Kinga and David Meet Giant Herbivores
Trip Start Jul 05, 2010
186Trip End May 15, 2011
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Where I stayed
Odoumphong Guest House II
There were three couples and a single young woman looking to ride—that meant one couple for each elephant and one extra person with one of the couples. Yet, they managed to split me and David up. David seemed ok with this (shock!), but I asked if I could ride with my husband, whom I love. The locals at the elephant sanctuary were really nice and unloaded the elephants of passengers and rearranged the groups so that I could ride with David.
As it turned out, David got to sit with the lone young woman (a friendly traveler from France) in the elephant saddle and I got to ride on the neck (my choice), just behind the elephant's ears. It was strange sitting on the intelligent herbivore’s neck, it’s giant head bobbing up and down before me. This was the first time that I got to feel the texture of an elephant’s skin—it is as rough as I expected with course black hairs (kind of like oversized toothbrush bristles) sticking out from the skin. As I sat there, the elephants giant ears flapped back and forth, hitting my thighs.
It was pretty scary sitting there, bareneck elephant riding, especially when the elephant had to climb up a steep jungle incline. When we came down from a very steep path, I actually thought the elephant would trip and send me flying. When my hungry vehicle stopped to crunch through tree branches like they were toothpicks, I hoped that today wouldn’t be the day she would try carnivorism. Our elephant stopped at one particular tree for minutes--there simply was no way to convince the calm herbivore to hurry. The Mahout pleadingly repeated a command to move along until she finally, but reluctantly listened.
After the jungle trip, only three of us were left. The couples disappeared with their tour guides and it was just David, me, and the French woman.
We were given the chance to purchase bananas to feed to our elephant. And purchase bananas we did.
What surprised me is that the elephant’s long, powerful trunk acts like a vacuum, which it can use to suck up food or water before blowing those items into its mouth. I won’t lie, I was scared to death to feed the elephant, especially as it stomped towards me, its trunk swaying powerfully and making a hissing, suctioning sound. I thought it would take my hand and suck it up into its trunk and then, intoxicated with the smell of my flesh, turn carnivorous. It may seem paranoid, but as a rule, I exercise extra caution with 2-3 ton animals.
It did not eat me or even wound me. It did not eat or wound David either.
After feeding our elephants, we got to eat lunch. Our lunch was simple local fare consisting of a cabbage dish served with sticky rice. It was good!
Next, we boarded our elephants—one elephant each, no saddles—and we made our way down to the river for "elephant bathing." Our view of the Mekong and the surrounding mountains and hills from our elephants was absolutely breathtaking. Unbelievable!
The mahouts lead our elephants, with us on them, right into the river. There were two boys, who live at the elephant reserve, who came along with us. Without any warning, they jumped onto the back of our elephants and began poking and shaking them using their hands and feet—which probably felt to the elephants like the equivalent of being tickled. In response, our elephants began shaking and shrugging, sending us flying into the water.
At first we were incredibly scared to be stuck in the water between these enormous wall-like animals.
But the mahouts did not seem to be worried—in fact, they were laughing. The elephants just stood there, ignoring us, as if nothing happened. The mahouts commanded the elephants to lower their heads, allowing us to climb back on. The boys repeated this perhaps fifteen times. At times, the mahouts commanded the elephants to do things (like lower their heads abruptly) to make us fall off.Therefore, our “bathing” of the elephants mostly consisted of trying to climb back onto our elephants only to be thrown off in a few seconds. The elephants seemed to be enjoying the water—they remained calm, with the occasional shrugging off of problematic passengers. At times, they defecated boulder-sized droplets of fecal matter into the water, which as it turns out, float very well.
Bathing with the elephants was amazing! It was so unbelievably unreal and fun and incredible and crazy and I looove elephants! Aaagggghhh, it was so cool! So, do we feel confident as Mahouts, can we get an elephant to obey our commands, are we able to drive our elephant in the direction of our choosing? Nope. But we definitely had fun!