Wednesday 1st September 2010
The Programme offers a trip to see elephants at work.
I was up before 6.00 a.m. just after we'd raised anchor and continued our journey downstream. Whilst chatting to the Captain, the sun burst upon us in a spectacular way and began its ascent into the sky. We entered the Third Defile and our course took us nearer the starboard (western) bank so each fairy-tale village we passed was brilliantly lit by the rising run.
I was puzzled by a spot with dozens of boats but only a few houses. Each boat appeared to have a substantial plastic pipe leading ashore. One of the waiters explained that, less than a year ago, gold was found in the vicinity and this has led to a 'Gold Rush'.
Before I'd finished breakfast on the open Sun Deck, we arrived at the pretty village of Thabeikkyin on our left and I could see our two Fast Boats moored at the foot of a set of broad concrete steps. The Captain swung the boat around to point upstream and we moored mid-channel.
Shortly after 8.0 a.m., we were being ferried ashore by Fast Boat. The small landing stage was lined with curious villagers. A short, steep climb led us to the main street. We were told we had a few minutes before we were to board the waiting local buses, so a few of us went wandering off. The street was parallel to the riverbank for a short distance and various shops and tea shops lined both sides. At each end of this parallel area, the road climbed a steep hill and turned inland. In addition to the landing steps we'd arrived at, nearby was a small rock-strewn shore where the smaller, wooden boats landed. The range of goods on offer was amazing - all sorts of foodstuffs I couldn't identify, a wide variety of hardware (including plastic piping and aluminium propellors for boats). One set of premises appeared to be a mechanic's. As I climbed beyond the shops, I came to quite substantial teak-built houses so I retraced my steps. Everyone seemed keen to smile at the group of foreigners.
Pictures of the village are here.
Now we boarded the fleet of local buses waiting for us. The seats were pitched very high off the floor to allow plenty of luggage space underneath. To add to our difficulties, the gangway end of all the seats was welded to a steel beam running from front to rear of the bus so getting into the seat involved lifting one's legs over this beam. With the customary lack of shock absorbers and the state of the country roads, I never did find a way of getting comfortable as our convoy drove through a series of villages for our rendezvous with the elephants.
Pictures taken on our bus ride are here.
More to follow ...
More elephant pictures here.