Riding Elephants in Laos.

It was a forty minute drive to the Elephant village outside Luang Prabang, Laos, where we were to ride elephants. When we arrived at the entrance we all got out of the van and unloaded our respective luggage. Deciding not to roll the suitcases on the gravel, we lugged our luggage (hehe) to the centre of the village and set our bags down in the centre of the circular centre hut. Next to a muted television, which was to the right of where we entered the area, was a small table with coffee and tea upon it. There were no walls.

Dad decided that I should try a cup of coffee, and I was instantly hooked. (Although I still need a considerable amount of sugar.) We were told that we should look around the centre area but to stay near the circle-with-a-roof, clear of the elephants wandering by. I complied, sipping my coffee and exploring down a linear path with smaller, rectangular shelves-with-roofs that had interesting elephant related and local made items like scarves, all, of course, for sale. There were only twenty-five or so guests in the area, divided into groups of six to eight people, including our own group. About a dozen elephant guides were talking and getting ready for the day. I would soon learn they are called mahouts.

I walked past these tables and looped up a different, less linear path, back to the roofed circle. After waiting for a few minutes, we moved to a recently vacated stone table on the lawn. There our guide explained the itinerary for the two day excursion in more detail than ever given to me for a school event! After a short introduction of names we moved BACK to the circular shack and stood just outside the inner circle in front of an information board.

This board was one of many, however, it was apparent this board was very important, as it was yellow and was prominently displayed for all to see. The board had a matrix in which words were placed. The guide explained to us that the words were instructions that all their elephants were trained to understand. For example, one very important word in the table was ‘How How,’ which told the elephant to cease all motion. (STOP.) The guide explained to us that the elephant behind him, (which prompted lots of gawking, by me and the group), was our practice elephant. We were to mount it, and then ride/drive her in a circle around another lawn on the other “side” of the circular structure erected in the middle.

I, not wanting to be first, snuck to the back of the group. The first person mounted the elephant almost flawlessly, setting the standard for the rest of us. She rode the elephant in the prescribed circle, then dismounted. After several more people rode the majestic elephant it was my turn to go. I walked tentatively up to the elephant and the mahout (driver) gave the command for the elephant to slightly bend and raise its front leg. I placed my foot onto the knee and hoisted myself up, luckily I had the help of the mahout, and our guide. I steadied myself on the elephant and the mahout said, “Pie Pie,” which means walk forward. The elephant lumbered forward slowly. We slowly completed the circle around the lawn.

After the circle we all went into the boarding tower to board our elephants for the first ride. Mom and I boarded the same elephant and got settled in the chair. The mahout was already seated behind the ears. As soon as we were seated the elephant lurched forward and I was very thankful for the small cross bar fitted over the chair. The elephant led us down to the river and across it. The elephant trumpeted, obviously happy to be in the water. After we exited the first bit of river and onto an island, the mahout up front let me sit on the neck of the elephant whilst he and mom sat in the chair. It was fun, and I ended up doing it the entire rest of the trip. After walking on the island for a stretch of several meters we entered the river again. Then, after the river we walked back up another path onto the road, and walked the elephant back to the village on the road.

After getting back to the circle, we hauled our luggage past the little lawn to a slope that ran down to the river. We got into a long boat, and placed our bags in it. The boat took us to a long, steep stair case to the house in which we would be staying. We all grabbed our respective bags and dragged them up the hill. After settling in the room we walked back to the centre of the village on a path by the river. We had a lovely dinner at the restaurant area and then walked back to the house to sleep.

In the morning we had to wake up at 07:15 in order to dress and get down to the river to catch a river boat to an area where we met the elephants. We were to be giving them a bath. The river boat dropped us off at a small path that we followed until we saw the elephants. I hopped on my respective elephant, (with a mahout), and we followed the path back to the river. The elephant, at first, didn’t want to get into the river, which I was perfectly ok with. But after a few attempts the mahout finally coaxed the elephant into the water. The elephant then refused to kneel down so I could wet, again I was fine with that. I finally got a little wet, and the bath was indeed fun, but after a while we had to return the elephants to the mahouts so that the elephants could be given a real bath.

After the bath we were taken back to the house to change and pack. Then we were taken to breakfast. After a short breakfast we went into the van and were driven back to the hotel. This was a very fun experience for me and my family, that I will remember for quite sometime, if not forever.

Getting Certified in the Bahamas (Padi Diving)

“Hello! Welcome to Stuart Cove’s dive shop!” The first words I heard on my journey to becoming a diver. My family and I walked into the shop and registered for my and my brother’s dive lessons. The first thing we did was a bunch of medical forms and various paperwork. Then we got our gear and went to the pool. After learning how to put on our gear properly we jumped into the pool. The first confined water dive was fairly basic. We reviewed skills that we had learned in the e-learning section. We were also taught new skills. We did the rest of the confined water dives that day, they ranged from easy skills to more advanced skills that we couldn’t complete in confined water. The next day we dove in the ocean.

Breath, pause, breath, pause. Everything moved in slow motion. Sluggishly, I swam onward, breathing deeply, looking around me. That was my first dive in the ocean. I was amazed; I had only seen coral in aquariums and models.

Diving felt dream-like, nothing felt real under the water, but it was very very real. I felt weightless, like I was in space. However, it took a few more dives in order to get used to maneuvering in a three dimensional environment. After riding on a boat for a half hour we geared up and jumped in the water. After our descent we, my family and GG our brilliant instructor, gathered in a circle on the bottom and practiced certain skills that we had to do in the ocean. For example, I had to take a deep breath and take my regulator out of my mouth, breathing small bubbles, I let go of my regulator. Then, leaning to my right side I windmilled my arm and found the regulator, I placed it back in my mouth and cleared it by blowing forcefully into the regulator. I then breathed a cautious breath. Luckily I had successfully cleared it of water, I was able to breathe normally. After exploring the wreck that we were diving near, we surfaced and got back on the boat.

The second dive that day was much like the first, except we were at the two James Bond wrecks from Never Say Never Again and Thunderball.

That night I slept very well.

The next day we dove on “The Wall.” The Wall is essentially a, well, wall. It goes from 60 feet to 6,500 feet. It starts shallow, then it becomes a void. We dove along the wall after doing skills and it was freaky. There were fish everywhere and corals growing along the wall, it was very impressive.

The last open water dive we needed for our certification was amazing. We dove on a huge natural wreck of a transport ship. We first had to do a few final skills like a swim test, but after that we were able to descend onto the ship. We could see inside the hull of the ship because there was a large hole on the top of it. There was coral growing inside the ship and on the hull. We even saw a shark swim by the ship! This dive was the best so far.

A Youth Burn (Burning Man) ~Bryce

Burning man

We arrived in the dust. It blew. The wind howled, and the trucks kicked up more dust than I could with an army of men. I was excited, nervous, and ready to experience whatever the hell was about to happen. I had no information, and little did I know that this would be the best week of the year.

Gate took at least six hours. We moved from station to station, becoming two lines out of six. Mom and Colin played cards, whilst Dad and I looked outside and played Briscola, an Italian card game. Sometimes Dad had to pause the card games and get up to drive forward. And when the dust blew by we all had to jump up and close the open windows. (We usually kept one side of our bus open in order to let air in, but the dust out.)

After gate, Dad drove the bus down to Kidsville, which was on the corner of 5:30 and E. We parked our bus a little bit off the street but not perfectly. We talked to our friends and asked them where we should camp. Soon another group arrived and asked us to move our bus over so they could fit in their camping spot. We agreed, and dad got back inside to shift our position. This new group consisted of a family from Colorado and their friends. I helped set up their camp as well as ours. That night I got out my mixer and mixed some sweet tunes.

During my week at Black Rock City I had a wonderful time. I danced, walked, and biked my way around the streets and blocks of the city. I made friends and we walked together, which was nice. Unfortunately, as all good things must, the week came to a close.

On the last night that everyone was in the city the man burned. We spent the whole day freezing as the wind blew, kicking up dust. It really was cold. The wind bit, and the dust floated from one end of the city to the other. We, my group of friends, walked down to the center of the city where we sat on blankets. Waiting with baited breath the entire population of Black Rock City sat and watched as the man, standing motionless, watched over the city. The wood was golden brown and he shot 50 meters out of the desert. With a sudden movement the arms of the man swung up and touched the sky. There was a collective gasp.

SHHHHHHH, BOOOM! Fireworks! Cheering and clapping, the playa burst into sound, voices cried over the thumping music of the art-cars, no one voice could be pulled out of the din.

With a flash, the fire was lit. And, boy, did it burn. It started small, but as the fire got bigger it started to melt the wire supports holding the arms suspended above the man. With no warning they snapped and the arms fell, one at a time, more screaming and cheering ensued. It burned for quite a spell before the all the outer wood had fallen and just the frame remained. It stood tall and proud before it fell. The man creaked and shuddered. Then, it fell. There was a large smash as it impacted the ground, ash flew up into the air, the giant columns of smoke and spark grew in size as the trapped air and fire was suddenly released.

“Heads up!” This was the occasional cry from the audience as large pieces of flaming wood fell from the sky, into the crowd. Cheering and dancing the crowd started to disperse past the perimeter of art-cars and fire throwers, the pile of wood and fire that once stood proud over The City smoldered in the background.