If there's one thing you simply must do when you visit Thailand, it's elephant riding. This afternoon, for the grande finale to our Doi Inthanon trek, the 15 of us hopped onto a troop of 7 elephants, and went on a lumbering stroll around the jungle. The seats atop the elephants can only accommodate two persons each: and since we were an odd-numbered group, and everyone else was a pair, I ended up sharing an elephant with the German guys, and straddling the beast's enormous neck. It was a jolly old ride (if a bit uncomfortable for me): it's very impressive how these seemingly clumsy animals can daintily saunter up and down steep, narrow jungle trails; and it's good fun when they walk splashing right across a river, with you getting sprayed on top.
When we arrived at the Karen village today, *Cluck* announced to us excitedly: "tonight BBQ pig for dinner." Most of us accepted the news eagerly — almost everyone loves a good plate of roast pork — and even though I wasn't planning to eat any of it (I've had enough traife lately, thanks), I had no problem with them cooking up some pig on the campfire. But little did we realise just what was involved in "having BBQ pig" — had we comprehended the fact that out here in the jungle, you have to slaughter and butcher a pig before you eat it, perhaps we would have thought differently.
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I awoke in my field near Gangi this morning, to find a dog waiting patiently for me right outside my tent. When I saw him there, I nearly jumped out of my skin! He disappeared while I was breakfasting and packing away; but when I rode away, he appeared again, and he started chasing after me. This was one hell of a fast dog: I was cruising down the highway; but he easily kept up with me, and he didn't give up until after I'd reached Gangi. He was so speedy, I decided to call him "Gonzalez". Poor fella — guess he was just lonely, and wanted some company.
I hopped over to Bristol this afternoon with Christina; and while we were walking near the river, we saw a bunch of birds. Christina insisted they were swans. I said they were too ugly and weird to be swans, they must be geese. A local, when asked, assured us that they were indeed swans — "Bristol swans". I lost £5. What do you think? Geese or swans? If they really are swans, then they're the least graceful type of bloody swan I've ever seen — they must be outcast by the rest of their swan brethren the world over.
You can't say you've been to Argentina (or to South America, for that matter), until you've seen some live fútbol here. Tonight, I went off with the Clan crew to fulfil this sacred Latin backpacker's duty: we visited the stadium of the famous Boca Juniors, and watched Boca kick the a$$es off of São Pablo (a Brazilian team). It was a pretty easy victory for Boca, who beat their Portugese-speaking rivals 2-1. And as for the fans, with whom we were packed in at one of the (standing-room only) spectator areas: they were absolutely wild. Even if you're not crazy about fútbol, you still gotta go and see a Boca's game — it's a sight in itself, being chucked into the middle of a crowd for whom fútbol es la vida, y la vida es fútbol.
Madrilas is the gorgeous dog that lives at Patanuk. Not sure exactly what breed he is — he's from the Pyrenees in Spain, but I don't think he's a Great Pyrenees — but he's big, grey, shaggy, very gentle, and less than a year old. Sylvia brought him over from Spain about 6 months ago, when he was a smaller puppy. He'll play with anyone who's got time for him, and his favourite hobby is falling asleep in the middle of where everyone has to walk, forcing them to jump over him.
When I started out on the Santa Cruz hike this morning, I did it with the full intention of doing it alone, and of doing it without any help. Well, apparently doing it without any help at all is simply not how you do it. It seems that, at the least, virtually everyone hires a donkey to carry their gear. For the first hour or so of the hike, I constantly ran into random local dudes leading a bunch of donkeys, who kept asking me: "¿donkey, amigo?". Pretty soon, I got so tired of this, that every time I saw another donkey dude approaching, I just greeted him with: "hola no gracias" (lit: "hi no thanks").
It's what going to Arequipa, and to the Cañon del Colca, is all about. The famous, mighty condors, who can be seen soaring hundreds of metres above the canyon's floor — gliding effortlessly on thermal wind currents — from the lookout of Cruz Del Condor. After hiking out of the canyon this morning, our group got a bus from Cabanaconde to Cruz Del Condor, where we were just in time to see the flight of the condors.
Yesterday, we did the actual salt flats of the Salar de Uyuni. Today, we were done with the salt flats, and what we saw at each stop of the 4x4 was lagunas, lagunas, and more lagunas (lit: "lagoons"). We saw Laguna Colorada (lit: "colourful lagoon" — so called for its striking red, blue, white, and grey colours), as well as various other lagunas, most of which I can't remember the name. Also saw lots of cool pink flamencos (lit: "flamingos") in the lagunas, and a tonne of vicuña (small furry animals, kind of like something in-between a llama and a deer). Spectacular scenery all the way.
Just after lunch this afternoon, and just before our handicraft-making session, our guide Orlando heard the noise of pigs nearby, and quickly gathered us and led us on a sprint through the trees, in the direction of the noise. When we reached the spot, we were just in time to witness about 100 wild pigs running past us in a mad stampede. Fairly common occurrence, apparently — but you still have to be both fast and lucky to actually witness it. Not sure what the pigs were stampeding after, either: maybe someone struck mud?