“Would you like to float down the river?” Well, yeah. That sounded like a great idea. River tubing in Thailand? Sign me up! However, their definition of ‘float’ was much different than mine. I kept saying ‘tubing’ and while they were saying ‘floating’. Another English difference I though. When will I learn?
We piled into the back of a truck, they grabbed a suspicious amount of lifejackets, and we were off. I assumed the tubes were already wherever we were going, and was rather confused when we stopped at a random point in the river. I watched the two young Mahouts who joined us grab a few of the lifejackets and start attaching them to their bodies in odd ways. Oh.
The Thai volunteer who was acting as the guide handed me a lifejacket and they headed into the river. When they said ‘floating’ they really meant it. The activity was waiting until the river was at it’s highest after the dam was opened upstream, and strapping lifejackets to you and essentially letting the river wash you away. I trusted them and fashioned myself a lifejacket seat and joined them on the riverside.
Now, I must explain that I am not afraid of snakes in normal situations. In Canada there is very little hiding in the grass that can hurt me and I take that for granted. In Thailand there are many species of large snakes, some of which are deadly. This includes king cobras and pit vipers, as well as large pythons. The entire trip has been spent avoiding tall grass and making cobra jokes. Which are not as funny when walking near the woods at night. We decided there were many varieties of cobras to be concerned about. Shoe cobras, tree cobras, night cobras, and wall cobras (which I will come back to) to name a few.
When I was standing at the river’s edge looking hesitantly at the fast moving water, ‘river cobras’ or pythons in particular came to mind. My new friend noticed my hesitation, and I informed him I was trying to be cautious about snakes since the edge had vegetation that obstructed my view. To which he responded, “There are no sna… okay that’s a lie. But there are none in the middle of the river.”
Splash. In I went.
The strength of the river surprised me. I was curious how we were going to get out, but for the time being I enjoyed bobbing along the river in my makeshift seat. It was a relaxing experience for the most part, except when fleeting thoughts of pythons came to mind.
We journeyed down the river for a while until we arrived back on the property of the sanctuary. They told me to grab the branches of the tree near the ‘beach’ area where we had bathed the elephants the day before. Although there was one problem with that. We had arrived at elephant bathing time.
There were about six or more elephants in the water. I grabbed the branch as instructed and had to aim myself at the beach and plan my route to avoid the elephants. The Mahouts were with the elephants in the water, so I felt relatively safe. It was just not a predicament I ever thought that I would be in. After some wrestling with the branches, I managed to make my way to shore, and successfully avoided colliding with an elephant. Though we did see what we are pretty confident was a python in the river the next day. Great.
The second snake encounter happened the very next day. We were finishing up with one of the elephants visiting the clinic when someone shouted, “Snake!”. I turned to watch an almost meter long skinny green pit viper slither around the dogs food bowl and maneuver itself into the bamboo wall of the clinic building. Which also happens to be the building where my room is. Oh no.
I was not initially afraid, I was far enough away from it (15 feet or so), that I did not feel like I was in danger. However, I then thought about the many places that snake could go. This snake appeared to be an expert in psychological warfare. I immediately remembered the people who live below me in the building talking about how just a few days ago they had another green snake poke it’s head out from the wall, flail around a little bit, then disappear. This was not a reality I was ready to be faced with.
The next two nights were spent with snakes on the mind, and eyes darting around in the dark. Luckily there were no further encounters. We were lucky and made it out alive. Though that may be a bit dramatic. Admittedly the thought of snakes in the walls or unexpected places stuck with me for a little while. Thankfully I am back in Canada now.
Even with some occasional danger, I had an incredible journey and will take what I learned with me as I continue both my career and my adventures throughout the world. Next stop? London, England for the year. I can’t wait.