I wanted to ride an elephant. Can a girl be blamed? When one is in Thailand, it seems like it should be a natural occurrence. It’s hard to resist a little time with such huge, graceful creatures of the jungle which have long been apart of Asian history.
It was destined to be one of my most memorable travelling stories of all time. I had it set in my mind already. What a beautiful moment it would be, not just for myself but to share it with Little Vick who is joyous at the sight of a mere mangy dog. He was going to be owe struck and delighted, and I would be right beside him in that.
We had been in Thailand for 3 days before we decided it was time to go find and meet “our” elephant. Seems he was situated in someones big jungle backyard which was at the back of a neighbourhood consisting of a few tin sheds at God know’s where. We’d asked our taxi driver to deliver us to “our” elephant and this is where we ended up (we later found out taxi drivers get commissioned for taking tourists to certain businesses). We were a little surprised to see we were the only one’s there. Arn’t the elephants the rage here? Where are the rest of the tourists wanting their share of elephant heaven? I’d been complaining about the constant flow of tourists so perhaps this was a good thing. Our taxi driver had taken us to the best elephant in town for a more personal experience obviously.
One very happy monkey friend greeted us the instant we stepped out of the taxi, coaxing us over to play with him. He was as good as the locals along the street. He sold himself well although it wouldn’t take much to convince Little Vick. Monkeys were his best friend before he even had actually met one (his monkey sound is perhaps the cutest thing ever). We had been longing for Little Vick to meet one in the flesh. He was fun, and funny, although there was also something a little psychotic about him too so we were glad he was chained up (and I don’t say that very often about animals). There’s something very unpredictable about monkey’s isn’t there? I eyed him off half expecting him to jump on our backs and scratch our skin and hair out.
This was Little Vicks favorite trick. The show your bum act!
There were 2 elephants grazing on a bit of dirt waiting to play. I was happy to rescue them. We paid our 800 baht (approx. $28 each) for a half an hour trek. I pondered if this was long enough to live out my romantic cultural dream but it would have to do since we had the taxi driver waiting for us to move onto our next destination (Patong Beach).
The saddle, which they assembled in front of us, looked like it was at least 100 years old. The blankets were tatty, probably full of fleas and the bars of the seat were looking suspiciously rusty and brittle. Nice and authentic, I guess. When it was time we climbed a ladder of a makeshift tower where we hitched our leg up and over (I’m making it sound much easier than it really was) onto our elephant. I’m not sure how tall he was but it felt like we were sitting up on top of a skyscraper. Looooonnnnng way to fall down. Wouldn’t get out of the fall without at least a broken arm, collarbone or leg (or neck – but I don’t want to risk sounding dramatic!)
I was surprised when the elephant started waddling. Lets face it it isn’t actually that graceful when you’re up there. The motion is so jerky. Your hips get thrust forward and it takes a moment before the rest of your body flicks back into alignment.
It wasn’t long before I noticed how much the elephant, despite having some the largest set of ears I’ve ever seen, was playing deaf to his master. There was a clear track that the elephant was supposed to follow but instead he would spontaneously just veer off the path and head straight to the most delicious looking tree in sight and ferociously pull it down and eat it up, happy at Larry (whoever he is?). He couldn’t be moved until he was satisfied that’d he’d finished off the tree. He clearly had a no wastage rule, which you do have to admire. At first this was a bit funny. Worth a bit of a giggle….. poor elephant, musn’t of had a feed for the morning yet.. ha ha. How cute. But after a while when the elephant continuously lead off the trail and stubbornly disobeyed it’s master the funny in it started to disappear. The master would flare his voice at the elephant but little effect did it have. His assistant started picking whole branches of green foliage to try and coax the elephant to behave. Where they trying to bribe our elephant? This isn’t how it went in my head.
We eventually managed to cover some distance and for some God knows reason we ended up on the side of a cliff on this elephant. I saw it coming and I asked the heavens to pleeeaaassseee not allow it but alas, it seems we were fully out of control of this whole experience and it was to be. Now let’s get this straight, sitting on an elephant is awkward enough not to mention sitting on an elephant on the slant of steep hill. I tried to lay along the line of the elephant so I didn’t lose control of my upper body and topple off the back but I wasn’t really sure where to hold onto or where to look (I get vertigo sitting in the dress circle at the theatre). The elephant obviously didn’t share such fears as he casually thumped his way over to the very edge of the cliff to nip at a bush that sat just out of his reach over the edge….how is it that that bush looks the most attractive? I looked over the edge, briefly. Long enough. Eeeekkkk!!!!! A little squeal wanted to escape from my throat. Very. Long. Way. Down. Gulp. It would only take one step from this elephant and we would meet our death, and really, their big feet are pretty clumsy, so it felt like it was only a matter of time. My chest ragged as my heart clearly wanted to leap out and get back to the taxi before I could even yell “help“. Obviously my inner adventure junkie must have been hybernating that day.
There’s only one thing you can do to make such a situation far worse for yourself and that is to start questioning the safety of equipment which is imperative to your survival (bloody stupid imagination).I don’t know about these brittle looking ropes they used to strap the saddle on. Do you think they could just snap? You couldn’t blame me - they looked about as old as the dinosaurs and were they creaking with the pressure of our weight (and that was already a few holiday kilo’s heavier) on the slant? I looked at Mr Vick who was clinging onto Little Vick with dear life. We were stuck. Couldn’t just hop down and skip back to the taxi. No one to rescue us and we wern’t even game enough to admit that this was indeed one of the most terrifying things we had ever voulanteered ourselves for.
I musn’t have been imagining the danger because the boss and his assistant barked at the elephant with growing intensity, and at each other when the elephant was adamant about still playing Russian roulette with us. Seems nothing was working for them. Their urgency in their voice only made us more anxious. Did they too think it was a possibility for this elephant to commit manslaughter?
This brought about the arrival of the pick. A nasty, sharp looking thing which they waved about threatening the elephant with and jabbed into it’s side. This made the elephant a bit cranky, but still he held his ground. It made me very nervous. It felt like there might be a showdown and that I should negotiate between the two to bring back some calm in the situation before there was a big elephant tantrum.
It didn’t help that we had just finished watching the movie “Water for Elephants” prior to departing for Thailand. It’s a lovely period drama which tells about an elephant sensing cruelty in his owner and flaring up and running away when a pick came near him…. it kinda seems understandable, so I was waiting for our elephant to go on some mad stampede with us helpless lot stuck on top with a toddler, who seemed rather non perplexed by it all. So everyday for him. This little boy had no fear, completely trusting us and our judgement, and yet here we were starting to question why we had ever thought this was going to be a great idea?!?!!
Whilst the elephant and his master had a word with one another my attention began to shift to the saddle. For a few moments I carefully considered. Is it ? isn’t it? Surely not? But yes indeedy, the saddle was slipping!!!! Panic rose up through my body. It wanted to spew out of my mouth all over this whole situation but instead I managed to keep my cool on. Under my breath I alerted Mr Vick to the pending disaster. It seems he had already noted the situation and hushed me with “don’t panic, just don’t panic” in a very quiet but none the less panicked tone. I could tell he wan’t enjoying himself and felt just as helpless and regretful as I did. But what could we do? I could just see the headlines already. “Elephant disaster. Negligent Aussie Parents stupidly risked sons life”.
For whatever reason, the elephant started to negotiate a little more with his master and actually decided moving away from the edge and down the cliff wasn’t a bad idea. Hooray!Probably had just finished eating the days picking and was ready to move on for something more fresh, but either way, we were getting out of the neck of the woods. We were by now completely rattled and would have been happy to get off and just run back to the taxi but instead pretending we were completely calm and happy with the experience we endured the remainder of the ride. We didn’t want to look like wusses after all.
THANK GOD we did not opt for the one hour trek (which probably would have went further up that cliff) after all.
We arrived back. Huge sigh of relief. Never been happier to climb down off an elephant! I looked around at the conditions of the elephants environment. How deplorable. Why did I not notice this before hand and why was it that I thought this wild animal was actually going to be domesticated? Like a pet dog who has been trained to walk on a leash and heel when commanded to? I was now angry with myself for buying into this. I began to empathise with the suicidal elephant who obviously wanted to play Russian roulette with us to make a point. Point taken.
What amazes me is that we got home and everyone is all stories about their crazy elephant experiences that was more scary than romantic and not once did anyone caution us prior to leaving and say, hey, it’s actually a bit risky and scary. Not once. It was all nods and that’ll be great. No care about the toddler we were potentially putting at risk!!! But hey, we survived to tell the story and one could say we sure got our moneys worth!
I giggled to myself when we were comfortably back in our taxi when I had this realisation. Despite the elephant being 27 years old, elephants are just big toddlers! Always hungrey, always sporting selective hearing, not doing as they’re told and always pushing you to your limits!
So as it turns out there was nothing graceful about that experience, definitely nothing romantic but it sure will be one of my all time memorable travelling experiences I will ever have!