On the Plateau

Not to belabor the point, but we were really obsessed with that otter. Growing up on the California coast, we’d loved otters as kids, and here was one chewing our shoelaces, playing with a labrador. She’d been rescued a year earlier by the lodge’s owners, who named her Tic Tok, and although she’d still go down to the river to swim during the day, she came back every night to play with the dog. Apparently, she also liked to snuggle with him at night.

Okay, you’re saying, JUST STOP IT, but I tell no lies. If I could’ve smuggled that otter back with me, I totally would have. Now let’s just hope she doesn’t get eaten by a local for dinner. Seriously.

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After breakfast, during which Tic Tok fell asleep on my foot, we ventured out for a hike close to the lodge.

We came across another Katu village, its palm-and-thatch houses arranged in a semi-circle (which is customary for them) with a main hut in the center. To told us about the traditional “good harvest” ceremony which takes place there on a full moon in early spring: a water buffalo is sacrificed and the village shaman must toss its organs into a woven bamboo basket mounted at the top of a 10-foot pole. If he misses the basket, they have to sacrifice another buffalo. I wonder if he’s allowed to practice beforehand.

don’t miss the basket

Other highlights:

village temple

rice fermenting in plastic garbage cans…

to make the local hooch

no indoor plumbing, but a lot of satellite dishes

and some local kids who asked to have their picture taken

Back at the lodge, Moonma the sweet Asian elephant took us on an hour-and-a-half ride through the jungle, not that she’d had any say in the matter. Her keeper, a young Lao boy, rode behind her ears, guiding her with his knees, while we sat on a bamboo chaise strapped between her shoulder blades. For the first five minutes, I thought I’d be launched off her back (there’s a lot of movement in an elephant shoulder), but I death-gripped the arm rest and stayed on. Later, Mel gave her a banana.

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