Sunday, January 4, 2009

Project Tiger- Searching for Tigers in the Thai Jungle (Khao Yai National Park)

Project Tiger

I’m a nature lover, minus mosquitos and ticks which I pray daily to my Lord and savior JC (Jim Carrey) to use his Bruce Almighty powers and wipe them off the earth.
(Editors note: Some of you readers might be getting tired of Rich’s unceasing references to Jim Carrey as God. Not that I disagree with him, but frankly, I am tired of him using our space and readership to evangelize his religion. After a frank discussion with him about the importance of separation of church and blog, I have allowed him his religious dogma, one, and ONLY ONE final time, on the condition that all of you immediately watch “Liar Liar,” and pray Northwards towards Canada (where JC was born) five times a day. I had to draw the line somewhere.)
So, today’s adventure took us to an Asian rainforest, Thailand’s first national park, two hours outside of Bangkok. Actually, more like three hours. Traffic in Thailand comes to a crawl when it gets busy. That, and the fact that you often have to sit at traffic lights for four, (yes four!) minutes.
Oftentimes in the US, on newer traffic lights, you see a counter letting you know how long before the light turns yellow. Generally, it’s 30 seconds max. In Thailand, they have a red light counter as well (to torment you) letting you know that it’s 240 seconds before the light turns green. Welcome to hell.
It was afternoon by the time we got to the park. My dream of course was to spot a wild tiger. This has been a dream of mine of mine since I was a child, when I had an infatuation with, and learned all things tiger. I was the original Calvin from “Calvin and Hobbes.” And the national park was home to over 20 tigers. I figured my odds were good.
Driving through the park, the first thing we spotted was a band of monkeys walking the roadways. they just meandered down the road, perhaps in hopes of being offered food, which I'm sure some tourists oblige them.
(See if you can guess this monkey's gender?)
Male Monkey?

A little later, I spotted a small red deer in the bushes. A rare sight, the first time my guide who had spent substantial time in the park had ever seen one. When deer are here, tigers must be near. The deer slipped into the undergrowth before I had a chance to snap a picture of it.
Tiger tiger, burning bright, in the forests of the night …. Where are you.

Our search continued to the visitor center where I spotted Sambar (a tigger delicacy) nearby.
sambar in Thai jungle
I stopped in at the center and saw exhibits and read up on all the wildlife the park contained. Yes, sure enough there were tigers here. I asked one of the rangers if he had ever seen a tiger.
“Yes,” he answered nodding.
I got excited, maybe he could introduce me. “How many times?”
He held up two fingers. I frowned.
“And how long have you worked here?” I inquired.
“Sixteen years,” he replied.
Could it be? Really? I had better chances of winning the lottery than having an encounter with a wild tiger?
“I have many baht (Thai currency.) I will pay tiger for privilege,” I stated, forgetting that Eastern tigers lack the guiding principles of materialism so prevalent amongst tigers living in the United States.
My guide gently escorted a somber and disheartened Ricardo outside. I had to check with another ranger.
“How many times have you seen tigers?”
He shook his head.
“You don’t understand me?” I asked hopefully.
“I understand perfectly,” he replied with the accent of someone who probably spent four years at Oxford, “I just haven‘t seen one in the five years I’ve been here.”

Sighing, we began a trek to a waterfall a couple kilometers away. I gazed around the jungle hopefully as we walked, but only spotted a salamander, the sound of rushing water in the distance subtly soothing my frazzled spirit.
I scaled the rocks, which in the rainy season are covered by water fifteen feet high, and came to the edge of a pool of a thirty foot waterfall. Carefully, I climbed into the water, and felt the rush of cold water enliven me.
I swam out a couple hundred feet, and sat under the cascading water from the falls. I stood there, as long as I could comfortably endure the force of the gushing water, and then swam back to shore, where I sat, peacefully on a large boulder, in harmony with the surrounding jungle for half an hour, meditating, praying to JC to get rid of the mosquitos swarming around me.

(me and Hobbes, my tiger friend I tamed in the forest) ... sighhhh
good ole' Hobbes

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