-5 guests, but not this time. The guide (whose name escapes me, darn it!) did his best to make the tame ride more exciting, with lots of whooping and yelping and jokes, as well as turning the raft around and guiding us under waterfalls so we got good and wet.

What the ride does have going for it is gorgeous scenery. The river runs through a rather steep canyon cut in volcanic rock, and the canyon itself is quite beautiful. And you also get nice views of the surrounding jungle, from a different, lower angle than we'd had from the elephant. All in all, it was a very pleasant ride.

Then, off for a quick shower and change of clothes, then a mediocre buffet lunch, then back with our driver, who again wanted to take us to wood carving or book us for tomorrow. Luckily, we were exhausted, and the tape he put on of bad covers of American music really put us to the snooze.

Back to the hotel, then, and my wife is now off getting a massage at the spa while I write. I'm going to go pick her up soon, and probably go see some Balinese dance at the palace.

Although I should note that it is raining. A lot. Again.

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