As with many of the previous days we had to contend with many considerably sized bovine. These lumbering beasts are not anything like our domesticated, dainty milk cows at home! We seemed to leave with the cows and arrive at our next destination when the cows came home. Also the bats were a good indication of when it was time to find shelter – the mosquitoes were out in full zing. On this day we not only had cattle to deal with, we were going to visit elephants.
Often I was not told, nor did I ask, where we were going as I wanted it to be somewhat of an adventure. So when I was told we would be seeing elephants my worry radar was doing overtime. Of course I have heard about how illtreated these magnificent beasts are in Southeast Asia. I was certainly not prepared to ride one! To be honest I also do not ride horses – I am rather uncomfortable around large animals. Although the elephants did have riding chairs there was never any pressure to jump aboard. I was warned to not get too close when taking photo. Considering the size of them I did not more than the one warning – that is why a zoom lens is such a wonderful invention.
We also arrived just as the morning was starting, including a wheelbarrow full of delights for each elephant. I was not about to interrupt an elephant’s breakfast to say smile please. As fast as the bamboo could be cut, with bananas and other delectables added, the largest elephant was munching away. He was not gobbling but he was intent on finishing. My first thought, beyond the astonishing size, was they looked quite healthy. Which actually makes sense when one takes the time to think about it – these animals provide the livelihood for the men (I only saw men) who keep them. They invest time and money into them. Yes, they offer rides, I saw two foreigners being slowly guided along a trail on the back of one elephant. However, the keepers seem to know many visitors prefer to appreciate the animals from a distance. I suspect many of the guides provide a small amount of money although I did not see any pass through hands. I did ask why some of the older, or I assumed from the size of the tusk on a couple, had only one full tusk – I was never provided with a satisfactory answer despite my persistence. Begrudgingly I was told perhaps it was to prevent injuries to other elephants or to people, or to make the elephants weaker – two tusks are better than one whe. It comes to knocking trees or people down. As seems necessary on this trip I made up my mind to enjoy my time, all the while keeping my distance.
I also had to be aware of the cattle, as I said, they are not small although they do seem quite docile. These were ambling along the road, heading to the water to enjoy the cuttings a farmer/fisherman was making along the banks of the lake as well as grazing on what was missed. Although barely 8:00am the area was becoming a bustling way station for cows, elephants, farm vehicles and Motorbike guides with passengers and one lone fisherman casting his net. He never seemed to catch anything other than water weeds – perhaps that was his intention all along as the other man seemed quite happy with everything.
Another highlight was the stop at an abandoned, nearly destroyed, Catholic Church across a bridge in an area that has had major problems with flooding. Which brings us to how was the church destroyed? Some say it was from the river overflowing, others say during the war, and one story says it was Buddhists unhappy with Madame Nhu’s – sister-inlaw to president Ngo Dinh Diem, who had the church built, Probs lay sometime in the 1940’s, in an effort to convert the centre of Vietnam to Catholicism – statement about a well respected Buddhist monk’s 1963 self-immolation in protest to severe restrictions against Buddhists, “I would clap hands at seeing another monk barbecue show,…”. She also offered to bring along some mustard for the next time. Angered by this Buddhist monks destroyed her church, leaving only the very front of the church, and nave, relatively intact as a warning. This makes the most sense to me. The church was not built that close to the riverbank. Not that it’s destruction stopped believers in the Catholic faith – as I stood in the quiet of the roofless have I could hear chanting. On a hill opposite us there is a new church, the voices of Sunday worship were falling on us.
The whole day I was also entranced by the tens of thousands of butterflies – butter yellow, pale yellow, white delights dancing all around us as we drove through the countryside, along dirt roads, through the hills and into valleys. They just made the day joyous. Stopping at an out of way local cocoa tree farm was also delightful – I had never seen a cocoa bean, such a surprise to be able to eat the white covering. Nothing goes to waste. The husk is used for fertilizer or to feed animals and any leftover beans are saved to plant more trees. Who could ask for more, coffee beans and cocoa beans – pretty close to heaven.
Oops, managed to get my photos of the cocoa plant backwards but that is fine, everything goes in a circle.
Of course we also stopped for lunch. Chicken and rice, soup, with slightly pickled onions. This was a step above some of the roadside eateries. Tasty!
Expenses: 175,000VND = 9.65CAD