Eye of an elephant
Wanting to avoid any tour packages and just one day remaining, it meant cramming a visit to Ubud’s monkey forest, flicking over historic artwork in Ubud’s Museum Puri Lukisan, then meeting an elephant. Given the timeframe, that turned out to be at Bali Zoo – conveniently located on the round trip from Kuta to Ubud.
First hint: Do your homework on what to see and where to see it. Attempting a trifecta probably isn’t the brightest idea. Loosely mentioning preferences off an airport brochure to a driver while haggling a fare isn’t best practice either. State your case clearly or prepare to be led astray. Tour drivers are everywhere around Kuta; and routes can tend to be of their choosing. The 65 dollars peeled off in the 600,000 rupee equivalent for a personal chauffeur can’t be sneezed at, however. An entire day? Bargain. And, after haggling down to 500,000, I figured the ‘tenner’ was worth tipping – and definitely worth shunning the tour herds. There are plenty of those.
Ubud’s sacred monkey forest is essential viewing. The tranquillity of this spiritual setting alone is heavenly contrast to the frenetic pace of Bali’s other attractions. Besides, the monkeys are captivating. I should have passed on the museum. While home to arguably the finest collection of traditional Balinese paintings, it was a costly experience – time wise. Considering the drive from Kuta to Ubud spans an hour and a half or two – traffic dependent – half the day is spent in a car.
An elephant experience deserves a day on its own. There are several parks and activity combinations. It depends whether the focus is learning about these stately giants or simply ticking the bucket-list riding one. In theory, my mind isn’t closed to the idea. But, past tense is appropriate now. Swayed by stern thoughts from my daughter while in Bali, I have reached the belief that riding an elephant should be off-limits. Discovering their backs aren’t designed for such weight doesn’t help; and I am well aware of their plight in Thailand. Social media being what it is, you cannot avoid the horrific videos. Yet, try as I might, I failed to glean any sliver of information about how Bali’s elephants – using a horse term – are ‘broken in’. Much has been exposed about Thailand’s appalling process of ‘phajaan’. Loosely translated as ‘crush’, the torment is exactly that. Despite Bali Zoo’s parade of elephants appearing at ease, I was edgy seeing the ‘mahouts’ straddling them with bull hooks in hand.
Bali’s elephants are from Sumatra –a country being depleted of its forests – with more than two-thirds of the elephants’ habitat lost in the past 25 years. Poaching is increasingly dwindling numbers – fewer than 2000 left in the wild, according to World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF), which now classifies elephants as endangered. Outrage sparked over yet another illegal slaughter, when a friendly elephant named Yongki was found dead with his ivory tusks hacked out. It was near the camp where he lived at the Bukit Barisan Selatan national park in Sumatra.
I only learned this upon my return. Remembering my encounter with the elephant I paid to feed filled me with sorrow. They appear sad, almost pleading. If the money I spent furthers education and the protection of these magnificent creatures, then hopefully it will help.
Riding them is not an option. Just being up close and personal is enough. I now donate money to help these magnificent animals’ rescue to live out their days in safe sanctuaries.
Please donate: World Animal Protection
Things to see:
Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, Ubud: www.monkeyforestubud.com
Museum Puri Lukisan, Ubud: www.museumpurilukisan.com
Bali Zoo, Sukawati: www.bali-zoo.com
Elephant Safari Park, Taro: www.balistarisland.com/Bali-Adventure-Sightseeing/BAT-Elephant.htm
Bali Elephant Park, Bakas: www.balielephantpark.com