Saturday, August 18, 2012

Swimming with elephants at Patara Elephant Farm

It has been about three months since we went to Patara Elephant Farm. Clearly it's past due for me to finish the blog post.

After you leave the Patara main area, you ride the elephants up into the mountains to a waterfall. I took some pictures at the waterfall, but I was in full bikini and I feel weird putting those pictures on the blog. They look pretty sweet with the Instagram filter, though.

Here, you dismount (a bit stiffly, after all that crouching!) and eat an incredible picnic lunch:

Top row: Bananas, lychee, mangosteen, fried chicken, coconut and banana fritters, banana.
Second row: banana-leaf wrapped rice balls, with different meats.
With the other tour members

Just like with horses, you have to care for the animal after it's been exercising. Vegetarian lunch leftovers went to the elephants, and meat went to some locals, who I suspect were the guides' families. (That felt slightly awkward, but I can see them putting the elephants first, since the elephants create jobs). 

Then we helped the elephants cool down by bathing them again in the river.

Nice technique.
My elephant, Ma Ree, is on the right.

You can tell it's Ma Ree because she's whacking me in the head with her ear again.

And then, swimming time!

Baby wants in!

They can keep their faces under because they're breathing through their trunks. Like submarines!
Elephants feel really weird and prickly on bare legs.
I should have mentioned in the last post that photo credit for a lot of these shots go to the Patara team. They have photographers following you around all day, so even if you go completely by yourself, you're guaranteed great shots of you and your elephant. They give you a CD of pictures and video when you leave. They would also take pictures on your camera if you showed them which one it was. The pictures and videos in these posts are a mix of Patara photogs on Patara cameras, Patara photogs on our camera, and Justin and me photographing each other on our camera.

Family shot, with elephant, and random person's back.
How's it going down there?
Discovery: Justin and I are the only Western people under 40 without tattoos.
It was incredibly chaotic in the river. Elephants are big, and with all the people and elephants shoving around, sometimes you got a bit squashed. Justin had a bad knee injury a while back and has to be careful not to get his leg pinned, and you just can't rely on baby elephants to look out for anybody but themselves.

Nobody puts baby in the corner.
So Justin finished early, leaving me to carry on with the blithe confidence of the perpetually lucky. This explains why there are a lot more pictures of me here. (Sorry, Kathy). I had a complete blast. If the combination of a rodeo ride, a water park, and a mosh pit sounds fun to you, you'll probably enjoy it as much as I did.

Mind your manners.

Elephant surfing.

Then my elephant - I have no idea which one it was at that point, actually - gave me a lift out of the water and back to the trail.

Hi-ho, Silver


Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Down-Under Bestiary

A not-at-all-comprehensive but hopefully entertaining and moderately accurate (or moderately entertaining and hopefully accurate?) listing of some animals we encountered in Australia and New Zealand.

Name: Cassowary
Fun Fact: "According to the Guinness Book of Records, the Cassowaries are the world’s most dangerous birds, capable of dealing fatal blows."
Spotted: Not at all, which is probably a good thing. The sign is from the Atherton Tablelands.

Or else.
Name:  Freshwater Crocodile
Also Known As: Fresh Croc of Bel Air
Arch-enemies: Steve Irwin; Captain Hook
Fun fact: Pudgy tummies are actually kind of adorable. In a scaly, lethal kind of way.

We do not advise poking them.

Name: Red-legged Pademelon
Favorite sports team: Red Sox

Name: Dingo
Favorite Food: .... You know what, I decided not to go there.
Spotted at: Ayers Rock
How to say "Please do not feed the dingoes" in German, according to the sign posted in the resort laundry room: "FΓΌttern Sie niemals Dingoes."

Name: Kangaroo
Spotted in: Kuranda Koala Gardens
Preferred pose: Recumbent, and vaguely sleazy.

Hey baby. Nice pouch.
Do you have any family stories about kangaroos? Why, yes! I'm so glad you asked!

It is my understanding that kangaroos, to Australians (or at least rural ones) are like deer to Midwesterners: deer are rats with antlers, and I suppose kangaroos are rats who can jump. But us foreigners can't help being sentimental about kangaroos, seeing as they rarely go through our windshields. So my sister, upon seeing a dead critter by the roadside, distressedly asked her host if it was a poor little kangaroo.

"Nah, that's not a kangaroo," he said.
"It's not?" said she, relieved.
"Nah! That's a wallaby! They're littler, and cuter."

Name: Little Blue Penguin (NZ)
Alternate names: Blue Penguin (NZ), Fairy Penguin, (Aus), just plain Penguin because "Fairy Penguin" is not PC (Aus)
Are you serious?: Yes
Spotted at: International Antarctic Center, Christchurch, New Zealand
Ticklish: Yes
Cuteness rating: Head explodes

Head explodes in three... two...
He was really, really suspicious of the British tourists. And rightfully so.

Name: Megabats/ Flying Foxes
Spotted at: Batreach, Kuranda, Queensland, Aus.; Tolga Bat Hospital, Atherton Tablelands.
How "mega" is "mega?" Sometimes over a foot, toe to head, and with a serious wingspan.

That is some serious engineering right there.

How else are they different from the bats we see in the USA? American bats are microbats.Microbats use echolocation; megabats generally do not. Megabats have good eyesight and fur. Microbats eat insects and other small forms of protein; megabats eat fruit, nectar, and pollen. And megabats have very different faces - which make the "flying fox" nickname pretty self-explanatory.

Microbat (image from Tolga Bat Hospital)
Megabat, or possibly my mother-in-law's dog.
Not a bat. (?)
Will they suck your blood? No, unless you are some form of fruit.

Why, I like dem apples very much, thank you for asking.
Will they fight crime in the night? Possibly.

I'm your worst cutest nightmare.
Are they the bats Australia needs: No.
Are they the bats Australia deserves: Yes.

Name: Kiwi
Not to be confused with: Kiwi (Fruit); Kiwi (person from New Zealand)
Spotted at: Rainbow Springs, Rotorua, New Zealand (8,300 miles from home)
Could have been spotted at: Columbus Zoo (17 miles from home)

Number of tour group members poked in butt by kiwi: 1. Sadly not me.
Not photographable because: Severely light-shy.
Most painful fact in this post: Kiwi eggs are the largest in the bird kingdom proportionate to the size of the bird. A human baby is about 5% of the mother's body weight (ex: a 150 pound woman giving birth to a 7.5 pound baby). A kiwi egg is 20% of its mother's body weight, so that same 150-pound human woman would have to give birth to a thirty-pound three-year-old child. Strangely, scientists do not consider this a factor in kiwi being endangered.

Name: Koala
Spotted in: Kuranda Koala Gardens (jeez, you'd certainly hope so)
Status of Koala labor unions: Strong. By law, Koalas can work ("be cuddled") no more than 30 minutes a day, totalling no more than 180 minutes in a week.
Did you think I was joking? I'm never joking.
Fur texture: Unbelievably soft and fluffy, like a chinchilla.
Temperament: Torpid, yet hateful.

... after this nap.
Adoption status: Pending

I think he has my eyes.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Naked Fuji! (And, Back in Fukuoka)

Mt. Fuji likes to let it all hang out in the summertime. Little did Fuji know the paparazzi was flying overhead.

Anyway, Nana and I are back in Fukuoka with plenty of blogging to catch up on. Oh, yeah - and there's a school year to start.