480 Steps of Death or Dance with an Elephant

Given the choice of the title, what would you choose? On the one hand 480 steps doesn’t sound so bad, but what if you had to carry 100 lbs or so, the steps are broken and uneven, it’s hot and humid, and did I mention how steep the climb is up this mountain staircase? Ok, so maybe the elephant; just remember this thing is about a thousand times bigger than you, it’s a wild animal, and dances to the Macarena. Given the added details it’s a difficult decision huh? Well, I’m just a glutton for punishment, so I chose  both.

This whole adventure started at a placed called Phnom Jeezo. This is closer to a real mountain, not like the hill they call a mountain in Phnom Penh. To give you an idea, at for those of you in Utah, if you have ever hiked the “Y” the stair case is a little bit longer than that, or maybe it just felt that way. Apparently whoever built the stairs didnt just think to put in an escalator instead and save us all the trouble, but oh well. So, we put Martina on my back and we went up…and up…and up. I made it well past halfway when our friend Ashley offerred to take Martina the rest of the way. However, we left her wheelchair at the bottom of the stairs, so I still had to piggyback her as we explored the top of the mountain. It was well worth all the effort.

At the top we had the opportunity to participate in some Buddhist ceremonies (incense burning and some fortune-telling thing) and walk around some ruins that are even older than Angkor Wat. I couldn’t help but feel a little like one of my adventure heros: Indiana Jones! It was great fun. The top of mountain was so tranquil, despite both tourist and local coming and going. The views of the countryside were incredible – it really brought Cambodia into a new light. Eventually, we made the long hike back down, which was much easier (I even carried Martina the whole way this time) and onto the next leg of our adventure.

Our next stop was a Cambodian zoo. Upon arrival children started to ask us to buy these little leaf wrapped sticky rice treats to feed to the monkeys walking around the zoo – these were wild monkeys, not zoo monkeys. We held out the little baskets and the monkeys would snatch them from our hands. As we strolled around we saw and fed sun bears, visited a shy tiger, some lions, and saw many caged monkeys. Throughout all of this, the children followed us, offering information and assistance, which would be so kind if they weren’t simply hoping for tips afterwards – but that is just how Cambodia works, a kid has to make a living after all.

Finally, we got to Lucky, our dancing elephant. At first it was caged and we were just snapping pics when the keepers told us for a small price they could make the elephant dance. We all chipped in and waited. They then brought the elephant our of the pen to where we were standing!! The trainer had him do a lot of things: sit, take a bow, play dead and then they turned on music and it started to dance. Yes, it did dance to the dreaded Macarena, but it looked happy. We danced a little with it, touched it, and took pictures with it. A part of me felt slightly guilty – assuming the elephants and other animals probably don’t get as good of treatment as our zoos – but this is Cambodia and I can’t impose my ideas on their society.

All-in-all it was a great trip. As a side note, Martina hadn’t been feeling wel last week, so I’m glad she was feeling better today and could come on the trip.

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