Sunday, May 01, 2005

Staying Out of Black Holes

Er, may I pass?

All in a day's motorcycle ride . . .

Although elephant sightings downtown are commonplace here, I'll never forget the first time--that weird feeling--of coming upon an elephant in darkness on the outskirts of town while riding my motorbike.

Southeast Asian towns are quite dimly lit, so there's not enough general light to illuminate BIG things like elephants, trucks without headlights, a bulldozer parked overnight, a stack of hay that fell off a cart, etc. (all common highway hazards here). Further, your little motorbike headlights typically illuminate only about 30 feet in front of you, so you do come upon things quite quickly in the darkness here.

So what do you see when you come upon an elelphant at night? It won't be a gigantic semi-illuminated body in the road. All you'll see will be a black hole. You begin to gradually notice that the dim lights of town ahead have a strange, big, mysterious black hole. It just doesn't compute. As you get closer, the hole gets bigger--and sometimes starts moving. It's enough to make you question your sanity. Only when you nearly are under its legs do you realize you've come upon an elephant taking up half the roadway.

Further, elephants have a pesky tendency to panic and rampage all over anyone or anything that startles them. A normal-sized adult elephant can pretty much stomp the livin' daylights out of a Toyota pickup, not to mention my little Honda motorbike. I've been lucky enough to make last-ditch maneuvers to avoid those close encounters of the large kind. Others haven't been as fortunate as I. Their epitaphs read something like "Overcome by a Black Hole", or "Left This Life as a Pancake." Not my vision of how I want to check out...

Fortunately, the highway division of Thailand has thought of everything. I recently came upon an official notice in the newspaper for drivers, and thanks to the translation help from a friend, I share it with you. So just in case you are suddenly confronted with an elephant on I-405, here's some motorist tips which will certainly come in handy:


  1. Try to avoid the freeway which borders the nearby national park between 7pm and daylight, especially where there are elephant warning signs.
  2. Elephants can effectively block the road in a number of ways--standing in the middle, walking along the road or feeding on roadside vegetation. In all of these cases, cars should not try to pass them.
  3. If you see an elephant blocking the road, stop your vehicle, then...

    • First check that there are no other elephants to the side of you or behind you. If there are, stay still. Usually the elephants will be moving together. Let the elephants next to you, or behind, walk past you and join their friends.
    • Do not turn off your engine or your lights at night. If you do, you cannot see where the elephants are and turning your engine back on again may scare the elephants causing them to panic and maybe attack the vehicle.
    • Keep your distance from the elephants, at least 20 meters (60 feet).
    • If there are vehicles in front of you, closer to the elephants, give them space to maneuver. If the elephants move towards them, they may need to reverse in a hurry. If the vehicles are too close an accident may occur!
    • If the elephants walk towards you, slowly reverse and keep your distance, until the elephants leave the road. When they do, you can drive on.
    • If the elephants walk away from you, perhaps going out of sight round a corner, follow them slowly. Again keep your distance until they leave the road and you can pass by.

  • Last but not the least, all motorists should check with traffic police once in a while to see whether elephants have been seen recently.

There you go. Don't say you weren't warned.