E is for Elephant
Elephant trekking is popular in several Southeast Asian countries but it was in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, that I felt most comfortable and discovered a relatively good elephant camp, which served as part sanctuary and part money-maker for the locals.
I stood at the edge of a bank that overlooked the river. “Look, Ihab! Elephants!”
We watched them bathe in the muddy water. Some of them were lying down. Others stood ankle-deep, dunking their head, spraying water at each other and the mahuts.
“Thirteen, fourteen… fifteen elephants all together,” Ihab noted.
Finally, it was time to go elephant trekking. We climbed some stairs to a large platform and waited for the mahut (handler) to bring our elephant over.
First, he strapped a wooden seat onto the elephant’s back to hold us. Then we had to climb in, and it was a little more tricky than I thought it would be.
The mahut slid down in front near the elephant’s head where he could easily guide her. Once we got going, he stretched out. With a cigarette dangling from his lips, he looked very at ease on our beast. We ranked seventh in a line of fifteen elephants.
In the lush, tropical jungles and green hills of Chen Mai, the mahuts and elephants moved in gentle harmony together. “Feel that rhythm,” I whispered to my husband. “It’s so … natural. Amazing how the mahut just has to say a word or two and the elephant responds.”As our elephant plodded up and down the hilly jungle terrain, I looked back on the rough trail seeing the elephants in a line with their riders.
This is why I teach overseas. I have the coolest life ever.
“You ride now,” the mahut invited Ihab. “You. Here,” he ordered, sliding off the elephant’s back and lightly landed on his feet in the dirt path.
I had to hold back my laughter watching Ihab try to get situated (I did no better when it was my turn). That done, Ihab became a real warrior when he rode bareback!
He beat his chest and whooped it up as the mahut strutted alongside taking photos. Ihab was smiling broadly, enjoying his role.
But a short while later, the lumbering elephant began to speed up and the mahut’s voice became louder and more excited. I couldn’t tell if he was talking to the elephant or to us in Thai, forgetting we couldn’t understand him. All the while he ran alongside us and never stopped snapping photos!
“We go to the river!” shouted the mahut. She know it.”
Poor Ihab wasn’t beating his chest now. And that terrified expression on his face! He slid and shifted back and forth, trying desperately to hang onto the elephant’s flapping ears. I’m sure he thought he would crash and be trampled beneath the heavy feet in motion.
I gasped, trying to stifle my laughter. He really seemed to be in a predicament. “Don’t worry, ” I shouted, “The mahut won’t let anything happen to you!”
We made it to the river and our elephant plunged her feet blissfully into cool, muddy water. She curled her trunk like a horn and blew several times.
Ihab’s look of desperation slowly left his face and was replaced with an uncertain smile. “Why do I always suffer for your schemes? I could have been crushed. You just had to go on this trekking thing. That’s all you talked about…”
“Ihab, think of the adventure.” The elephant was spraying water in the air now with Ihab still on her back. “Your expression….” I burst into another fit of laughter.
I don’t think Ihab shared my humor at that moment. I knew he would once his heartbeat slowed down.
“You strong man,” the mahut called to Ihab, flexing a muscle.
My husband grinned, and he grudgingly agreed as his good humor returned.
More elephants joined ours. The mahuts rubbed them down while they splashed in the water. It was such a refreshing scene, and one I’ll always remember.
“We go jungle now. Very high,” the mahut pointed to a steep path leading up the side of a hill. Ihab gave a fake laugh and climbed back into the wooden seat.
It wasn’t until we got on more level higher ground that our mahut let me sit in the place of honor.
It was my turn to lead.
What kinds of daring treks have you taken? Who led them?
You have just read, “E is for Elephant,” by Amy L. Bovaird. Copyright April 5, 2015.You can see who else is participating in the A to Z Blogging Challenge HERE.