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Into the Wild...life of Thailand

dimanche 3 septembre 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Dan LaCombe
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Dan LaCombe attended the Lycée des Nations in the 1970s, when that school moved to the campus at La Châtaigneraie and became part of the International School of Geneva. Having taken journalism and photography in college, he worked as a reporter and photographer early in his career. Now a modern day nomad with no permanent address and minimal possessions, Dan is documenting his travels to share his rewarding unconventional lifestyle with others. Today's blog comes to us from Thailand, where Dan has been spending time learning about local customs and enjoying early retirement.

 

Yes indeed, many head to Thailand for a taste of wild-life, but it's also an awesome place to encounter wildlife. And that's exactly what two ole Ecolint alumni did recently.  
It had been over forty years since we roamed the halls of La Châtaigneraie, or had even seen each other! We were one grade apart, Rob (Robert Ferguson, La Chât '78) being a year my junior. But we picked up right where we had left off – goofing around and having a good laugh like old times. After a few nights of Bangkok revelry, including meeting up with fellow alumnus Jack Watanakun (La Chât, '78) who resides there, we headed south in a rental SUV to the Kaeng Kracken National Park (Thailand’s largest) in search of unique animals of Southeast Asia. 


Dan Lacombe (La Chât '77) and Robert Ferguson (La Chât '78) meet up after more than 40 years


Dan, Rob, and Jack were all on the same La Chât soccer team in 1974.


The Road to Kaeng Kracken National Park

We both are nature enthusiasts, but Rob is particularly keen on slimy and slithering creatures, snakes being his prized target. He’s quite the accomplished photographer and had lugged a suitcase from his home in Hong Kong packed with photographic equipment to capture images of “creepy crawlers.”

Being navigator by default, I grappled with paper maps and electronic devices to negotiate remote Thai back roads. Just getting to our destination proved quite an challenge; having a sense of adventure certainly proved a plus! And though we made but one notable wrong turn during the four hour journey, Rob harped on this endlessly – some things never change…


“You’re not planning to get there in that, are you?”

The on-line information about the park was somewhat sketchy but it appeared that we would be able to rent a tent for the night, which in the end proved to be true but also we were lucky (more on that later). Once within the park, the road abruptly changed to a dirt track, complete with rocky stream crossings and some fairly steep ups and downs. “You’re not planning to get there in that are you?”, asked a guide we encountered, pointing to our vehicle. Undaunted, the intrepid adventurers pressed on though with perhaps just a touch of apprehension.  

We had selected the far end of the park to spend the night with the idea of exploring other areas along the way. Driving through throngs of butterflies, especially around water, we encountered various primates along the way – sometimes alerted by their unmistakable howling.  

At a hilltop overlook the birds were amazing, including extremely colorful little blue/green Indian Rollers and several extraordinary great hornbills in distant trees. But storm clouds formed and we felt an urgency to press on, however a ranger made us wait. You see, the narrow track is one-way in this section of the park, depending on the time of day.

As luck would have it, our fifteen minute delay was rewarded by the arrival of a majestic hornbill onto a dead tree right before us - seemingly posing as he dug for insects in the rotting limbs.


Campground Encounters

We then drove with purpose as the sky drew ominously darker. The skies opened up with sheets of rain and mighty claps of thunder as we pulled in to the camp. Using improvised sign language countered by broken English, we managed to secure a ranger’s tent in a covered screened area, protected from the storm that lasted hours. Lucky we were!

The camp has a small eatery, and at dinner we met the only other westerner – a hitchhiking Brit who fancied feathered friends over humanoids. Being eccentric, he made for interesting company and joined our roam of the grounds in search of Rob’s beloved nocturnal “herps.” The heavy rains had produced many puddles and, directed by croaks and other odd utterings, our headlamps revealed many shimmering creatures.



However, the primary objective of our trip was to find and photograph snakes at night - when they are most active. Our new British friend was reluctant to leave the camp grounds with us, suggesting that this was surely not allowed due to safety.  


Poisonous snakes and man-eating cats

Employing a “don't ask, don't tell” policy, Rob and I set off down a dirt track  scanning tree limbs for hanging serpents. About a mile up the track, two glimmering eyes indeed suddenly appeared ahead – headlights! Shortly, we were bouncing around in the back of an annoyed rangers’ pickup truck, having been scolded in heavily fractured English - something about poisonous snakes and man-eating cats! With our tails somewhat between our legs, we spent the rest of the evening prowling the campgrounds for photographic opportunities.  

Behind the small camp kitchen, scraps are put out to attract larger mammals for viewing. As we sat alone waiting and sipping local rum, we were visited by a couple of very formidable looking porcupines. What a pleasant nightcap!

We headed out in the morning, exploring and photographing our way out of the park, then pointed north toward Bangkok. We never saw a single snake, but had many wonderful encounters with southeast Asian wildlife and a very memorable adventure to boot. 

Note: All photos were taken by Robert Ferguson except the ones of him (taken by me). Rob is launching an online magazine in August ( wildcreatures.org ) focusing on wildlife, tours, and conservation in Asia.

You can read more accounts of Dan's adventures here and here

 

Dan LaCombe, La Chât '77


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